Editor’s note: Emma Spath is the UW-Madison campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America.
Nationwide, and at UW-Madison, members of the class of 2010 applied to Teach For America in record numbers – more than 46,000 applicants for this fall’s class of 4,350 teacher corps members. As the campus campaign coordinator for Teach For America at UW-Madison, I’m especially excited that 350 students applied from our institution alone. That’s why I’m troubled by a new federal budget proposal that would dim future admissions prospects for college seniors and derail the organization’s long-term goal of ending educational inequality.
Due to its strong track record of providing high quality teachers and leaders, Teach For America has received federal funding for the past 10 years. This year, Teach For America requested $50 million from Congress to meet demand among college students and communities. However, under a new proposal currently before Congress, Teach For America’s federal funding for 2011-2012 would be eliminated.
Without federal funding, Teach For America would be unable to hire more than 1,350 teachers who would reach 86,000 students in the 2011-12 school year. This scenario severely limits opportunities for recent graduates at UW-Madison and other universities to make a difference in our public schools.
The proposed federal funding cuts come at a time when our nation’s public schools need reform more than ever. More than 14 million children living in low-income communities are performing below grade level on standardized tests, and are falling further behind their more affluent peers each year. 50 percent of students in low-income communities will not graduate from high school by the time they’re 18. Those who do graduate on time perform, on average, at an eighth-grade level. We need programs like Teach For America to increase educational opportunity in our public schools.
A growing body of independent research demonstrates the positive impact TFA corps members have on student achievement. According to a 2008 Urban Institute study, Teach For America corps members achieved, on average, two-three times the results in math and science than teachers with three or more years of experience. Because of this track record of success, there is a long waiting list of communities nationwide that want to hire Teach For America corps members.
With an annual $50 million appropriation from Congress, Teach For America would be able to double in size over the next five years. At this scale, the organization would be able to provide nearly 17,000 corps member positions each year and reach more than one million underserved students in nearly all 50 states. And by 2016 Teach For America’s will have more than 50,000 alumni, who will create a powerful leadership force for meaningful and bold education reform.
As college students, we can make our voices heard to Congress on today’s most urgent civil rights issue-education. If Congress fully funds Teach For America, more children will be equipped with the high-quality educational opportunities they deserve. I hope you’ll join me in a grass-roots campaign to call and write Senators Kohl and Feingold.
Emma Spath ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in human development and family studies.