The Truth About TFA Attrition

A new study by Morgaen Donaldson and Susan Moore Johnson studying the real attrition rates of TFA teachers was published in the most recent issue of Phi Delta Kappan.  We all know the debates surrounding the TFA program, with the most contentious issue being the motivation and longevity of TFA corps members in some of the nation’s highest-need schools.  Most people hold the belief that TFA teachers, after serving their two-year commitment, move on to other careers and in fact only entered the corps to bulk up their resumes.
To find out the truth, Donaldson and Johnson began digging for solid information about how long TFA teachers actually remain in teaching and in the low-income schools to which they were assigned.  Using data from a nationwide analysis of corps members, the researchers found:

1.  Nearly two-thirds (60.5%) of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment; and more than one third (35.5%) taught for more than four years.

2.  More than half (56.4%) leave their initial placements in low-income schools after two years, but 43.6% stay longer.

3.  By their fifth year, 27.8% are still teaching, with 14.8% teaching in the same low-income schools to which they were originally assigned.

From the self-reports gathered from over 2,000 TFAers, the authors also discerned that when it came to discussion of their original intentions when applying to the TFA program, respondents generally fell into two distinct subgroups.  One subgroup had short-term goals and were indeed using the experience to beef up to their resumes.  The other subgroup had more traditional, longer-term expectations for a teaching career.

The majority of all respondents (56.59%) indicated that when they had applied to TFA, they had planned on teaching for two years or less, and 9.28% of that group had actually applied to graduate school while going through the TFA selection process and deferred enrollment for two years.

However, the rest of the respondents (43.41%) said they wanted to teach longer than the two-year requirement.  Notably, 11.34% reported wanting to make teaching their career when they entered the corps; and many (about 12%) had already taken some sort of teaching/education course in college.

The survey also revealed why some TFA corps members decided to leave teaching.  34.93% left to pursue careers outside K-12; 11.79% returned to school to improve their career opportunities in education; and 10.26% returned to school to improve career opportunities outside of education.

The above are all related to professional advancement, but there were other reasons cited that had more to do with the situation TFA members found themselves in.  Nearly 18% of those who left teaching cited school-based factors as the primary reason for their departure:  9.83% left due to poor administrative leadership at their school; 2.11% due to lack of collaboration; 2.98% for inadequate discipline; and 2.84% for general dissatisfaction with their job description and responsibilities.

To read the full report, please visit