Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 23, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Teach for America


  • More than 600 recent college graduates � with plans to become everything from doctors to lawyers to engineers to architects � were in Phoenix this summer preparing to put their careers on hold in order to teach at economically disadvantaged schools for two years. It was all part of Teach for America's first training institute held in Phoenix. We�ll take a look at this rigorous five-week training program and Teach for America's efforts to improve public education.
Guests:
  • Pearl Chang Esau - Executive Director, Teach for America, Phoenix region
  • Amanda Burke - Associate Director of Education and Education Policy for ASU's Office of University Initiatives


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Teach for America is like a peace corps for public education. It seeks to narrow the achievement gap by training top college graduates to teach in low income communities. This summer, teach for America held one of its training institutes in phoenix. David Majure has more.

David Majure:
Daniel graduated from the University of Arizona last December. Now he's teaching math but he didn't go to college to become a teacher.

Daniel Salgado:
I was studying engineering management with a specialty in bioengineering.

David Majure:
Vanessa Diaz went to USC and graduated in may with a dual degree. This fall she will teach 7th grade English.

Vanessa Diaz:
I thought it was my calling. It does focus on equality and social justice. That is closing the achievement gap.

David Majure:
Vanessa and Daniel were selected to join the teach for America Corp of top college graduates who make a commitment to spend two years in some nation's economically disadvantaged schools. For the first time this summer phoenix hosted a teach for America training institute. It was held in July. About 60 teach for America Corp members lived and worked on the ASU campus. They boarded buses and went to the schooling in the Roosevelt district. They come from walks of life and here for a variety of reasons.

Daniel Salgado:
Education was instilled in me at a very young age. My parents didn't get a chance to go to college and their parents didn't graduate from high school. They knew that lack of education led to lack of options and lack of opportunity.

Vanessa Diaz:
When I arrived at high school I was to behind, so behind I was working hard to keep up.

David Majure:
Like Daniel, Vanessa believes this will help her.

Vanessa Diaz:
We never got the education we were meant to get.

David Majure:
They arrive before the students and allows them to get organized and plan for the teaching lesson.

Daniel Salgado:
I'm going through the lesson plan and see the steps of what I will present for today.

David Majure:
Corp members get to find out what it's like to be a teacher but they'll spend most of the time here as students.

Teacher:
Even if the district gives you a comprehensive guide, that's not enough to lead your students to mastery.

David Majure:
They have a lot to learn about teaching and five weeks to do it.

Daniel Salgado:
Learning goals produces the fruit which is objectives and here we have the kids waiting to receive the fruit which the knowledge.

Vanessa Diaz:
You pretty much learn how to become a great teacher not just a teacher but an amazing teacher but a teacher that vests their students that learns how to make them think and make the students want to learn.

Daniel Salgado:
It's very intense and stressful. At first it's a little bit overwhelm. You don't know quite sure what makes a great teacher and then you're kind of feel like you're expected to know right away. Once you go through, you know, all the lesson planning and curriculum and special sessions, you kind of look at it and start to sort of have a vision of the type of teacher you want to be.

David Majure:
Everything they have learned is put to the test when they stand before their students.

Daniel Salgado:
When you step up there and you are just like how much more do I really know than these kids?

Vanessa Diaz:
Go ahead and get out our notes.

David Majure:
A veteran teacher observes their every move. At the end of day they find out what went right and where there's room for need of improvement.

Teacher:
You need to have students tell you more.

Vanessa Diaz:
I think I'm more prepared than I could be.

Daniel Salgado:
What's our first step? What's our first equation here?

Daniel Salgado:
The challenge is understanding or seeing some of the obstacles with the lessons or teaching. When you get there and realize they don't understand this and that and all the stuff comes up and you are rattled and all over the place trying to tie it together and your lesson plan falls apart.

Teacher:
When the kids came in first week, they were real rough. I'll tell you what, probably at least three or four of my corp members if I were a principal, I would hire them now.

Vanessa Diaz:
We did that in step two.

David Majure:
When the training institute is over the teach for America Corp members are hired in school districts to teach in classrooms where they are needed most.

Vanessa Diaz:
I'm excited to go in the classroom and see the change I can do. We've seen growth in the few weeks with the fourth graders. I can only see the rest of the year.

Ted Simons:
Joining me with more about the program is Pearl Chang Esau, executive director of teach for America's phoenix region, and Amanda Burke, associate director of education and education policy for ASU's office of university initiatives. Both Amanda and pearl are former teach for America corps members. Thank you both for joining us on Horizon.

Pearl Chang Esau:
Thank you for having us.

Ted Simons:
Pear, Teach for America, a peace core for education, does that make sense?

Pearl Chang Esau: sure.

Ted Simons: Explain it?

Pearl Chang Esau: Teach for America is to eliminate the educational disparities in how children grow up in united states. In a country that as spires to provide opportunities for all of the children, that's currently not the case. We have 13 million children growing up in poverty and 50\% are not graduating and 50\% that do graduate are on average performing at the 8th grade reading and math level. At teach for America what we do is we recruit the best and the brightest recent college graduates from across the country to teach for a minimum of two years in the lowest performing schools to work relentlessly to do whatever it takes to help their students get back on track and change their life prospects. In the long-term we see ourselves as building a pipeline as future education performers and future education teachers.

Ted Simons:
Amanda, the best and brightest looked for. Talk about the selection process and how selective teach for America is.

Amanda Burke:
Teach for America is looking for recent college graduates that are committed to do whatever it takes to ensure that the children in their classrooms are learning in what we call significant gains. I think Pearl can talk about what the selection process looks like. I know from the time that I was in the classroom, I was with and surrounded by a group of individuals that we're going to do whatever it took. I think that the model has been refined over the past few years.

Ted Simons:
Is like an enthusiasm that you look for? A commitment? Dedication? A certain area of achievement and go, hmm, maybe they will be interested?

Pearl Chang Esau:
The way we develop our selection model is actually based on what we have seen to be the most successful characteristics in the teachers doing amazing jobs in the crass rooms. We looked at the most amazing teachers and said what is it about the teachers that made them great. Over the 18 or 19 years we've been here, we have refined that model. What we have seen in the teacher in the low-income school is about leadership. We see that they were leaders when they were on their college campuses. 95\% of our Corp members were actually student body presidents, they were presidents of amnesty international or the business association or Latino association on campus. We see a past record of success. We see a relentless commitment to do whatever it takes. We look for things like critical thinking skills, problem solving skills. We know the teachers will face challenging situations in the classroom. We look for their ability to identify problems and figure out how to solve them independently.

Ted Simons:
This now TFA associated with Arizona State University. Talk about that relationship.

Amanda Burke:
Sure we established a partnership with teach for America in November of 2006. For asu teach for America is a natural partner. Arizona state university is a university that's solutions focus oriented to meet challenges. I think one of the greatest challenges we face in Arizona and across the nation is education. Asu has a history of meeting education needs and originally founded as a teacher's college. When we first entered into a conversation with teach for America, it made sense by joining forces we could have a greater impact on students and teachers around the nation.

Ted Simons:
Is that how the Roosevelt district came about you looked around and said that's a good spot right there?

Amanda Burke:
That's one of the ways. We are partnering four ways recruitment, teacher support and development, alumni research and opportunities and teach for America summer research held at phoenix for the first time. Roosevelt is one of the partner school district where during the summer the Corp members are teaching in the schools and one of the school sites where teach for America in Phoenix places teachers as well.

Pearl Chang Esau:
We have 650 taught here and a couple will teach is this fall, correct? They will join a total of 200 and total 400 corp members in phoenix reaching 400,000 children in the valley.

Ted Simons:
How are they certified.

Pearl Chang Esau:
Amanda can answer that.

Amanda Burke:
we have partnered there. With regard to the teacher support and development asu has articulated a masters that leads to leading to teaching certification. We have 400 teach for America corp members going through the masters program. What's unique in this program compared to other partnerships is that we have faculty that looks at it and see if they are as successful as neck and everyone's goal.

Ted Simons:
When they start teaching they are certified or not certified as yet.

Amanda Burke:
They are working towards certification. They are in classes throughout their two-year commitment. The asu faculty is going through the classrooms and observing them. It's comprehensive support from what teach for America provides and asu adds to that.

Ted Simons:
Pearl quickly talking about teachers working their way to get certified and working alongside teachers who are certified and working as teachers for years is there a dynamic?

Pearl Chang Esau:
I found really there is not one of characteristics we look for in corp members is respect and humility. We encourage them to work together with the teachers at school and work together with the administrative leadership. Sometimes other people are teach for America corp members and alumni. I think our corp members find a lot of value in those relationships. Because of attitude of humility that there's generally not intention. In fact there's vigration I think.

Ted Simons: Is there where you send people with a certain amount of training especially like roosevelt and other challenging districts with folks that don't have experience yet to deal with the challenges. That has to be a concern there.

Pearl Chang Esau:
That's interesting. We see there's principals and districts lining up for corp members because they have seen what they do with the students. You may have heard of the recent urban institute study that was released and found that our teachers actually were three times as effective as three-year veteran teachers in the classroom. We see that, you know, not just, you know, that was externally validated study. We see that the in classrooms in phoenix and the gains the teachers had with the students last year.

Ted Simons:
One more question I think would come up and maybe a concern and maybe not. That you are helping almost too much in the sense that there are more broad general education issues that need to be addressed. But if you have a supply of trained teachers coming in TFA maybe the bigger issues do not get talked about. Does that make sense?

Pearl Chang Esau:
That's a great question. Actually the vision of reforming education in the united states is that long-term vision. Like I said earlier we are building the pipeline of future education reformers. We are aggressively recruiting the best and brightest people that we think will assume position of influence in our country in the future and educating them about the achievement gap. They have two years in the classrooms at minimum. While less than 10\% come in thinking that they are going to be, you know, have careers in education over two thirds stay in education and they end up being people like Michelle Ree. Whose the newest D.C. public schools chancellor. Three quarters of her staff are teach for America alumni, and 10\% of Washington D.C. are teach for America alumni. In the long-term we are building a pipeline of people committed to education reform that they make it their lifelong passion.

Ted Simons:
Talk, if you will, quickly about the growth of teach for America. You are both graduates back when in the '90s? I don't want to throw you back too far. [ laughter ]

Ted Simons:
since you were in the program, how has it changed?

Amanda Burke:
I think it has grown in every single way you can imagine. I was a '99 corp member in Los Angeles and felt strong at that time. As an alumni member I've watched it grow and also the quality of support that is provided.

Ted Simons:
How have you seen, pearl, the program change as when you were a corp member.

Pearl Chang Esau:
I agree with what Amanda says. I think we have worked hard to reassign the training and teacher support. I think we are at a place where we can say we feel we have a strongest teaching training program in the country and being recognized and we have rapidly grown in size. In the whole decade of the '90s we actually produced almost the same number of incoming corp members this year alone. This year we'll have almost 3700 corp members come in the classroom for total of 6,000 teachers across the country.

Ted Simons:
and expand to other cities I imagine.

Pearl Chang Esau:
yes, 29 regions and looking to grow.

Amanda Burke:
I think what's exciting is the second particulate of the teach for America mission where we know there are so many people that have the personal experience in the classroom and take that with them and form their career decision and advocate for education. That's inspiring part for teach of America.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us.

Ted Simons:
Control of this court is up for grabs in the upcoming presidential election. Get analysis on what the election could mean to the U.S. Supreme court from an asu law professor who will also talk about the court's big cases. A Supreme Court review Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon." that is it for now.

I'm Ted Simons.
Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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