Starting with the premise that nothing has a greater influence on a school’s success than the quality of teachers, The New Teacher Project (later known simply as TNTP) was founded in 1997 by Michelle Rhee, and then run by her for ten years until she became school chief in the District of Columbia. The organization’s original mission was to help large urban school districts recruit, train, and hire new teachers who could get classroom results, particularly in hard-to-fill specialties like special-ed and math. The group still does this, through its TNTP Academy, which has so far recommended to districts nearly 3,000 teacher hires. Over the years, TNTP has increasingly focused on drawing into the teaching profession talented candidates from nonconventional backgrounds.
In 2000, TNTP established its own teaching-fellows program to groom accomplished professionals and recent college graduates who aren’t certified as educators but have subject knowledge and talents to help high-need students. The program is extremely selective—only 8 percent of all applicants make it to the classroom. Recruits are particularly steered into the hardest-to-fill jobs: about 40 percent of TNTP Teaching Fellows go into special education, 15 percent teach science, 12 percent teach math, and 10 percent work in bilingual education. More than 32,000 unusually effective teachers have come out of the fellows program since its creation. With the growth and dramatic success of charter schools over the last decade, increasing numbers of TNTP recruits have been placed in charters.
Both the charters schools and the conventional districts that TNTP works with pay the group a fee for providing them with a highly qualified teacher, and this revenue stream covers about 70 percent of the group’s expenses. The remainder of its annual budget comes from philanthropists such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Gates, Walton, and Schwab foundations. One of the things that donor money has made possible is TNTP’s increasing role in analyzing systemic problems in public schooling and prescribing solutions. In a series of influential reports over the last few years, like 2009’s “The Widget Effect,” TNTP has dispensed advice on evaluating, compensating, and keeping or replacing teachers.