Research consistently demonstrates that high-quality teaching is the most important factor impacting student learning; furthermore, teacher and principal quality accounts for 60 percent of the impact on student achievement. Despite the growth of alternative teacher certification pipelines, teacher vacancies in science, math, special education, and early childhood continue to be a concern for Baltimore City Public Schools: there were 211 classrooms without teachers at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
Teach for America (TFA) is an alternative teacher certification program that attracts a competitive corps of recent college graduates for a minimum of two-year teaching commitment in high-needs urban schools. Thanks to an initial invitation and ongoing investment from the Abell Foundation, TFA is in its 23rd year in Baltimore City. TFA believes that recruiting top leaders, training and supporting them to be highly effective teachers, and then fostering their ongoing leadership, has a transformative impact on the nation’s education system, both in the short- and long-term.
Since 1992, TFA has brought more than 1,700 new teachers to Baltimore, and has touched the lives of nearly 200,000 students with a goal of closing the achievement gap. This current school year, there are 250 TFA teachers in their first and second years of teaching and 400 alumni who remain working in City Schools. In fact, more than one in five students in Baltimore City Public Schools is taught by a TFA teacher for at least a portion of the school day. Increasing, incoming TFA Baltimore teachers are people of color (50%), first generation college students (45%), or graduates of Baltimore City Schools (10%). Last year, 60 percent of Baltimore corps members remained teaching in City Schools beyond the two-year commitment (up 20 percent from seven years ago). These teachers are filling high needs teaching areas like Early Childhood, Special Education, English as a Second Language, and science and math.
Beyond new teachers, TFA also represents one of the largest pipelines attracting overall talent to Baltimore City, as the alumni tend to settle in Baltimore after their two-year commitment. In fact, there are over 800 TFA alumni leading efforts in the City to improve educational opportunities for children at every level—as teachers, principals, district leaders, social entrepreneurs, and leaders in the private sector. Outside of schools, TFA alumni are leading, staffing, and founding innovative education nonprofits including the Fund for Educational Excellence, the Digital Harbor Foundation, The Intersection, MERIT mentoring, and the Urban Teacher Center, while others have started for-profits focused on education technology, including Allovue and Common Curriculum.
Baltimore’s first TFA alumni has been elected as a Maryland state senator.
A 2013 Mathematica study found that TFA secondary school math teachers are more effective than other math teachers in the same schools. An earlier study conducted by the Urban Institute in March, 2008, found that Teach For America teachers have a positive impact on student learning, even when compared with experienced, traditionally certified, in-field teachers. Students taught by Teach For America teachers also performed significantly better on state-required, end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than did peers taught by more experienced instructors. TFA is also one of the few organizations to focus on strengthening the connection between teachers and student growth, with corps members averaging 1.4 years of reading growth in the last year.