July 27, 2011; Source: Rockfishhosting.com | The Walton Family Foundation, created by the founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), announced today that it will donate $50 million to Teach For America (TFA) to help double the size of its teaching corps. Half of the funds, which will be given over three years, will increase the number of teachers to 15,000 by 2015. The rest will support the training of existing TFA instructors in seven communities, especially those in the Delta regions of Arkansas and Mississippi.

The investment makes the Walton Family Foundation the largest donor of TFA, which is already one of the most flush of all educational nonprofits in the country. Prior to this gift, the foundation donated more than $22 million to Teach For America since 1993. A new report, highlighted in a recent Washington Post article, found that TFA received nearly one-third of all private philanthropic contributions (approximately $213 million) to educational groups from 2000 to 2008. TFA also received an additional $150 million from foundations and the U.S. government in the past year, which was outside the scope of the report.

Founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, TFA reflects the trend in school reform that engages teachers via alternative certification programs that “bypass traditional years-long teaching” programs,” Post reporter Valerie Strauss writes. She adds that TFA’s model is not without controversy, with critics charging that the five weeks of training would-be teachers receive is insufficient and that program participants have higher attrition rates than those who attend traditional teacher training programs. TFA’s initial preference for Ivy League school graduates also has been a point of contention, although the organization has since expanded its recruitment pool.

While no one begrudges TFA for its dedication, mission and fundraising savvy, it’s worth asking whether the ongoing deluge of foundation funding to one organization is going to solve the breathtakingly complex problems facing our nation’s schools. As the Post piece points out, foundations have for decades been funneling money into teacher training and development with little to show for it. In the meantime, kids and their parents are still facing an achievement gap, declining graduation rates, and a public school system in disarray. —Cynthia Gibson