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Teach for America keeps growing

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Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — At Duke University in Durham, 10 percent of seniors last spring applied for Teach for America, which hired more Duke graduates than any other employer.

In the Durham Public Schools, the Eastern North Carolina office of Teach for America this fall placed 25 new teachers, increasing to 35 the total number of its teachers in the county, which now employs more Teach for America “corps members” than any other school system in the region.

One of only six sites for Teach for America when the national organization was launched in 1990 with the mission of closing the achievement gap in public schools, the Eastern North Carolina office spawned a separate office in Charlotte in 2004.

Together, the two offices this year support 385 teachers, up from 270 a year ago, with the Charlotte office growing to 225 teachers from 130, thanks in part to a $4 million gift from the C.D. Spangler Foundation.

And those teachers are making a difference, says Erin Swanson Oschwald, the new executive director of the Eastern North Carolina office.

A 2007 internal study found 100 percent of school principals who manage corps members in the region would hire Teach for America teachers again, she says.

And a study this year by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., that looked at six years of data on end-of-course tests for high-school students in North Carolina found that students taught by Teach for America teachers learned more in a year than students taught by other teachers.

“It’s telling that our principals, regardless of the fact that it’s only a two-year commitment, want to continue hiring more Teach for America teachers,” says Oschwald.

What’s more, she says, Teach for America can fill only four of every five requests for corps members in the region.

To continue its growth and meet ambitious goals it has set for itself, the Eastern North Carolina office is working to diversify its fundraising and cultivate its existing base of donors.

Teach for America, which received 25,000 applications last spring from over 900 colleges and universities, this year is fielding 6,200 corps members in two-year teaching jobs.

The annual cost of recruiting, training and supporting corps members and alumni in the region totals roughly $19,500, with host school systems paying $2,500 of that cost.

In their most recent session, state lawmakers increased the statewide appropriation for Teach for America to $950,000 from $400,000, with the total split evenly between the Eastern North Carolina and Charlotte offices.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Eastern North Carolina office raised $1.2 million locally, including private and public funds, and received support from its national office for the remainder of its $3 million annual operating budget.

The regional office plan by 2010 to field 200 corps members and raise $2 million a year.

The regional office counts on continuing support from the Golden Leaf Foundation, Progress Energy, RBC and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, as well as Burt’s Bees and the Park Foundation, which became sponsors in the most recent school year.

And it recently held an event in Durham to introduce individual sponsors and prospective sponsors to teachers.

While they serve only two years, many corps members move on to become teachers and school leaders, or to take other leadership roles they can use to champion equity in education, says Oschwald, a former corps member.

Among the 14,000 Teach for America alumni throughout the United States, 400 serve as school principals.

And 400 former corps members live in North Carolina, including 300 in Eastern North Carolina.

“We have a really great opportunity,” says Oschwald, “to catalyze the leadership of our alumni as a force for change in public education.”

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