Says Thomas: “I believe we need to be cautious with merit pay because the educational process is a continuum and you cannot isolate one year or one subject to measure student growth and attribute that growth to one teacher. Students can achieve more when teachers work together.” He also wonders if merit pay could produce a competitive environment in which teachers are discouraged from collaborating and sharing their best practices.
For teachers in the trenches, nine studies indicate that quality professional development can improve both teacher practice and student achievement, reports the New Teacher Center, a group focused on assisting teacher and administrator induction and retention. For black students specifically, the Campaign for High School Equity and the College Board recommend that teachers and school leaders need to be trained in cultural competency, and ongoing research should be adjusted to the needs of communities of color.
Teach for America
One organization that has focused on the power of teaching to effect change in a student’s life is Teach for America. Started 20 years ago by Wendy Kopp, the organization takes recent college graduates and puts them in high poverty, low-achieving urban and rural schools for two years. More than 9,000 corps members—Teach for America instructors—will be teaching 600,000 students this year, more than 50% of whom are African American. Twelve percent of the 5,200 teachers that entered Teach for America for the 2011–2012 school year are African American. Twenty-seven percent of Spelman seniors applied to Teach for America, as did 10% of seniors at Howard; one in five African American seniors at Ivy League schools applied as well.
(Continued on next page)