Big expansion, big questions for Teach for America


Over the past 20 years, thousands of recent college graduates have taught for two years in some of the most challenging classrooms in hopes of helping close the achievement gap. Applications have doubled since 2008. Foundations have donated tens of millions.

With Teach for America’s guidance, groups are being established in India, Chile, and other places with deep educational inequalities.

Many countries, including those where students perform higher in math and reading, send the strongest and most experienced teachers to work with the lowest performing students. The U.S. has done the reverse. There are nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience in schools where students are predominantly low-income and minority.

Family income is one of the most accurate predictors of how well a student will perform. Just 18 percent of low-income eighth-grade students, for example, scored as proficient or above in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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“When we started this 20 years ago, the prevailing notion backed up by all the research was socio-economic circumstances determine educational outcomes,” Kopp said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve seen real evidence it does not have to be that way.”

How to overcome the challenges of poverty is at the center of the debate over education reform, with an increasing focus on effective teaching.

Highly effective teachers are hardest to find at the least advantaged schools.

“The reality, particularly in urban centers in America, is they aren’t there,” said Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, who served as the founding director for Teach for America in New York City.

Academics vs. experience

Teach for America believes it can create a corps of such teachers in a short time.

Research, however, shows that beginning instructors improve with experience.

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