In DISD and Across Local Charter Schools, Teach for America's Growing Next Year

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While they were busy voting not to extend their term lengths last Thursday, the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees also made the call to extend the district's partnership with Teach for America, on the heels of the glowing review they heard of TFA's first year-and-a-half here so far. Carla Ranger's long been a TFA skeptic, you'll recall, and board president Adam Medrano joined her in the opposition this time, in a 7-2 vote to extend the program with up to 120 new TFA recruits for next school year.

Edwin Flores was among the most enthused on the board at the meeting -- he was impressed, he said, by the TFA teachers he saw on a visit to a Marsh Middle School, and he liked the extra return on its money the district gets with teachers who come from TFA. "This is incredible leverage," he said, "when for every dollar we spend, they raise seven to support our students and our communities."

Ranger reiterated her primary beef with TFA at last week's meeting -- that catering to previously untrained recruits with a two-year commitment, even with impressive test data from their students, detracts from DISD's long-term challenge finding good teachers, running counter to DISD's goals of "consistency and stability" in teacher development. "Teaching is much more complex than reducing it to a technical craft," she said, "and it is important for Dallas ISD to invest in a program of reform that has teachers here who want to be teachers, who are trained to be teachers, and are making a long-term commitment to the teaching profession."

Of course, the rest of the board is more likely to side with local TFA director Charles Glover. "It's fantastic to see a strong level of support across the board. It think it's indicative of what principals are saying across the district and what the data are showing," Glover tells us today. He says he just heard four TFA teachers were named Teachers of the Year in DISD. "There's really good things happening in the district that are driving this kind of reform." Far from dropping teachers into a school for a couple years and sending them on their way, Glover says TFA's been part of a "comprehensive effort" to add effective teachers to the ranks alongside DISD veterans.

More evidence of what TFA's been up to here since its first recruits took over classrooms here last year, he says: Fort Worth ISD's signing on next year too. They'll also be adding placements at charter schools around Dallas, for a total of about 245 TFA teachers in schools around the region. (That's not counting teachers who graduate from TFA after this year but keep their teaching jobs.)

Uplift Education -- the largest chain of charters around Dallas -- got in on the party last week, announcing it's hoping to bump its TFA commitment up to 42 teachers, a fifth of their total teaching force.

Folks at Uplift's offices were out on holiday break today, but you can read more below about how the charter school's outlook meshes with TFA's mission. But long story short: "Both organizations share the belief that all students -- regardless of what ZIP code they grow up in -- should have access to an education that prepares them to enter and succeed in college."
Uplift Education to expand Teach For America partnership in 2011
Organization will increase the number of Teach For America teachers by 68 percent

Uplift Education's board of directors and executive team have agreed to significantly expand the organization's partnership with Teach For America in 2011. Uplift has indicated a desire to grow their annual placement to 42 teachers in 2011, up 68 percent from 2010, allowing Teach For America corps members and alumni to exceed 20 percent of its total teaching force in 2011-12. Corps members will be placed throughout Uplift's urban campuses, teaching a variety of subjects including high-needs areas such as math, science, special education and high school Spanish.

The partnership between the two organizations is a natural fit. Uplift, the largest charter management organization in North Texas, focuses on providing a tuition-free, college-preparatory education to its 4,700 students, many of them the first in their family to pursue a goal of college admission. Teach For America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates who commit to a minimum of two years to teach in urban and rural public schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity. Both organizations share the belief that all students--regardless of what ZIP code they grow up in--should have access to an education that prepares them to enter and succeed in college.

The expanded partnership with Teach For America is part of a broader investment in human capital that Uplift embarked upon in 2009. Since then, Uplift has deepened its investment in human capital through a variety of efforts including the launch of its Shine Through Teaching Excellence teacher incentive pay program thanks to a $7.5 million Department of Education grant in September. Uplift also launched a Leadership Academy program, is partnering with the Bush Institute's Alliance to Reform Education as a pilot program, and implemented predictive research-driven hiring practices.

The goal of the human capital investment is threefold according to CEO Yasmin Bhatia:
1. Recruit effective teachers who will be successful under the Uplift model and culture
2. Retain teachers who are highly effective in the classrooms
3. Deepen the organization's leadership pipeline to support new schools as they open
"When you look at Uplift's history of academic performance, it is clear that as a whole our teachers are some of the best and most effective teachers in the state," said Bhatia. "Whether they come from Teach For America, or a traditional teaching background, or came into teaching as a career change, we are extremely proud of the results all of our teacher have in advancing student achievement. Our focus on human capital ensures that we are able to continue to demonstrate these results as our schools grow and expand."

Evidence of the effectiveness of Uplift's teachers is supported by its schools' 2010 accountability ratings: 14 out of 15 are ranked Exemplary or Recognized. Additionally 100 percent of Uplift's graduates have been accepted to college. With data indicating that first-year Teach For America corps members performed on par with Uplift's veteran teachers, Uplift believes its expanded partnership with Teach For America will build on this exemplary level of student achievement.

"Similar to the positive impact seen in Dallas ISD classrooms, our reports from Uplift Education show that Teach For America corps members performed above the network's average first year teacher, achieving academic results similar to their veteran teachers," said Charles Glover, executive director of Teach For America in Dallas. "As first year teachers, corps members at Uplift led 91 percent of their students to TAKS passage, with a commended average of 37 percent. Given these results and the ongoing support of a community that is dedicated to ensuring that effective teachers are in every classroom, we are thrilled to continue our work with all of our Dallas partners."
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