Though it is not without its detractors, the organization is convinced that it knows what works, and that its teachers and leaders are willing to do whatever it takes. And research supports it: According to Kopp, Teach for America is the most studied teacher education program in the country, and studies have shown that its teachers positively affect student achievement. A study in Tennessee found that Teach for America was the most effective of the state’s 42 teacher preparation programs, and that its teachers demonstrated a greater effect on students in every evaluated subject area. “Our greatest challenge,” says Kopp, “is the inequities that persist in outcomes along socioeconomic and racial lines.” (For more about educational inequities, see Part 1, “Black America’s Education Crisis,” September 2011).
Yet Kopp says there’s plenty of evidence that all kids can be provided with an excellent education. “Twenty years ago the prevailing view was that socioeconomic levels determined kids’ educational ability and outcomes,” she says, but it’s now clear that poverty does not determine ability and never did. Yet, according to Kopp, only 8% of low-income kids graduate from college; 80% of high-income kids do. Although she’s quick to say that there’s no silver bullet to solving this crisis, she does propose one essential aspect: effective school leadership.
Kopp says that strong school leaders go after their goals with the same level of energy and discipline and use the same strategies that effective leaders use to achieve any ambitious outcome. “Good leaders obsess about building strong teams; they work hard to build a powerful culture; they manage their teachers effectively; they do whatever it takes to reach their goal.
Parents: A Crucial Role
But teachers are only part of the equation. Parents must work with teachers to develop academic achievers. Parental support promotes student engagement. One charter school network, the Richard Allen Schools in Ohio, even uses a parent report card to evaluate parental involvement in their student’s academic lives.
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