A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 28 2009

TFA = Lean Mean Achievement Gap Closing Machine

I don’t think anyone can deny that TFA is a well-oiled, lean organization.  Case in point: aside from the logistical mess of getting all 270 DC corps members to Gallaudet University for the closing session, the first week of Induction passed smoother than any scheduled week I’ve ever witnessed.  Directions were clear, Transition Team Leaders (TTLs) were knowledgeable, and session were prompt.  Given that we had daily schedules directing us on an almost minute-by-minute basis, this was quite impressive.

The Philadelphia Institute registration process is another example of how effectively TFA goes about its business.  After getting off our coach buses at Temple University, we were corralled into registration booths where we picked up our nametags and “passports”.  After completing each of the ten registration stations, a staffer would timestamp our passports, marking the exact minute.  What were the time stamps for, I wondered?  When I asked a staffer, she said that the sequence of time stamps provided data on how quickly corps members were moving through the stations.  The data would be used to improve the process next year.  Given that it took me just over ten minutes to go through all of these stations, I was impressed that TFA would look for even more ways to save time.

It seems, then, that TFA practices what it preaches.  This makes me happy.  Our pre-Institute reading has told us that gathering and analyzing data is a critical element in making progress in any endeavor, whether closing an achievement gap or improving an operational procedure.

Furthermore, when I think about how effective the recruiting process was—indeed, if my campus recruiter hadn’t sent me an innocent email back in October wondering whether or not I was interested in a “coffee chat,” I doubt I would be a corps member today—I realize that many organizations could learn a lot from TFA’s organizational behavior.

But such leanness comes with excesses too.  When I think of all the paper that is being used through the summer, I cringe.  We were sent about ten different TFA “manuals” with likely over a thousand pages of text.  Was it really necessary to include all of the related readings and “toolkits” at the end of each booklet?  Upon our arrival at Temple University, we were greeted by a two-inch thick workbook, numbering 642 pages.  Just from flipping through, it seemed as though much of the space was wasted with worksheets with too much blank space.

Perhaps, though, the next five weeks will demonstrate that the thousands of trees used to produce these Institute texts will not have been sacrificed in vain.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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