Teach For America-Alabama Expands into Tuscaloosa and Birmingham

The Tuscaloosa and Birmingham City school boards recently approved contracts with Teach For America – Alabama that could bring as many as 84 teachers to schools in Tuscaloosa and urban Birmingham over the next four years.

In August, eight Teach For America teachers will start working at schools in the poorest and lowest-performing zone in the Tuscaloosa school system – the Central zone. Eight more will be added each of the next two school years, with all 24 teachers contractually obligated to work in Central zone schools for at least two years, according to Teach For America – Alabama Executive Director J.W. Carpenter.

In late January, at the urging of Birmingham City School Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon, the school board voted to hire up to 60-90 TFA teachers and become the first urban system in Alabama to partner with Teach for America.

Teach for America is a national corps of top college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for at least two years in under-resourced schools and to become lifelong leaders in the pursuit of educational equity.

When he proposed the program, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said “the highly regarded national program could provide just the dose of innovation Birmingham’s lower-performing schools need”.

According to Carpenter, TFA’s carefully selected teachers have strong track records in academic achievement, community involvement and leadership experience. From a record pool of 46,000 applicants in 2010, Teach for America selected 4,800 new corps members with an average college GPA of 3.6. Eighty-nine percent held undergraduate leadership positions.

The new TFA – Alabama teachers in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham will join other TFA teachers already working in Selma City, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry and Sumter counties.

In announcing the recent Alabama expansion, Carpenter cited a McKinsey & Company study showing that the key distinction between American school systems and the highest performing systems in the world is the talent in the classroom. One hundred percent of those teaching in top performing nations were among the top third of their country’s college graduates. In the U.S., top tier graduates comprise only 22 percent of the teaching force.

A growing body of rigorous research demonstrates that Teach for America corps members are highly effective in the classroom. An Urban Institute study updated last year found that Teach for America teachers have a positive effect on student achievement. The study is available here.