wendy koppGrowing criticism about Teach For America and a polarized education reform debate is affecting recruitment of new corps members and the organization “could fall short of our partners’ overall needs by more than 25 percent” next year, TFA officials say.

A note that co-Chief Executive Officers Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard are sending out to the organization’s partner organizations (see text below) cites several reasons for the decline, including “polarization around TFA” as well less interest in teaching and public service by college graduates. It says in part:

Today’s education climate is tough—fewer Americans rate education as a “top 2” national issue today, and teacher satisfaction has dipped precipitously in recent years—down from 62% in 2008 to 39% in 2012. Additionally, an increasingly polarized public conversation around education, coupled with shaky district budgets, is challenging the perception of teaching as a stable, fulfilling profession; in turn, we’re seeing decreased interest in entering the field nationwide. (You can read analysis of this trend here in Education Week.) We’ve felt some of this same polarization around TFA. At the same time, the broader economy is improving and young people have more job options than in recent years. Having experienced the national recession through much of their adolescence, college graduates today are placing a greater premium on what they see as financially sustainable professions. Teaching and public service have receded as primary options.

Critics of TFA are likely to read that paragraph and say that TFA itself is partly responsible for a perception that teaching is not a stable profession. TFA, which has received millions of dollars from the Obama administration, has come under increasing criticism in the last few years for its longtime practice of recruiting new college graduates, giving them only five weeks of summer training and then placing them in classrooms in some of America’s most needy schools. Furthermore, TFA only  requires a two-year commitment from its corps members to stay in the classroom — which some corps members don’t meet — creating a great deal of turnover in classrooms with students who most need stability. TFA says it has filled an important need by placing teachers in hard-t0-fill positions, though critics note that in many cases TFA corps members have replaced veteran teachers. TFA has successfully lobbied Congress to define a “highly qualified teacher” — as required by the No Child Left Behind law — as a student teacher which, of course, covers its own corps members.

After enjoying enormous popularity among school reformers and elected politicians, TFA has been feeling growing pushback. Pittsburgh schools decided to drop its ties to TFA last year, citing as one reason TFA’s close relationship with charter schools, and early this year Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a line item inserted into state legislation that would have given $1.5 million to Teach For America over two years.

Chalkbeat New York reported last week that TFA is closing its New York training site “in anticipation of declining numbers” of recruits. That, Winfield noted, comes after TFA has in the last four year  added 11 new regional sites across the country.