Teach For America Comes To TPS

Tuesday, April 21st 2009, 4:56 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- They Teach for America and starting next fall they'll teach for Oklahoma.  Tulsa Public Schools will be home to 50 of the nation's best and brightest teachers next fall.

TPS loses about 400 teachers every year.  Teacher turnover is cited as a problem in some of the district's lowest performing schools.  So, TPS believes Teach for America could have a big impact on local students.

"We welcome a transformational event to Tulsa Public Schools," said Dr. Keith Ballard, TPS superintendent.

TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard led the fast and furious courtship to bring the organization to Oklahoma.  Teach for America recruits top college grads to teach in high-need schools for two years.

"It it is the teacher who is the heart of the matter. And, this will spur us to even greater heights in teacher preparation, in teacher recruitment in attracting teachers to TPS," said Dr. Keith Ballard.

The Kaiser and Schusterman Foundations as well as Williams Company donated more than $3 million to help bring the program to town.  That coupled with support from the city helped vault Tulsa to the top of Teach for America's list.

"The tipping point, the game changing work, the historical moment that we are doing today is going to make a difference in our city for decades to come," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.

The program that puts young teachers in urban classrooms across the country does have its critics.   

Some point out that new teachers are generally less effective than experienced ones.  And, Teach for America teachers only commit for two years.  The organization points to recent research that shows their teachers outperform more experienced teachers, particularly in math and science.

"I am anxious to see the positive impact that these bright, young teachers will have on our students, especially those in the least advantaged areas of our city," said Tulsa Board of Education member Lana Turner Addison.

Teach for America teachers go through an intensive five-week training program and two week orientation in Tulsa, before they're placed in local schools.  And, TPS says they're working on a program to retain the teachers, after their two-year term ends.

Meanwhile, TPS pursues another high profile partner.  The district takes the next step in its bid for a multi-million dollar Gates Foundation grant.

The foundation started by Bill and Melinda Gates put TPS on its short list in April.  District leaders will meet in Atlanta with consultants who will evaluate the district.

If TPS is ultimately selected, it could be worth up to $17 million.