Teach for America, the nonprofit known for placing idealistic and inexperienced teachers in some of the nation’s neediest schools, is cutting 15 percent of its national staff in what the organization described as an effort to give more independence to its more than 50 regional offices around the country.
The organization will cut 250 jobs and add 100 new ones, making for a net loss of 150 jobs.
“Our regions will have more autonomy to adapt and innovate on our program in ways that meet the unique and varied contexts in which we work,” Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote in a letter to TFA corps members and alumni.
“Our center will become leaner and more nimble, oriented toward learning from the real progress we see in classrooms, schools, and communities in order to accelerate change across our entire network.”
The cuts were first reported by Diane Ravitch, a frequent critic of Teach for America, on her blog, and were confirmed by Teach for America.
Among the positions cut is the organization’s chief diversity officer, a move that came as something of a surprise. TFA created the role just over a year ago and the organization has a stated commitment to — and has had success with — increasing diversity among its corps members. Villanueva Beard said that a diversity officer’s work should be the work of every employee.
“The role that race, class and privilege plays in our work, this is not the responsibility of one central team,” she said in an interview Monday.
Villanueva Beard announced the broad strokes of the reorganization just weeks after TFA celebrated its 25th anniversary with a summit in Washington that drew more than 15,000 current corps members and alumni.
An evening gala at the summit featured a congratulatory video message recorded by President Obama, in which he listed the many ways in which TFA’s 50,000 alumni exercise influence, from continuing in the classroom as teachers to starting their own schools to running for political office.
But TFA has also become a lightning rod for critics who say that the organization contributes to teacher turnover and instability in high-poverty schools. This year, Teach for America failed to hit recruiting targets for the third consecutive year; its leaders have attributed the recruitment troubles to the same dynamics that are driving teacher shortages in communities nationwide.
Villanueva Beard said she has “never been more optimistic” about the organization’s future. The retooling means that the national staff will be less focused on managing growth and more focused on helping regional offices learn from one another’s successes and missteps.
“We went through a massive growth phase that has given us the strength of the size and scale and diversity of our community,” she said. “It’s us asking, how do we leverage that? We’re in a different phase of our organizational life.”
Since Villanueva Beard’s initial announcement, some positions have been eliminated and other staff members have chosen to leave, according to one TFA staff member who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the organization’s internal workings. Many are planning to depart on April 15.
The downsizing comes after a previous round of reductions in which TFA’s national staff shrank by more than 200 positions. The two shake-ups will leave Teach for America with approximately 930 national staff members in fiscal year 2017, 410 fewer than it employed in fiscal year 2015, according to the organization.
It’s a staffing level that the organization expects will be sustainable even if there are fluctuations in the number of new corps members it is able to recruit.