As New Orleans’ long-troubled public education system is being rebuilt and revitalized after Katrina, the national teacher recruiting group Teach for America is sending a bumper crop of young educators to the area to staff schools and invigorate local classrooms.
The local chapter of the national nonprofit will more than double the number of new teachers placed in the metro area’s schools, from 112 last year to an expected 250 for the 2008-’09 school year, and most of them are headed to New Orleans city schools. Teach for America support staff has expanded from five to 15, and Kira Orange Jones, executive director for the local chapter, says the group expects to keep growing the number of new teachers placed here in the years to come.
The increase reflects the group’s national recruiting surge, which saw total applications jump by more than a third from about 18,000 last year to nearly 25,000 for the 2008-09 school year. But New Orleans also has stood out with a special appeal for young, motivated, first-time teachers interested in contributing to the city during its recovery.
“It’s about feeling there is opportunity in our educational system to make a difference and recognizing that human capital is the piece that is really needed most right now,” says Orange Jones.
While the group’s focus is on improving education, Orange Jones says Teach for America also serves as a pipeline for new leaders in civic and business circles by bringing more young, educated professionals to its communities.
“Our movement is based on the contention that our members will be leaders regardless of what they do in the rest of their careers,” she says. “A pretty significant portion will stay in education, but there are lots of other ways to be a part of the recovery here.”
It has been a good year all around for Teach For America. The group’s founder and CEO Wendy Kopp was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and in 2007 Teach for America was ranked No. 10 on BusinessWeek’s list of the nation’s “Best Places to Launch a Career.” Earlier this spring the national policy research group the Urban Institute released a study that found high school students taught by Teach for America members performed significantly better in state-required exams than other students.
“Teach for America teachers may be new to the profession, but they are generally more effective than their experienced colleagues,” the Urban Institute analysis concluded.