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Friday, May 16, 2008

Teach For America

From the New York Times Editorial Published: May 16, 2008

To maintain its standing as an economic power, the United States must encourage programs that help students achieve the highest levels in math and science, especially in poor communities where the teacher corps is typically weak.

The National Academies, the country’s leading science advisory group, has called for an ambitious program to retrain current teachers in these disciplines and attract 10,000 new ones each year for the foreseeable future. These are worthy goals. But a new study from a federal research center based at the Urban Institute in Washington suggests that the country might raise student performance through programs like Teach for America, a nonprofit group that places high-achieving college graduates in schools that are hard to staff.

Teach for America started in 1990. By next fall, it will have more than 6,000 young teachers working nationwide. These teachers, many of whom come from elite colleges, commit to two years’ teaching. Besides their salaries, they receive modest federal grants and the right to defer loan payments while teaching.

Critics have challenged the program’s usefulness, pointing out that the teachers it places are neophytes and that a majority leave the classroom after two years. But the new study suggests that talented young people can have a lasting effect even if they do not make a career of teaching. According to the study, Teach for America participants who worked in North Carolina between 2000 and 2006 had more impact on student performance than traditional teachers did, as measured by end-of-course tests. The difference was observed in several areas of science and was strongest in math.

The findings are especially significant because Teach for America teachers worked in schools with the neediest students. The results suggest that states that want students to do better in math and science need to focus recruitment on more selective colleges instead of on traditional teacher education programs, which are often little more than diploma mills.

I think this is absolutely innovative. A majority of teacher training programmes in Africa are populated with 3rd and 4th tier high school graduates who failed to meet the grade for more competitive degree programmes.

One of my Biology teachers in high school was a PhD candidate. You can imagine the effect of this on the mind of an impressionable teenage boy. This teacher provided me with a search image that I could relate to.  I ended up with a PhD in Ecology. I never asked him why he took three months away from his research to teach high school Biology. I am so grateful he came by. 

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