Abell Salutes: Teach For America

August 2004 / Salutes / Education

For enriching the talent pool of new teachers in Baltimore City Public Schools.

There are easier ways to make a living.

Teaching in Baltimore’s inner city schools is, by all accounts, stressful and low paying, and, in comparison to law, medicine and business careers, offers limited no promise of financial success. But the bright young college graduates who take teaching positions in the Teach For America Corps know all that, and they take the jobs anyway, and willingly. Their rewards lie in helping Teach for America make a difference in the education of the poor and disadvantaged. In pursuing this mission, these new teachers strive to help their students progress at a level that is beyond the traditional growth for students in urban schools. By all reports, they are succeeding.

Teach For America Baltimore (TFA) is the local corps of recent college graduates from varied academic majors and backgrounds who commit to teach in urban and rural public schools for two years. During that period, TFA Corps members attain their teacher certification and have the option to earn a master’s degree in Education. TFA recruits high-achieving graduates from competitive colleges who had not originally planned or trained to become teachers. The Grade Point Average of students admitted into the program is 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, and 70 percent earned a bachelor’s degree from one of America’s most prestigious and competitive colleges. Beyond these statistics, the TFA corps is a diverse group – socio-economically, racially and ethnically.

TFA has been highly successful in attracting applicants that meet its high standards, and the number of core members has expanded rapidly in recent years. Between 2000 and 2003 the national TFA applicant pool grew almost fourfold, from 4,086 to 17,706; and the number of new TFA Corps members nearly doubled from 868 to 1, 656. In 2004, TFA plans to place new teachers in 22 urban and rural regions, an increase from 15 regions served in 2000, casting a wider net to bring more teachers into those school districts where they are most needed.

TFA has been working with the Baltimore City Public School System since 1992, and was one of the first organizations to make use of Maryland’s Alternative Teacher Certification route. In the last decade, TFA/Baltimore has placed over 500 members into teaching positions in City public schools. Currently, in Baltimore City, TFA teachers reach 14,000 students a day in 54 elementary, middle and high schools; in 2003-04 there were approximately 160 first and second year TFA teachers in the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). Another 180 regional alumni are working from all sectors to open opportunities for disadvantaged children.

TFA teachers are making a difference: According to Danielle Peterson, Executive Director of TFA/Baltimore, “Every year we have first and second year teachers achieving multiple grade-level advances with their students, in reading and mathematics, as well as measurable strides in social studies, the sciences, foreign languages. TFA corps members have started chess and debate clubs, sports and outdoor programs, and college prep activities for the students in the BCPSS who would probably not get to enjoy these educational opportunities were it not for the TFA teachers.”

An independent study just released by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (June 2004) demonstrates that TFA teachers are highly effective in the classroom. According to the study, students of these teachers make 10% more progress in a year in math than is typically anticipated; reading scores slightly exceed the expected. TFA teachers also attain greater student gains in math and similar gains in reading as compared to other new teachers and to veteran teachers. It should be noted that TFA teachers are working in some of the highest-need classrooms in the nation.

Finally, since TFA teachers are paid the same salaries as other teachers, the school system pays little additional costs for the achievement increase; school districts typically contribute funding to offset recruiting and training costs of each Corps member. This contrasts with other interventions that have been shown to increase achievement, such as class size reduction, which can entail substantial direct costs.

TFA’s survey of Baltimore City principals who have hired and worked with TFA teachers shows 100 percent say that having a TFA corps member is advantageous to the students and their schools; that 95 per cent of the teachers had a positive impact on student academic achievement; and that 85 percent of TFA members’ second graders read at or above grade level by the end of the first year, with some scoring as high as fourth grade level.

Furthermore, Baltimore’s TFA alumni remain in the forefront of educational reform in the city:

  • Felicity Messner Ross, ’94 corps, received the Presidential Award For Excellence in Mathematics and Science teaching in 2000
  • Jason Botel, ‘97 corps, was named a Fisher Fellow for school leadership, and has started a nationally acclaimed KIPP Academy middle school in Baltimore City
  • Laura Wheeldryer, ‘91 corps, became the Director of New Schools Initiatives, a program designed to establish innovative schools in Baltimore City
  • In 2002, a TFA alumnae was named Baltimore City Teacher of the Year and four other teachers were recognized as Model Teachers in the CEO District.

The Abell Foundation salutes Teach For America/Baltimore and its Executive Director Danielle Peterson for “widening the net” to allow highly-successful college graduates to teach and become certified in Baltimore City classrooms. These teachers, in turn, have brought their successful academic records, numerous talents, and high expectations to our children. They have earned the recognition they are receiving in such generous measure — from the community, from the city’s leadership, and from the students.