Teach For America: Right Answer For Windham Schools
By MARK DOYLE AND BARBARA MCGRATH
March 18, 2012
As parents, Windham residents and advocates for all children, we appreciate the sense of urgency our state leaders are bringing to education and our district.
The stakes are too high for anything less. While the list of needed changes in our schools is long, one priority topping the list in community conversations with Windham and state leaders is ensuring that every classroom is led by an effective teacher. We need to explore all available resources that can help our school system and all of our dedicated and new teachers achieve that goal.
Teach for America is one of those available resources we want to bring to Windham, so it is important that we consider the positive aspects and the expected results of the program. We know that Teach for America's work has been validated by positive findings from independent research. Teach For America – Connecticut is a state-accredited alternative route to certification currently partnering with Southern Connecticut State University, so that its teachers meet the same rigorous certification requirements of all our state universities.
Teach For America trains more teachers for low-income communities than any other U.S. organization or institution. A growing body of research speaks to its teachers' effectiveness. In the last four years, North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee conducted statewide studies on teacher preparation programs and teacher effectiveness. Each study concluded that Teach For America teachers, known as corps members, have a greater impact on student achievement than other new teachers. The most recent study from Tennessee found that among the state's 42 teacher preparation programs, Teach For America corps members outperformed the average new teacher in grades 4 though 8 in all subjects, and in some areas outperformed veteran teachers.
Corps members' success is in large part due to Teach For America's rigorous recruitment, selection and professional development model. The organization recruits at more than 450 colleges and universities, and this year's applicants included seniors from 19 Connecticut schools.
Teach For America selects corps members based on criteria that the organization has found to be predictive of immediate success for teachers in low-income communities: demonstrated leadership and past achievement; perseverance in the face of challenges; strong critical thinking; the ability to influence and motivate others; organizational ability; respect for low-income communities; and a desire to work relentlessly toward educational equity and excellence.
After intensive training before entering the classroom, corps members receive continuous support and professional development over two years, which includes one-on-one instructional coaching based on student data, classroom observations and the completion of a master's degree in education. This is a model we hope that Windham can build on as we work to support all of our teachers.
Teach For America has demonstrated that its corps members thrive with the training and support they are given, and so do their students. Many stay teaching in the classroom beyond their two-year commitment. Many others go on to assume high-impact roles outside the classroom, such as in school and district leadership, in public policy and in other fields addressing poverty. Windham students can only benefit from having these teachers in our system.
Teachers perform our state's most important job. It is essential that school leaders have the opportunity to choose the best teacher for their students, regardless of a teacher's pathway to the classroom. It is not fair to our children to exclude candidates coming through alternative pathways, such as Teach For America, that have track records of success.
We are proud of our state and community leaders for their planned efforts to create a robust system for recruitment, training and professional development to bring new high-potential teachers to work alongside our dedicated veteran educators and deliver what matters most for our children: effective teachers. We support Teach For America as an additional resource in those plans.
Mark Doyle is a member of the Windham town council and previously served 20 years on Windham Board of Education. Barbara McGrath is a former member of the Windham Board of Finance and its immediate past chairman.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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