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Education


Teach for America is coming to Ohio...
But is the alternate license program what Ohio schools really need?
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Wooster grad Jessica Yarmosky is heading to Oklahoma to teach high-school math. She's one of the elite Teach for America corps of college graduates that serve in struggling districts throughout the country.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair, WKSU
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Their numbers are small, but their influence is spreading. Teach for America was founded 20 years ago to recruit new college graduates to serve in struggling school districts that can’t attract experienced educators.    Teach for America is playing big in Ohio’s education debate – even as critics argue  the impact is more symbolic than transformative.

Jeff St.Clair on Teach for America

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Fighting the achievement gap
 
Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address was short on most specifics. But not on one - Kasich announced to rousing cheers that “Teach for America is coming to Ohio!” Kasich and others tout Teach for America as a solution to the ‘achievement gap’ in America’s underperforming schools.   It’s a phrase often repeated by the organization. But what is behind the achievement gap?  Teach For America spokesperson Rebecca Neale says it’s difficult to define, but it is solvable.

Teach for America’s solution to the gap between student performance at high-income and economically struggling districts is… enthusiasm. The program takes the best and brightest college graduates, gives them five weeks of teacher training, and sends them into the fray – with additional training and mentorship over the two years they’re working in the schools. 
 
Enthusiasm is something Jessica Yarmosky has in abundance.   She’s one of three College of Wooster recruits being honored before shipping out. Yarmosky’s an English major heading to a high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to teach math …which has her a little worried, “ I’m really nervous because I haven’t taken a math class since high school…but I’m excited.” Yarmosky will train this summer.   In the fall she’ll face her first class of students. 
 
Teacher turnover a concern
 
That first year in a new classroom is an experience that 2006 Wooster grad Taylor Delhagen vividly recalls - “ It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and continues to be.”  Unlike most Teach for America alumni, Delhagen stuck with teaching. After his two-year commitment at a high school in Brooklyn, New York, he helped found a charter school there and continues to teach 10th grade social studies. 
 
Half of theTeach for America teachers leave the classroom after their two-year commitment;  only  1-in-5 stay past 3 years. But Delhagen says that turnover is part of the plan for the program. He says Teach for America alum bring their experience into whatever career they pursue, “so if you become a doctor or a lawyer, then you’re always going to have that experience with you you’re always going to have that passion to fight the achievement gap.”

Turn-over is common in classrooms – beyond Teach for America. One-third of all new traditionally trained teachers leave the classroom after their first 3 years, according to Dan Mahony, dean of Kent State University’s College of Education.   He says students benefit most from teachers who stay. Mahony says teachers only hit their stride after about 4 years of experience, “so if you’re only staying to the point where you really get good at it and then leaving, then that’s a bit of problem.” 
 
And University of Texas researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig maintains that the two- to three-year commitment of Teach for America teachers is a financial drain on school districts. Although results differ by region, Heilig says most peer reviewed studies show Teach for America teachers are no more effective in the classroom than other alternatively licensed instructors, and much less effective than experienced teachers. He believes Teach for America is more about building a personal resume for recruits than closing the achievement gap. But Heilig says much of the criticism of the program would melt away if the commitment was raised from 2 years to 5 years to weed out applicants who aren’t serious about teaching. 
 
Teach for America in Ohio
 
The legislation bringing Teach for America to Ohio is still awaiting Senate approval before heading to the Governor’s desk. Ohio’s largest teachers union is officially neutral on the measure. Ohio Education Association spokesperson Michelle Winship says the main barrier that has kept Teach for America out of Ohio is not Ohio’s teacher licensing requirements, it’s supply and demand. Winship says Teach for America tried to start a relationship with Cleveland schools several years ago, “but the need wasn’t there. I don’t think the need exists now.”
 
Texas and New York place the highest number of Teach for America recruits; nearly half serve in the South, and outside of Chicago, few Midwest schools take part in the program. Wooster grad Abigail Heimach will be heading to a high-school in Nashville to teach social studies - her idealism is typical of the young people entering the program. She says she’s wants to give back to the community and learn from students, “who might not have access to the privilege and opportunity that I’ve had in my life.” 
 
Currently 300 Ohio graduates are Teach for America teachers serving in some of the most challenging classrooms across the country. Another 300 alumni are back in Ohio working outside the classroom.  Spokesperson Rebecca Neale says it will be several years before any Ohio district hires a Teach for America teacher. But as Gov. Kasich promised, they are coming.

Related Links & Resources
Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence study

Teach for America website

Listener Comments:

Teach For America does not make "big bucks on the public dime" as Larry says. The majority of their money comes from fund-raising, donations, and donors.

If the government could get a little smarter about its spending, then maybe it wouldn't be such a big surprise to see an organization actually making more money than it is spending.


Posted by: Current TFA Teacher (Tennessee) on April 13, 2011 11:04AM
How ridiculous is it that our "leaders" think putting anyone who is "enthusiastic" into a classroom will suddenly make things better. The "teacher" in the example is going to teach math and isn't certified. How is this an example of "highly qualified"? I have worked in an inner city school and know how challenging it can be. The major factor to overcome is that many of the families don't care about education, only the need for the baby sitting service. Of course, there are great students and parents at every school, but you have to plow through the other obstacles to make any headway. The teachers that choose to stay in inner city schools are amazing teachers that are very dedicated to the students that they teach. How about putting a little responsibility for the students learning and behavior back on the families?


Posted by: Bret Pendergast (Mogadore) on April 9, 2011 10:04AM
More of our money diverted to the govenor's friends. Who is Teach for America? The group is headed by Wendy Kopp. She is married to Richard Barth CEO of KIPP Charter Schools which were featured in the "Waiting for Superman" documentary ( A favorite of the governor). Both of them and their organizations are making big bucks on the public dime.
Teach For America had revenues of $159 million in fiscal year 2008 and expenses of $124.5 million.

CEO and founder Wendy Kopp made $265,585, with an additional $17,027 in benefits and deferred compensation. She also made an additional $71,021 in compensation and benefits through the TFA-related organization Teach for All...
Barth made more than $300,000 in pay and benefits, bringing the Kopp/Barth household income to almost $600,000 for their work with TFA and KIPP

And how many good young teachers do we have in our state subbing during the day and waiting tables at night hoping to get hired?


Posted by: Larry Cerniglia (Holmeville) on April 7, 2011 6:04AM
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