How Teach for America is bridging the achievement gap
By Angela Durand
Imagine not being able to read or write. Imagine your zip code determining whether or not you would attend a well-funded public school. Imagine knowing that there’s a fifty-fifty chance you might not graduate high school. For 13 million children in America, this is their life.
One of their goals is to aide in fixing the gap between underprivileged kids and those who have more access to quality education. The gap measures GPA, standardized test scores and dropout rates. Factors such as location and family income can affect the quality of education a child is likely to receive. These factors serve as an injustice that prevents children from reaching their full potential and achievements in society.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, once this achievement gap begins to widen, due to economic circumstances and learning deprivation, it’s difficult to reverse. When students fall behind in the curriculum, it makes it that much harder for them to keep up with the material and graduate on time.
Before Anasstassia Baichorova became the New York City Recruitment Director of Teach for America, she taught second and third grade in the Bronx. Baichorova said her experience brought the unfortunate reality of this educational problem to life.
“My students were supposed to be learning how to multiply and analyze texts, but instead they were struggling with picture books and counting on their fingers,” she said. “By the age of nine, students in low income communities are already three years behind their wealthier counterparts. No one can tell me that it is the fault of a 9-year-old that he or she can’t read or write.”
According to the most recent study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2005, about 50% of students living in low-income communities will not graduate high school by the time they are 18 years old.
In response to such statistics, an increasing number of college students are opting to dedicate two years to teaching in low-income communities by joining TFA after graduation. There are over 6,000 corps members teaching in more than 1,000 schools across the nation. Although TFA attracts an impressive number of people to teach each year, the number of poverty-stricken communities in America highly exceeds 1,000.
Baichorova said her own students’ successes is an example that children in any community can reach their potential, if given the opportunity and resources. “On the math state test, 10 of my students scored proficient and 10 scored advanced. In one year, they were able to not only catch up, learning two to three years of material in one year, but to exceed all expectations.” She said other TFA faculty members in her school found similar results.
From 2000 to 2006, The Urban Institute conducted its first survey regarding Teach for America corps members teaching in high schools. The study, performed in North Carolina, analyzed “test scores, teacher characteristics and student demographics.” The results stated, “On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers’ effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience.”
Cornell Woodson, a senior communication management and design major at Ithaca College, has recently applied to TFA. His decision to apply to TFA was prompted by his desire to encourage students to achieve greatness.
“This is America, land of opportunity,” Woodson said. “That is our mantra, if you will, but not everyone has the same opportunities due to their inability to obtain the proper education. The next generation will one day be the leaders of our country and the world. However, without a proper education, the future of our world does not look so good.”
America’s public education system is not a fair playing field, yet. But more and more people are becoming aware of the problem of education in America, and awareness is the first step toward change.
Sherry Shen, the TFA Campus Campaign Coordinator at Ithaca College said, “I want to find students who will believe in these children and work hard for them and be the ones to tell them that they can become the next president of the United States or the great reporter they always wanted to be.” Many children in low-income areas are under the impression they cannot succeed. Shen has a firm belief change is in the future. For now, the reality remains.
This devastating truth seems so distant from students in well-funded public and private schools. At Ithaca College, students have resources such as computers, a library and a knowledgeable faculty and staff, ensuring a proper education. However, we sometimes forget there are children in America who may never receive, or even have access to, this type of education.
Baichorova reminds us, “It is the biggest social injustice currently plaguing our nation because we are leaving behind millions of children.”