Teach for America corps is overcoming resistance

The Education Beat

Change: A program that brings enthusiastic and gifted college graduates to needy schools is winning over the education establishment.

September 01, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

BALTIMORE'S Teach for America threw a 10th anniversary bash in the rain Thursday night. Fifty-four corps members beginning their second year of teaching in Baltimore welcomed a record 108 newcomers, all fresh out of college, and Tuesday they'll fan out to 41 city schools.

The Teach for America idea, proposed by Wendy Kopp in her senior thesis at Princeton University in the 1980s, is simple: Outstanding college graduates commit to teach for two years in the nation's neediest urban and rural schools, where they work for the pitiful pay of the beginning teacher.

Kopp founded the organization right out of college and still heads it 13 years later. It has been a struggle -- the corps' five weeks of summer training don't have the approval of the teacher education establishment, and credit-counters in some state education departments haven't known quite what to make of these young, idealistic college graduates who would rather teach poor kids for a couple of years than hurry off to get rich.

Most of the new Baltimore corps members come from somewhere else, and most graduated from the nation's leading colleges and universities. Their average college grade point average is 3.5, and their average SAT score is 1,310.

A few are Baltimore natives. Tamyka Morant, a Villanova University graduate, returns to her home town and home neighborhood to teach at Cherry Hill Elementary. Teneka Smith, a 1998 graduate (with her twin sister Tiffany) of Western High School, got her degree in the spring from York College and will teach at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary. Niknaz Moghbeli, a graduate of Bryn Mawr School and Hamilton College, will teach at Tench Tilghman Elementary.

Baltimore Teach for America corps members used to train in Houston, but now they train at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y., and they do some student teaching in the South Bronx. And while they're in Baltimore, most of them work toward master's degrees at the Johns Hopkins University.

They may not be polished teachers, but they're by no means slackers. Principals such as Ruth Bukatman at Booker T. Washington Middle School recognized their worth from the start. They're the ones with energy and enthusiasm, the ones not set in their ways, the ones willing to ask questions and to learn from mistakes. All but three live in the city.

It is nothing short of miraculous that Teach for America is thriving 13 years after its founding by Kopp and 10 years after its birth in Baltimore. Critics say five weeks of training aren't enough. Idealism, they say, doesn't substitute for the years of education courses and several months of student teaching expert teachers require.

There were years in Baltimore when Teach for America had to fight for respectability, and many principals still won't consider hiring corps members. But attitudes have changed. Last week, I heard state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick praise Kopp by name at a state school board meeting and urge other systems in Maryland to consider alternative programs such as Teach for America.

Teach for America, once neglected by top city school officials, now is embraced.

Three school board members and Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones were there Thursday to welcome new Corps members.

Years ago, "I wouldn't have been here," said city school board Chairwoman Patricia L. Welch, a Morgan State University teacher educator of the old school. "We were afraid."

Unexpected repercussions as lockers fall from grace

Lockers are out.

Schools around the nation are being built without lockers, and some schools are tearing them out, particularly from middle and high schools. Locker-bashers say they're too noisy, require expensive maintenance and pose a security risk. Without lockers, there's no place to hide guns, drugs and other contraband.

One principal attributed a rise in test scores at his school to the removal of lockers.

But where, asked a fellow reporter in an Education Writers Association computer chat, are they going to hang their Britney Spears posters?

The jaw-dropping realities of life as freshmen know it

Beloit College in Wisconsin distributes an annual "mind-set list" to help college professors and administrators understand their freshmen. Most of those entering college in the fall were born in 1984. Here are a few highlights:

Richard Burton, Ricky Nelson and Truman Capote have always been dead.

We have always been able to choose our long-distance carriers.

Fox has always been a choice as a television network.

Women have always had tattoos.

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