Are Walton/Walmart Ties Hurting Teach for America’s Reputation?

It looks like the Walmart heirs’ multi-milion dollar investment in Teach for America is causing some young teachers-to-be to think twice about the group and its agenda.    In Friday’s New York Times, Motoko Rich writes that Teach for America has experienced a 10% drop in applications over the prior year, breaking a 15 year growth trend for the organization.   Among the reasons cited for the drop are increasing criticism of TfA, it’s funders, and its close alliance with the charter school movement.

In fact, the article quotes one college student who was originally interested in applying for Teach for America:

But as she learned more about the organization, Ms. Duncan lost faith in its short training and grew skeptical of its ties to certain donors, including the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart.


Greg Penner, grandson-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton

The Walton Family Foundation has contributed more than $50 million to Teach for America since 2009.[1]   Walton family member (and Walmart Vice Chairman) Greg Penner is a member of the Teach for America Board of Directors.   Another TfA Board Member is Jose Villarreal, a close associate of Walmart and the Waltons, having served on the Walmart board from 1998-2006 and the Walton-owned First Solar board from 2005 to 2013.[2]

In many ways, Teach for America has become the Walmart model of education – low cost, low-wage and according to many critics, low quality.  Teach for America trains well-meaning, high-achieving college graduates for just five weeks before sending them viagra online to serve out a two-year commitment by teaching in high-needs schools – in districts such as Newark, Philadelphia and Chicago, where thousands of experienced educators and support staff are being laid off and traditional public schools are being closed.[3]

As Teach for America alumnus Alex Caputo-Pearl has written, “This leads to clustering of less-prepared teachers disproportionately at schools serving our most vulnerable children, which has been shown to have detrimental effect on students.”[4] Education researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig found that more than 80 percent of TFA recruits leave teaching before their fourth year.[5] According to Heilig, “Sadly, Teach for America is a revolving door of inexperienced teachers for the students who most need a highly qualified one.”


But, criticisms of TFA’s model aside, perhaps the most important take-away from the New York Times piece is that, as the devastating impact of the Walmart economy on our nation becomes clearer, many are increasingly suspicious of the role of the company’s ruling family’s ideological agenda and the impact it may have in our schools and beyond.

As criticism of Walmart and the Walton family grows, organizations may increasingly wonder whether, in the long-run, contributions from the Walton family, are do more harm than good.


[1] The Walton Family Foundation, IRS Form 990 (Various Years)


[3] Bob Braun, “Newark: 700 teachers may be laid off, many replaced by TFA,” Bob Braun’;s Ledger (February 23, 2014). ; Greg Toppo, “Teach for America: Elite corps or costing older teachers jobs?,” USA Today (July 29, 2009).; Camika Royal, “I Won’t Say ‘Don’t Join Teach For America’ (Yet)” Good (November 26, 2013).

[4] Alex Caputo-Pearl, “Teach for America Shows the Downside of Quick Fixes to Education,” The New York Times(Room for Debate) (August 30, 2012).

[5] Julian Vasquez Heilig, “Teach for America Is a Glorified Temp Agency,” The New York Times (Room for Debate). (August 31, 2012).