Teach for America

Teach for America spans 43 regions in low-income areas across the country. (Source: TeachforAmerica.com)
Teach for America spans 43 regions in low-income areas across the country. (Source: TeachforAmerica.com)

By Elizabeth Neuner | LSU Student

The often-controversial Teach for America is offering data to show its teachers are more effective in the classroom than other new teachers in Louisiana and two other southern states.

Teach for America recruits college graduates to be trained for a two-year commitment to be a salaried teacher in one of 43 low-income or disadvantaged cities across America, mostly in the South. This past year, 70 new corps members came to southern Louisiana to teach.

A study in North Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana schools between 2009 and 2010 by those states and Teach for America found the organization's newly inducted teachers in Teach for America have "a greater impact on student achievement than other new teachers."

Jacob McConnell, recruitment manager for Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, said Teach for America is an asset to American education. "Teach for America is an important partner in the educational system. It gets the top leaders involved in education."

McConnell said the teaching experience not only benefits the students in the classroom but society as a whole and the "corps" members who go on to other careers after their their commitment..

"Those that do move on to other careers never forget their experiences and their students. This will shape the rest of their careers. We also cultivate politicians who are able to know firsthand what (education needs). We cultivate businessmen and women who are committed to giving to schools and getting involved on boards; we create a drive in doctors to give back to children in poverty."

McConnell has personally felt the lasting impact of Teach for America as a former teacher.

"I taught middle school special education at St. Helena Middle School in Greensburg, La.," McConnell said. "The toughest part of being a corps member was seeing how far behind all of my students were and the challenges that they faced in their daily lives."

It's not just the students and teachers who see the difference between Teach for America corps members and graduates with degrees in education. The administrators apparently see it, too.

Ninety-five percent of principals in the Teach for America study rated corps members as effective as other beginning teachers in terms of overall performance and impact on student achievement. And nearly two-thirds rated corps members' training as better than that of other beginning teachers.

They also found corps members to be as or more effective in teaching math.

Teach for America (TFA) isn't seen as an influential program by everyone. In fact, Teach for America has caught sufficient flak that Time magazine wrote of the top five myths TFA has battled since its inception two decades ago. They range from not being effective in the classroom to the program being only a resume builder for Ivy-Leaguers.

For Tiffany Compagno, a seventh grade science teacher at Kenilworth Middle School in Baton Rouge, seeing positive results is believing and proof that TFA is a positive experience.

"I can only speak to what I have experienced in my classroom," she said. "My students are doing amazing things in seventh grade science and I would love for people, especially those less familiar with TFA, to be a part of their success."

Another common misconception, according to Time, is the abandonment of the program by corps members after their two years are completed. Both Time and TFA have concluded that more than half of their members remain in the field following their contractual commitment.

Fiona Dillon, LSU senior and recent applicant to TFA, isn't deterred by the controversy. "I want to help change how we teach kids in America. Our education system is in need of a major change."

Dillon recognizes the program won't be easy.

"I'm not glamorizing it at all. I know it will be tough and taxing but I think that's part of the challenge and will make it even more rewarding."

Among attaining leadership and problem solving skills, which McConnell sees as rewards for corps members, are the opening of doors for students taught by TFA teachers. He encourages college students on the verge of graduation to apply.

"These children need the same opportunities that we had to be able to graduate from college. Other post graduate options will always be there, but out students are in a state of immediate need."