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Detroit enlists teacher corps in classrooms

Teach for America was wooed by a coalition of charter school operators, philanthropic groups and Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb.

"The tide has turned in Detroit, and Teach For America is an important factor in providing every child a world-class education. We are proud to help bring Teach For America back to the city's classrooms so Detroit students can benefit from their national success."
-Eli Broad, Founder, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and graduate of Detroit's Central High School

Here is the Teach for America press release from nearly four months ago.

by Marisa Schultz

Detroit -- The first Teach for America members were assigned Thursday to Detroit schools, completing the return of a program that left seven years ago.

"It's my life's calling," said Alex Bowman, a program member from Richmond, Va., who is settling into midtown Detroit. Like other corps members, he's determined to narrow the achievement gap for Detroit students.

"A student in the suburbs can get a better education in some areas than a student in the city," said Bowman, who landed a job at Earhart Middle School. "That's an injustice to me. I believe that every student deserves to get the best education possible."

More than 100 members of the national corps -- college graduates who teach in underserved schools for two years -- will be the main teachers in classrooms in 80 charter schools and at least 20 public schools in the city starting Sept. 7.

Their arrival has sparked excitement among educators who embrace the enthusiasm corps members bring. But their presence has reignited concerns from the teachers union, which is upset certified teachers still have layoff notices. The union will challenge the hiring of Teach for America members over qualified teachers waiting to return to work, said Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

"Unless and until I have an agreement regarding Teach for America they will not come into DPS," Johnson said, adding that the union could go to court to challenge the program.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the Detroit Public Schools' chief academic and accountability auditor, said the program participants in Detroit will be union members and are entitled to the same benefits and pay from the district. With the number of retirements in the district, spots are available for members whom she believes will be "a real shot to the system."

Sarah Hamburger, a 22-year-old New Jersey native and graduate of Vanderbilt University, said the program participants aim to bring a sense of urgency to the classroom every day to help make gains in student achievement.

Teach for America started in 1990 and has 8,200 members teaching in more than 100 school districts in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Detroit joins San Antonio, Texas, and districts in Alabama and Rhode Island as expansions for the 2010-11 school year.

The program had 40 members in DPS in the 2002-03 school year but pulled out when there was no guarantee of job placement for the participants. This time, Teach for America was wooed by a coalition of charter school operators, philanthropic groups and Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb.

Studies have shown that in many cases, Teach For America members are more effective than other teachers, including certified and veteran teachers, and have a positive impact on student achievement, according to the program's Detroit leader.

"The biggest challenge is mindset," said Annis Brown, executive director of Teach for America Detroit and a King High School and Michigan State University alumnus. Teach for America aims to help Detroit kids believe they can achieve at the same level as kids in Birmingham and West Bloomfield, she said. "We believe Detroit kids can do it."

This week, program participants interviewed along with other teachers for slots at the district's priority schools, which will have extended school days. They arrived at a time when DPS is trying to boost academics in the district, which often scores at the bottom in nationwide tests for student achievement.

Earhart Middle School was named one of the lowest-performing schools in the state, forcing the district to take drastic academic and staffing reforms. A new principal was assigned and about 75 percent of the staff will be new when school opens. If the new principal, Gerlma A. S. Johnson has her way, four of the school's 18 teachers will be Teach for America members.

"They really wanted to be a force for change and a force for excellence in education, which is what we need at Earhart and at every school," Johnson said after interviewing the candidates.

Johnson isn't bothered that the applicants aren't certified teachers. (They'll study at University of Michigan to earn their certification.) Johnson said certified teachers aren't automatically better and those without certification aren't inherently inferior. "Before I was a certified teacher, I was a substitute teacher, and I was a doggone good one," she said.

Brittany Baker, 22, from southern California learned Thursday she will be assigned at Earhart for the fall. This is her first time in Detroit.

She's been in the city for nearly a month and helped renovate Communication and Media Arts High School and build a new playground for the new YMCA Detroit Leadership Academy charter school.

"The momentum for change is absolutely apparent," Baker said. "It's in the air when you are in the city. ... (While) we've come in at a challenging time, we have come at one of the most exciting times we probably could."

— Marisa Schultz
Detroit News





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