Of all of the strategies underway to improve student achievement in Chicago, leveraging the contributions of Teach for America’s teaching corps may prove the most valuable.
Chicago’s students have shown modest overall gains in achievement in recent years, but progress has been uneven. Math remains a particular challenge: 54 percent of black eighth grade students scored at woeful ‘below basic’ levels on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. This year, welcoming schools (those receiving students from closed or consolidated schools) saw no improvements in student achievement, as noted by a Chicago Public Schools analysis of Northwest Evaluation Association assessments.
This is a challenge which Teach for America is especially equipped to take on. Corps members outperform peer teachers by nearly three months of classroom time annually in math, increasing student outcomes significantly on end-of-year assessments according to a U.S. Department of Education study. TFA teachers accelerate learning, and in doing so help open the field of opportunities for students who enter the system at a disadvantage.
In light of last year’s wave of Chicago school closures, and present budget challenges, it will be critical to ensure that strategies for human capital in the classroom, quality teachers, can support the effectiveness of the district’s ten-year capital improvement plan.
More than 600 first- and second-year TFA teachers entered Chicago schools this year, carrying the clout and quality to translate those reallocated resources into sustainable growth in outcomes. Success in the corps starts with a highly selective admissions process, and harkens back to a mission of advanced, specific training and long-term professional support.
Too many traditional schools of education fail to set challenging standards. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s latest report, seventy-five percent of traditional programs fail to require at least a 3.0 GPA or scoring above the 50th percentile on the ACT or SAT. Illinois universities ranked notably low in NCTQ’s analysis, with only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign breaking the country’s top 250 ranking for secondary teacher training programs.
Teach for America’s recent announcement that its newest teaching corps is also its most racially and economically diverse ever signals a commitment to succeeding in urban settings.
More than twenty percent of corps members last year were first generation college graduates; about half of the corps were people of color, and about half were recipients of Pell Grants. These efforts are crucial: according to 2013 NAEP scores, black students in Chicago averaged 40 points lower than white students, representing an increase in the achievement gap since 2003.
The Chicago corps has also seen an increase of Latino teachers in recent years and this year, Chicago will be one of a few regions to host Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals corps members as teachers.
The TFA teaching corps works to ensure growth and excellence, boosting long-term job satisfaction and creating something sustainable, so the best return. In Chicago, they do. More than 900 TFA classroom teachers are returning to the city this year as program alumni, and 60 return with more than 10 years of teaching experience. More than 60 are principals.
Integrating social understanding, high-quality training, professional opportunities and a strong backbone mission of support and adaptability, TFA produces high-achieving professionals with a student-focused agenda. Chicago needs their voices to best reinvent learning relationships with students across policy and political divides.
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