August 12, 2009

Teachers: The Biggest Influence on a Student's Success

According to a 2002 study conducted in Texas, “having a high quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background” (Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain, 2002).

Parents, friends, and the community impact a student’s performance, but his or her teacher is directly connected to their achievement. That is why it is imperative that we work to ensure that students in poor and underserved communities have highly qualified and motivated teachers like their counterparts in more socially-economically advantaged communities. That is what I have been working to ensure for the past year.

Many urban cities face teacher shortages every year. Schools are poorly funded and hard to staff. The students who attend these schools suffer the greatest. Alternative certification programs like the teaching fellows programs started by The New Teacher Project and Teach For America aim to fill those shortages with highly qualified and dedicated new teachers.

The NYC Teaching Fellows is the largest alternative certification program in the country, helping to serve New York City’s 1.1 million students. Started in 2000, the NYCTF helps the city’s Department of Education address the needs of hard to staff schools and hard to staff subjects – such as science, math and special education – by recruiting, selecting and training a new cohort of fellows each year.

Members of each cohort are granted a temporary teaching certificate following an intensive summer training program and contingent on the completion of a masters degree in education. It is a highly selective program, as is Teach For America. In 2009, only 9% of those who applied to NYCTF were offered admission into the program. Teach For America is currently accepting applications for their 2010 class of teachers. Their next deadline is Friday, August 21st.

The goal is not to just fill these open teaching positions, but fill them with high quality teachers. Research has illustrated the fact that teaching fellows programs are narrowing the gap in teacher qualifications when comparing high- and low-poverty schools, as studied between 2000 and 2005 (Urban Institute, 2007).

Each alternative certification program has their own selection criteria and process, but the most effective are tied back to student achievement data. Their success is dependent upon how effectively they assess the criteria by which they select their prospective teachers and how that correlates to the academic achievement of the students they serve. NYCTF is celebrating its 9th year and Teach for America is 19 years old. Success breads success.

Here are some resources to learn more about bringing high quality teachers to underserved communities, and how to get involved.

Eduwonk blog:

NYC Teaching Fellows:

The New Teacher Project (TNTP):

Teach For America:

Urban Institute:

"Work Hard. Be Nice." by Jay Mathews (2009)

This post was written by Leslie Marie, a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Leslie lives in New York City and has done outreach and research for the Ad Council. For the past year she directed the marketing and recruiting efforts for an alternative teaching certification program run by a national education consulting organization. Please leave your comments or email with your questions.

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