GOOD

Mind the Gap: In Defense of Teach for America


\n


An inner-city schoolteacher defends Teach for America.

This is the first in a two-part series on the education reform organization, in which the author is a second-year corps member.

I'm generally very even-keeled, especially at school, but the other day a colleague of mine made me nearly blow my top.

She'd asked me what I planned to do next year, when I'll have fulfilled my two-year commitment to Teach for America and am free to opt out of my school. I said I wasn't sure yet, which prompted a rant about how "all TFA-ers leave the classroom after two years."

Then came the kicker.

"These people just take resources from schools. All TFA-ers should pay their schools back for the resources they take if they leave after two years." In effect, she was saying that our time in the classroom was devoid of value, that our temporary presence detracted from our schools.

I've been told before that if I leave after two years, I will have had no impact on my school. I’ve also been told TFA is counterproductive for the education reform movement. But after this latest comment, I'd had about enough.

Over the last two decades, Teach for America has brought thousands of motivated, intelligent, skilled young people into high-need classrooms around the country. In doing so, the organization and the movement it spawned has turned education reform into a cause celebre. Some corps members and the organizations they subsequently created have redefined what's possible in low-income communities. Even if corps members leave the classroom after two years, their country and their students are better off for their service.

First of all, Teach for America has amplified and advanced the national conversation on the educational achievement gap. On elite college campuses, students are researching educational inequity en masse in preparation for their interviews. When Wendy Kopp founded the organization 20 years ago based on her senior thesis at Princeton, she aimed to compete with the recruiting zeal of the big Wall Street firms, who were siphoning off a large percentage of top graduates. Despite that, TFA has successfully redirected the passions of some of this country's most promising students towards a more humanitarian, albeit in some cases temporary, aim. Need more evidence? Nearly 50,000 people applied for about 4,000 spots this year.

As a result, the media is agog over the program. Education reform is a hot topic, and low-achieving schools and the students they serve are getting the attention—from the Obama (and Bush) administration to the Gates Foundation to the people who read and comment on articles such as this—they desperately need.

Consider the impact TFA alums have had and are poised to have. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), YES Schools and Idea Schools are all high-achieving charter networks founded by TFA alumni. Former corps members head the Washington, D.C. school system as well as the New Teacher Project. Alums advise Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Harry Reid, and run over 10 percent of the public schools in Oakland, D.C. and other regions around the United States. Alum Steve Zimmer was recently elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board, which runs the second-largest school system in the country, and TFA's burgeoning Leadership for Educational Equity program is positioned to assist more corps members in running and winning elected office.

Too many people misunderstand TFA's approach to eliminating the achievement gap. The organization does not pretend its corps members' two years in the classroom will close the gap. Rather, TFA aims to have its alumni tackle the issue from many different points, starting with classroom teachers and school leadership and expanding out into law and policy, medicine and public health, media, advocacy, and other fields. By placing high-achieving young people in the classroom while also facilitating alumni's rise in myriad fields, TFA is simultaneously pursuing a bottom-up and top-down approach to achieve systematic reform of the public education system.

The byproduct of this approach is playing itself out all over the country, as some of our country’s most promising leaders throw themselves into one of our nation’s most-pressing issues—the dramatic racial and socioeconomic achievement gap. Consider the plight of a friend of mine, a former student body president who ran Obama's campaign in a major New Hampshire city. He had an array of opportunities open to him thereafter, yet he now spends his days wrestling with middle schoolers.

My friend is bound for a career in public service, and that career will now be rooted in the challenges he’s encountering today. As such, future generations of students like his will reap the rewards of his transformational experience and perhaps be able to say that they helped close the achievement gap.

Brendan Lowe is a Teach for America corps member who is in his second year of teaching high school in the South Bronx. His dispatch for GOOD appears on Fridays.
Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health