Teach for America to double numbers

Teach for America to double numbers

Influx of new teachers will be coming to N.O.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
By Darran Simon

The national nonprofit Teach For America plans to announce today that it will more than double the number of new teachers placed in the greater New Orleans area -- a growth that surpasses the organization's 28 other regions.

Teach For America has tapped 250 recent college graduates committed to teaching for two years in schools in Orleans, Jefferson and St. John the Baptist parishes starting in the 2008-09 year. In the three parishes, Teach For America placed 112 new teachers in 2007-08 -- most of whom work in a mix of traditional and charter schools in Orleans Parish. The bulk of the newest batch of teachers will also work in public schools in Orleans Parish.

Teach For America plans to double the number of new teachers again -- to 500 -- in the 2009-10 year. "Whether we take this opportunity to close the achievement gap or not comes down to two things: high expectations and talented people," said Kira Orange Jones, executive director of Teach For America-Greater New Orleans. "I believe we have a moral responsibility to address this problem on an absolute scale. We have thousands of children who are getting up every morning depending on our education system for a future, and that starts right now."

Orange Jones said she has almost tripled the office's staff to 28 employees, including hiring veteran educators, to handle the growth.

The increase over the past year signifies the national nonprofit's growing pipeline and reach into the region, particularly in New Orleans at a time when both home-grown educators and transplants from other cities are trying to bolster a system of mostly lower performing schools taken over by the state in 2005.

The state-run Recovery School District operates 33 traditional schools in New Orleans and oversees 26 charter schools. The Orleans Parish School Board, which once operated the entire system, runs five mostly selective-admission schools and oversees 12 charter schools. The state school board oversees two separate charter schools.

Teach For America began placing teachers in greater New Orleans in 1990, and some 126 teachers currently work in schools in the region.

The 250 new teachers coming to the New Orleans region are part of Teach For America's largest national class ever: 3,700 college graduates who made the cut from a pool of about 25,000 applicants, according to the organization.

The boost in the newest corps of teachers makes Teach For America the top employer of Loyola University graduates and the second-largest employer of Tulane University graduates, according to the organization. More than 100 Louisiana State University seniors are also corps members in the latest batch, the group said.

Founded in 1989 by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, members of the national teaching corps work in low-income, high-poverty public schools, in an effort to address educational inequities.

Educators and superintendents nationwide have embraced the organization, which is in the thick of an ambitious expansion plan to place 8,000 teachers in at least 33 regions by 2010.

Teach For America points to studies -- including a recent multiyear look at teacher preparation programs in Louisiana -- that illustrate its teachers' effectiveness on student achievement compared with non-Teach For America teachers, both new and experienced.

However, some educators, such as Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, have criticized Teach For America, an alternative certification program, saying the nonprofit puts teachers with inadequate training in classrooms.

In greater New Orleans, more than 200 alumni live and work in education and other fields, according to the group. Teach For America hopes to increase that figure to 1,250 alumni in greater New Orleans by 2010 through its expansion efforts.

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Darran Simon can be reached at dsimon [at] timespicayune [dot] com or at (504) 826-3386.