Earlier this week, I wrote about what Teach For America can teach other scaling organizations about how to structure their central and local teams, roles, and responsibilities. But Teach For America’s experience offers one additional, crucial lesson for national organizations that operate across multiple sites:
Create a clear value proposition for the central team.
Last week I wrote about the impact Teach For America corps members have on student learning, noting that the evidence is largely positive. The second part of Teach For America’s theory of change—which states that alumni will become leaders in the movement to end educational inequity—is equally important. Teach For America has always thought about this two-part theory of change as a balancing act, investing in measuring immediate progress within the classroom alongside how many alumni are active as education leaders. But this second metric is much more difficult to measure.
In light of how quickly Teach For America has grown, understanding how the organization measures alumni impact takes on even greater importance. As of 2014 there were over 37,000 alumni, or more than three times the number of corps members.
Source: Teach For America internal data via 2014 Bellwether Education report Continue reading
In our work advising scaling organizations, one of the most common challenges we see involves defining the structure and roles of local and central teams. Most new education organizations start out with a single school, city, or site. As they grow, they often expand to additional schools, sites, or regions. As a result, they often come to have a network of school/local/city/regional teams that carry out the work at a local level, as well as a central team that coordinates, oversees, or supports work across multiple local sites. Deciding how to structure these local and central teams; how much autonomy local teams should have; and what specific functions, roles, and responsibilities to place at the local and central levels, is an important and challenging question for scaling organizations.
Regional-central roles and relationships, and their evolution over time, are also a key focus of our recent report on Teach For America’s growth over the past 15 years. In its earliest years, Teach For America had relatively little centralized capacity to support or oversee regional teams, but as it grew rapidly in the mid-2000s, it put in place a highly centralized “matrix” operating model in which dedicated national teams supported, and in some cases helped to manage, regional staff’s work on development, communications, programming, and alumni support. Today, however, Teach For America is transitioning to a more flexible approach in which regions will have greater autonomy over their budgets and staffing and receive varied levels of support from the national team depending on their regional capacity and needs.
Teach For America’s experience shows that there’s no one “right” answer to the question of how to structure local and national teams–so scaling organizations looking to Teach For America for an easy answer to questions about regional-national structure will be disappointed. That doesn’t mean these organizations can’t learn from Teach For America’s experience, however. Specific lessons include:
- There are trade-offs between different approaches to organizing regional and national teams (and Teach For America’s experience with different models at different stages in its growth illustrates these trade-offs)
- The “right” answer for a particular organization will vary depending on the nature of the organization’s work, its stage of growth, talent pipeline, and the external context in which it operates
- The best regional-national structure for a particular organization may evolve over time, as the organization matures or its talent pipeline and external context change.
These lessons don’t necessarily lead an organization to the right local-central structure, but they can help organizations identify and think about trade-offs between possible structures. Later this week I’ll talk about one more specific lesson from Teach For America’s experience that scaling organizations must take into account as they define their local-central structures.
Earlier this week, Bellwether released a new report on the history of Teach For America’s growth over the past 15 years and the lessons for other scaling organizations. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing some of those lessons here on the blog.
The first lesson scaling organizations should take from Teach For America’s experience: Know Your Theory of Change.
What impact has Teach For America had on student learning and achievement? Has its rapid growth over the past 15 years weakened its impact? Yesterday Bellwether released a report that seeks to answer these and other important questions on Teach For America’s scale, which has been unprecedented in the social sector. In this blog post, I’ll dive into what the research says on corps members’ instructional impact on students. In the next post of this two-part series, I’ll explore Teach For America’s long-term vision and how the organization thinks about its alumni impact.
Overall, the evidence of Teach For America’s impact on student learning is positive: On average, corps members produce better results in math than other teachers and comparable results in reading. Importantly, there is little evidence to suggest that Teach For America’s rapid growth has weakened corps members’ effectiveness in the classroom.
Mathematica Policy Research, an independent social policy research firm (disclosure: I previously worked at Mathematica), has conducted two national randomized controlled trials—the gold standard for evaluating public policies and programs—to assess Teach For America’s impact on student achievement. In these studies students within the same school and grade were randomly assigned to either Teach For America corps members or comparison teachers (both beginning and more experienced ones). This type of study design ensures that differences in student learning reflect differences in teacher effectiveness—and not pre-existing student gaps prior to the start of the study.
Both Mathematica studies showed that Teach For America corps members teaching math produce better results than their peers, including veteran teachers: Continue reading