Teach For America Reduces the Achievement Gap For Thousands of Students in Los Angeles Schools

After bidding adieu to the Bush era, many parents and concerned citizens experience lingering indignation toward the ineffectualness of the No Child Left Behind Act. Fortunately, institutions like Teach for America target twenty-nine urban and rural areas where educational inequality has hit the hardest. With only 45.3 percent of high school graduating seniors, the Los Angeles Metropolitan area is one of the nation’s most prominent regions of educational disparity. One of the goals of Teach for America is to ensure that a child’s birthplace does not determine his or her education and life prospects. For the 2008 school year, Teach for America has employed 350 teachers to alleviate the education gap in underserved schools in Los Angeles. As there has been a 42 percent increase in Teach for America applicants for the 2009 school year, Teach for America staff will continue to improve students’ performances in Los Angeles schools in 2009.

For applications due February 13th, Los Angeles candidates had the choice to sign up for several interview dates and locations throughout Los Angeles. Applicants signed up for interviews at three venues including McKinsey & Company in downtown Los Angeles. They attended interviews consisting of a five minute teaching presentation, problem solving activities, a group activity, and a personal interview. These rigorous evaluations were designed to provide interviewers with a way assess the dedication, preparedness, and stamina of future teachers and educational leaders in underfunded Los Angeles communities. Such communities include Baldwin Park, Compton, Los Angeles, Lynwood, and Pasadena.

In the five minute teaching presentation, applicants demonstrated their organizational aptitude and ability to teach key academic subjects. The subjects and grade levels chosen for five minute teaching presentations reflected the subjects taught most by corps members in LA , including: Secondary English, Secondary Science, and Secondary Math. To ensure successful funding for these grades and subject levels, twenty-eight percentage of Teach for America’s budget is used for corps member’s professional development. Twenty percent is devoted to pre-service training; eighteen percent for recruitment and selection; sixteen percent for national support; six percent for alumni support and development; and five percent is dedicated to local program administration.

Without support from corporate and public foundations, Teach for America would be unable to fulfill its increasing budget demands. The organization receives corporate and public support from such companies as The Ahmanson Foundation, The Eisner Foundation, MSST Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, State Farm Insurance, Symantec Corporation, and The Weingart Foundation. These contributions make it possible for Teach for America to extend its services to new regions such as the Mississippi Delta and Greater New Orleans, in addition to expanding the corps’ population in Los Angeles.

You may wonder why Teach for America generates such a colossal impact on students’ lives. Why are so many organizations donating funds to support a non-profit organization when there are qualified teachers who already exist? Do schools in Los Angeles really need Teach for America or is the corps’ presence in Southern California superfluous, especially during a time of such profound economic hardship?

To avoid sounding like a propaganda flier, I have to admit that the selection process is far from transparent. It is difficult to know what you, as an applicant, are being tested for when you have to participate in a phone interview, write two essays, provide two references, give a five minute teaching presentation, demonstrate your quantitative problem solving skills, and participate in a group critical thinking activity. During various times during the interview process I yearned to see some kind of rubric to learn what assessments carried the most weight. The program–despite a few opaque accountability factors-is, nevertheless, an invaluable community resource for college graduates and school aged children alike. As Wall Street plummets, Teach for America staff have derived inspiration from public service and giving children hope for a better future.

This non-profit organization spends three months training new teachers before placing them in a school. With rigorous standards and intense preparation, teachers learn how to manage a classroom, teach effectively, and use creative problem solving skills to last them the full two years of their service. Many principals have shown their enthusiasm for the program, admitting that they would hire more Teach for America instructors in the future. Even though the Los Angeles School district is not at a loss for teachers, it can always benefit from energetic, highly focused do-gooders supported by an effective structure. What separates the Teach for America program from normal Los Angeles schools? Corps members spend more than six hours a day educating their students. If a student is falling behind a little or even drastically (it is not uncommon for Teach for America instructors to work with students three grade levels below their required math or reading levels), corps members will stay after school, arrange parent conferences, or do whatever they can to help their students on an individual level. It looks like our progeny do have hope!