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'Upstart' Teach for America Turns 10

Teach for America, the national corps of recent liberal-arts graduates who pledge to teach for two years in urban or rural schools, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall.

Since 1989, TFA has attracted more than 20,000 applicants and placed nearly 5,000 in teaching positions in 13 geographic areas, mostly on the East Coast and in the Southern and Sun Belt states. About half its alumni have continued working in education in some capacity, including starting charter schools and serving as principals.

Teach for America's annual budget has grown, despite some rocky times, to $8 million, which supports a staff of 90 people nationwide.

Wendy Kopp

This year's crop of 800 recruits is TFA's largest, the organization reports. The high-visibility program has attracted criticism from teacher-educators, who argue that its five-week summer program and one- or two-week induction period are inadequate preparation for teaching.

Still, observers credit founder Wendy Kopp, the president of the organization, with attracting talented and dedicated young people to education and shining a spotlight on some of the nation's neediest schools.

Union Sales Pitch: Everyone is talking about the need to recruit highly qualified teachers. Now, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers is proposing to step up and help sell its district to prospective teachers, under a $100,000 service contract.

"This is the gap in our whole teacher-quality set of initiatives that needs to be closed," said Tom Mooney, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate.

Mr. Mooney maintains that veteran teachers are frustrated by the 52,000-student district's "lack of attention to recruiting," which he charges has failed to take advantage of Cincinnati's competitive salaries, career ladder, and nationally known program of peer assistance and evaluation for teachers.

"Teachers are the most credible recruiters," the union leader said at a recent press conference. "Give us a budget, and we'll do it. We will cast a wide net, advertise, visit colleges with the best programs, raid other districts if necessary, to get the best people."

Jan Leslie, the director of public affairs for the district, said that recruitment teams would be "glad to have help," but that the system can't pay the union to recruit. She also disputed Mr. Mooney's assertion that the southwestern Ohio school system doesn't aggressively pursue teachers, saying it is making particular efforts to attract African-American men and women to the classroom.

Tailored Training: Teachers at six Rhode Island schools have embarked on a $1 million effort to show that teacher professional development can raise student performance when the training is both long-term and data-driven.

Barbara Ashby

The schools, all of which are in the 26,000-student Providence district, are using the money to organize three years of ongoing professional development geared toward improving students' mathematics and literacy skills. Called the Teaching for Tomorrow initiative, the project represents the largest single grant ever made by the local coalition of private colleges and hospitals known as Health & Education Leadership for Providence.

Instead of depending on one-day workshops and college courses, teams of educators in each of the six schools are designing training programs tailor-made for their individual schools' needs. The money can pay for the hiring of long-term consultants, release time for teachers, and such instructional equipment as software.

The teams will use the extensive data produced by the state's new accountability system to monitor their progress. Rhode Island last year began a program in which it annually surveys nearly every educator in the state to get a snapshot of classroom practices.

"Many of our teachers have not been trained to look at the data, assess the data, and make the application to see what they need to do to get their students up to the [state] standards," said Barbara Ashby, a librarian who leads the improvement team at the George J. West Elementary School.

Reading by Research: Aspiring and experienced teachers must master a distinct and complex body of knowledge to teach children to read, concludes a report by the American Federation of Teachers. The report, "Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able To Do," calls for a research-based core curriculum in reading for teacher education, professional development, and classroom instruction.

"Research now tells us what works," AFT President Sandra Feldman said in a statement. "But getting that knowledge and those practical skills into the classroom will require changes in the way teachers are prepared to teach reading."

Louisa C. Moats, a Washington-based project director for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's early-interventions project, prepared the report.

The teachers' union recommends that instruction include systematic and explicit instruction in phonics--or sounding out words--comprehension, and literature appreciation; daily exposure to a variety of texts; vocabulary instruction; and frequent writing opportunities.

According to the report, the core curriculum should focus on the structure of language, developmental stages of reading, best practices in reading instruction, and effective assessment of student progress.

The report is available for $5 from the AFT at (202) 879-4400, or free on the World Wide Web at www.aft.org/edissues/rocketscience.htm.

Anti-Cheating Campaign: From the sponsors of such public-service campaigns as those featuring Smokey the Bear and the crash-test dummies now comes "The Ref in Your Head." The message from the whistle-blowing mascot: "Cheating is a personal foul."

The Ad Council has teamed up with the Educational Testing Service to counter students' perceptions that cheating is an acceptable means of excelling in school.

Nancy S. Cole

"Cheating prevents learning and masks true accomplishments and weaknesses," Nancy S. Cole, the president and chief executive officer of the Princeton, N.J.-based testing service, said in a statement announcing the initiative.

The program was created in response to surveys showing that more than half of middle school students and about 70 percent of high school students admit cheating on tests. The problem, ETS officials say, is no longer limited to struggling students, but encompasses high achievers who feel pressured to meet higher standards and perform well on state tests.

The campaign targets children 10 to 14, the age span researchers identify as the period when most students begin to cheat. Television commercials, print and radio advertisements, classroom kits, and posters will be distributed nationwide. More information is available on the Web at www.nocheating.org.

-- Jeff Archer, Ann Bradley, & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo [email protected]

Vol. 19, Issue 6, Page 10

Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as Teaching and Learning
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