Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Do Harvard Kids Head to TFA?

James Kwak has an interesting post entitled "Why Do Harvard Kids Head to Wall Street?"  Most interesting to me is that, at least up until the point where he starts discussing money, one could substitute Teach for America for every mention of Goldman Sachs or McKinsey.

For example:

The typical Harvard undergraduate is someone who: (a) is very good at school; (b) has been very successful by conventional standards for his entire life; (c) has little or no experience of the “real world” outside of school or school-like settings; (d) feels either the ambition or the duty to have a positive impact on the world (not well defined); and (e) is driven more by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular. (Yes, I know this is a stereotype; that’s why I said “typical.”) Their (our) decisions are motivated by two main decision rules: (1) close down as few options as possible; and (2) only do things that increase the possibility of future overachievement.

followed by:

The recruiting processes of Wall Street firms (and consulting firms, and corporate law firms) exploit these (faulty) decision rules perfectly. The primary selling point of Goldman Sachs or McKinsey is that it leaves open the possibility of future greatness. The main pitch is, “Do this for two years, and afterward you can do anything (like be treasury secretary).”  

and then:

For people who don’t know how to get a job in the open economy, and who have ended each phase of their lives by taking the test to do the most prestigious thing possible in the next phase, all of this comes naturally.

This seems like a pretty good explanation as to why something like 10% of recent Ivy League grads have entered TFA after college.  I didn't to an Ivy League college, but it's not all that dissimilar to the reasons I started teaching after college (for me getting a chance to "make a difference" right away was number one and those other things were next).  Which would lead me to two conclusions:

1.) TFA might be as savvy as Goldman Sachs and McKinsey in some ways
2.) Given that these students are doing society more good at TFA than at those types of firms, maybe we should have more public good-oriented programs that recruit in this manner


Joe said...

Hi Corey,

Thanks for the post! Thought you might be interested in the Facebook group I created a couple of years ago to raise awareness about the Urban Teacher Residency model of teacher preparation:



Sonia said...

Hi Corey,

To follow up on Joe's post, you can find more information on urban teacher residencies at

Urban Teacher Residency United is building and managing a national network of teacher residencies dedicated to accelerating student achievement through the training, support and retention of excellent teachers. Another option for those that are interested in teaching for the long haul!