‘Our sober assessment is that these are the toughest recruitment conditions we’ve faced in more than two decades.”

That was Elisa Villanueva Beard, chief executive of Teach for America, explaining to supporters why applications to the program dropped 16 percent this year, making it the third year in a row that applications have dropped.

There were only 37,000 applications in 2016, compared to 57,000 in 2013.

For kids in underserved schools across this country, any decline in the TFA corps is tragic.

A 2015 Mathematica study showed that students taught by Teach for America teachers made an added 1.3 months more progress in a given year than those taught by other teachers in the same school. A 2013 study showed that students received 2.6 more months of math instruction per year from TFA corps members than others.

Teach for America teachers are among the smartest and most qualified recent college graduates in the country and they’re going to districts — from the South Bronx to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — where no one else wants to go.

So it’s worth asking why TFA’s numbers are declining. The most cited reason is the economy: As the job market has improved, college graduates have more options. Maybe, but as graduates of Ivy League and other elite colleges, the organization’s applicants have always had other options.

Others suggest there’s a kind of toxic atmosphere around the education profession. The American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Hess says applications to teacher-preparation programs have declined overall, at least in part because of the “rhetoric around education reform.” Instead of criticizing the systems, he says, “We have rhetoric about how much teachers suck.”

But then there’s this. Says Hess, “One of the things not recognized about Teach for America is what a left-wing organization it is.” Indeed, in the past year, Teach for America members and alumni have increasingly aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, among other political causes. Even Matt Kramer, the co-CEO of the organization, showed up at BLM protests in St. Louis.

Hess believes this “social-justice” mission is very much in line with founder Wendy Kopp’s vision. But he also thinks that the organization might be losing applicants as a result.

Whereas in its early years, TFA might have gotten politically centrist kids who would otherwise be headed for business school but wanted to teach for a couple of years first, now those students might not be inclined to swallow the politics of the organization.

Hess suggests those young men and women also have other options they didn’t have before. Most states have alternative certification programs through which they can go directly into school districts. Many students also apply directly to charter schools (some of which were founded by TFA alumni). They can get the experience of serving low-income kids without having to get political.

But TFA may also be caught in the middle. Hess thinks some of its potential applicants would like to see the organization take more political stands. For instance, despite pressure, Beard declined to take a position on North Carolina’s controversy over transgendered bathrooms and whether businesses should be required to serve gays and lesbians.

As Hess notes, Teach for America has been a boon to red states, and it has received tremendous support from those states’ governors. There’s only so much they want to jeopardize that relationship by getting into political fights not directly related to education.

According to board member Kevin Huffman, “We’re not living in pragmatic centrist times, but TFA is a pragmatic, centrist-oriented solution.” Many of the kids graduating from elite colleges are Bernie Sanders-supporting Black Lives Matter protesters. They don’t like TFA because they think this notion that underprivileged kids can be successful if they get a better education and learn to embrace hard work and personal responsibility is bunk.

Huffman, who taught bilingual education and English in Houston and served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, says, “It’s one thing to talk progressivism. But it’s another thing to be willing to go and work in the inner city.” TFA, he says, “separates the talkers from the doers.” Let’s hope it continues to focus on the latter.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.