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Will Teach for America Come Back?

Teach for America, which came blazing into town in 2002 and promptly quit the city two years later, may be bracing for another shot at Detroit. “All eyes are now on Detroit,” says Ify Offor, vice president of new site development for the organization, which places college graduates and professionals in low-income school districts to teach for two years. “There's leadership that wants to take on this issue of education reform.”

Offor says she has met with officials in Governor Granholm's office, along with the Detroit Federation of Teachers and the United Way. “Our goal is to simply make Detroit a center for education reform and Teach for America is an integral part of that reform, as the place to come to do the very best work,” says Michael Tenbusch, vice president of education preparedness at United Way of Southeastern Michigan. As for the union, Offor's aim is to ensure that relations get off on a better foot than they did last time, when the Detroit Public School was facing budget issues and beginning to lay off certified teachers—creating resentment toward TFA members who had not completed Michigan's long and arduous certification process.  (Tenbusch of the United Way successfully pushed the Michigan legislature to pass a bill allowing for a quicker certification process in certain cases.) With the lack of support, Teach for America had no choice but to finish its two-year commitment until 2004 and then withdraw.

If TFA does come back to Detroit, don't expect it to have a major impact. Start with the numbers: TFA had 35 teachers back in 2002. DPS employs a total of 6,000 teachers. Furthermore, TFA has a host of critics. Some contend that it's little more than a pit stop for Ivy League grads looking to boost their resume before moving onto their corporate careers. Former TFA teacher Nate Walker says that what he calls the organization's “number-driven” approach, which is focused on raising test scores, is too limited to deliver major change. Walker is one of many Detroiters working on alternative charter schools. His, called the Boggs Educational Center, would place more emphasis on having the kids create student portfolios and self-reflections, and apply skills taught in class to real‑life situations. “The models that we're working on, they build community,” says Walker. “We value kids for who they are and whatever they do regardless if they decide to go to Harvard or be a plumber.”

Still, DPS needs whatever help it can get. Detroit's fourth- and eight-graders recently scored abysmally on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized exam that measures math, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography and U.S. history. “As we look at the low NAEP scores for Detroit's children, it is clear that this is a problem that we can and must, in fact, address,” Offor says. “We look at Teach For America as one critical source of talent in helping to address this problem.”  —Mariem Qamruzzaman

Mariem Qamruzzaman is a life-long resident of metro Detroit and a 2009 graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.  She has written for the Detroit Free Press, South Bend Tribune, and worked for Michigan Radio.  Currently, she is freelancing and volunteering with non-profit organizations.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly described Ify Offor as a man.

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  • 1

    Don't let one grade school teacher in the City who does not understand the simple fact that the children MUST know their math facts by rote memory.

    The new math is resposible for the current condition.

    Teachers are following their education and not doing, what they have been taught not to do. That is to assume that the parents know that it's their duty. When challenged they quickly retort that it's OUR responsibility. Such utter nonsense is a rationalization for sluffing from their job.

    It's clearly the Ed Schools that have put the children in the position that they are in.

    Surely someone from Motown can coume up with some songs or rhymes to assist in this.

    Regardless the complete absence of this for 3 generations now has been a disaster.

    The ed schools must face the fact that some parents can no longer drill their children on the facts.

    It is the TEACHER'S job and they have been copping out for too long now.

    This places a horrendous burden upon the High School Principals.... go back to ground zero.


  • 2

    Come on island, no blame falls on the parents? I have good friends that try very hard to teach in the district (math teachers both of them) and receive no support from the families. A teachers interacts with a middle/h.s. student for ~50m a day, a parent has how much more one-on-one time? Sorry couldn't resist a math problem. The teachers need to try hard but it's not a one man/woman show.

  • 3

    Hey Dan!,

    I'm talking about grade school teachers...

    The basics have to be drilled in.

    Now tell me about the unwed mother who doesn't know how to read and does not know the basic addition and multiplication tables...

    Are they going to do it?

    Some parents have less one-on-one time than the teachers do.

    Grade school teachers who have not drilled in the basics pass the problem on to the middle and high school teachers.

    I must tell you that it is heartbreaking watching a HS Principal working with people to tell the parents it is now their problem to bring their kids up on line.

    Grade School is exceedingly important and Barbara nailed it when she said that the 1st grade was the most important.

    If they did not drill in the basic facts then what were they doing?? Day care? For 67k??


    • 3.1

      I wholeheartedly agree with that - get the kids learning before they have a chance to get "I'm unteachable and don't need to learn" mindset that is so popular in the MTV culture (16 & Pregnant anyone?). I would continue to stress the importance of family in the equation since kids tend to still listen to their parents at an early age. If all these factors can come to play early in a childs schooling we can hopefully reverse the trend of broken schools and failures we're currently seeing. Children need good teachers, good facilities and a family that cares. You know Bill, it's fun to have a positive discussion on here (some frequent posters don't allow that to happen).


  • 4

    ''T[each] F[or] A[merica] has a host of critics. Some contend that it's little more than a pit stop for Ivy League grads looking to boost their resume before moving onto their corporate careers.'' That is saying it mildly.

    In addition to the sub-par achievement results, TFA teachers cost us taxpayers almost double what a trained teacher is paid. (TFA does have a five week summer training, but they are not considered Highly Qualified, as required by No Child Left Behind for their competing counterparts in public schools.)
    Read about TFA in ''The Truth about TFA.'':

  • 5

    [...] in groups, so more regions are likely. Many are wondering if TFA will take a shot at returning to Detroit. I have also heard whisper campaigns that TFA has looked at setting up shop in Dayton/Columbus (my [...]

  • 6

    [...] Posted by Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm [...]

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