Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Left out of No Child Left Behind: Teach for America's Outsized Influence on Alternative Certification

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Left out of No Child Left Behind: Teach for America's Outsized Influence on Alternative Certification

Article excerpt


One of the intriguing developments of the past couple years has been the emergence of a new school of reform advocacy groups committed to driving policy change. This is a healthy development, as such policy changes are essential to rethinking and redesigning American schooling for the challenges and opportunities of a new era. For decades, would-be education reformers have struggled with the vagaries of the policy process. Those involved in today's efforts can, and should, learn from these precursors. One of the best-known and most relevant of those is Teach for America, which endured a trial by fire as it found its way into the policy sphere.

In "Left Out of No Child Left Behind," veteran education journalist Alexander Russo explains how TFA edged into the policy debates and was nearly undone by its reluctance on that front. Russo connects TFA's increasing presence on Capitol Hill with the debates and ultimate passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in the early 2000s. Russo argues that it was primarily luck that TFA was able to escape the NCLB process unscathed. After that scare, TFA recognized that it would do well to engage policymakers more systematically and aggressively so it could pursue federal funding, expand to new locales, and retain flexibility around teacher certification.

Russo draws key lessons from TFA's experience with NCLB:

* Get in early. Not only was TFA lucky to emerge unhurt from the NCLB process, but it also likely should have been present on Capitol Hill during even earlier debates on teacher preparation. Other reform groups that move more slowly into the political arena might not be so fortunate and could see laws passed that directly harm their mission and practice.

* Cultivate bipartisan support. While many groups depend heavily on one party or the other for support, TFA successfully nurtured backing from Republicans and Democrats in roughly equal measure. This helped them in reform debates.

* Build coalitions. TFA's focus during and after NCLB authorization was on the aspects of the law that dealt with teacher quality and certification; they did far less lobbying on other key facets of NCLB or other debates on federal funding. This led, says Russo, to "a certain degree of resentment and isolation from other groups, advocates, and offices" who wanted TFA's support and clout on these other issues. Reform groups engaging the political realm should carefully weigh which policy debates they can realistically partake in and how doing so will garner support from useful partners.

Public education involves spending public funds to educate the public's kids. This inevitably involves public policy, and therefore politics. Russo offers an important window into how this played out for one important organization and uses it to provide practical insight for many of today's would-be reformers. I hope you find this fascinating, brisk account as compelling as I have. For further information on the paper, Alexander Russo can be reached at For additional information on the activities of AEI's education policy program, please visit or contact Daniel Lautzenheiser at

Frederick M. Hess

Director, Education Policy Studies

American Enterprise Institute

Left Out of No Child Left Behind

When Kevin Huffman joined Teach for America (TFA) in September 2000 as vice president of development and general counsel, there was no real federal operation in place at TFA, nor anyone within the organization who really knew how Washington, DC, worked--including Huffman.

"I had absolutely no idea what I was doing for the first six months," he said. (1)

The 1992 Swarthmore College graduate had started out teaching first and second grade in Houston with TFA and then gone to New York University for law school. …

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