Teach For America program expands to Twin Citiesby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio,
Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The highly touted and controversial Teach for America program announced today it would expand into the Twin Cities.
Forty college graduates will teach in public and charter schools around the Twin Cities this fall, the first class of 120 recruits Teach for America is sending to the metro area over the next three years.
They're taking a non-traditional route to the head of the class. Instead of earning degrees in education, they'll go through a five-week crash course in teaching and education in Los Angeles this summer. Then they'll enroll in a graduate education program at Hamline University in St. Paul.
The participants have committed to working in some of the area's neediest schools, where poverty and language barriers have left wide achievement gaps among students.
Daniel Sellers, executive director of Teach for America in the Twin Cities, says the program is a big help to financially strapped school districts.
"While many of their best teachers come from traditionally certified programs, they also see programs such as Teach for America as a source of teachers who will come in and work incredibly hard to make sure all of their students are getting a great education," said Sellers.
Teach for America, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that started in 1990, is considered something like a domestic Peace Corps. It's supported by charities like the Medtronic, General Mills and Minneapolis foundations.
"We're recruiting people who we think are the talented future leaders of this country in the long term, and in the short term can be excellent classroom teachers here in the Twin Cities," said Sellers.
Many educators, though, think there are plenty of those already, and too many of them are looking for work as school budgets shrink around the state.
Tom Dooher is head of Education Minnesota, the state's teachers' union.
"We have a number of teachers that are being laid off, that are qualified, that have gone through the program of preparation. Those people should be considered before these five-week course recruits," said Dooher.
Others are critical of the staying power of Teach for America teachers. They commit to only two years in the profession, and many eventually leave teaching.
But even a few is better than none, according to Brooklyn Center superintendent Keith Lester. The district's high school is getting two English and one math teacher from the program this fall.
They're hiring on as regular, first-year classroom teachers, and will be paid the same as their traditionally educated counterparts.
"Most of these people are coming from top colleges, top grads," said Lester. "I've never necessarily been a believer that you have to have high grades to be a good teacher, but they're bringing us a high level of expectation. And my hope is that we're developing strong new young teachers that will stay in the field."
Other Teach for America participants will be placed in Minneapolis Public Schools, as well as charter schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The program gives those young adults a chance to see if teaching is the right career path for them.
Danielle Cortesa, a native of Uxbridge, Mass., and recent Boston College grad, will teach English as a Second Language at Wellstone International High School in Minneapolis.
"I'm hoping that I'm an effective teacher and I can make a career out of it," Cortesa said. "I believe that educational inequality is one of the sources of a lot of the other inequalities that we find, and I think Teach for America does a great job addressing that educational inequality."
The expansion to the Twin Cities is part of Teach For America's national growth plan, which calls for 7,500 corps members to be teaching in more than 33 regions by next year.
In terms of geography, the closest that Teach for America has been to Minnesota was South Dakota, which began placing instructors since 2004, and Chicago, which has participated since 2000.
Teach for America is also located in Atlanta, Baltimore, San Francisco Bay area, Charlotte, N.C., Connecticut, Washington D.C. region, Denver, eastern North Carolina, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Hawaii, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami-Dade, Mississippi Delta, New Mexico, New York City, Newark, Phoenix, Rio Grande Valley, south Louisiana, and St. Louis.
- All Things Considered, 06/23/2009, 5:24 p.m.
Tim Nelson is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.