Teach For America and Charter Schools Are Not Enough

Education in America is suffering, and the achievement gap amongst school children is widening. As a former Teach For America (TFA) Corps Member and an advocate for charter schools, I do not believe that these initiatives alone will solve the achievement gap problem in the United States. These initiatives are successful in changing the conversation around what is possible in education; however, they simply do not affect a large enough contingency of American children to make a numerically significant difference.

During any given year, TFA has approximately 8,200 teachers (this only includes corps members who are still within their two year commitment) in the classroom. If each of these teachers has a class of approximately 25 students, the total impact of TFA is 205,000 students, or 0.3% of America’s school-aged children. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are approximately 5,400 charter schools, affecting a total of 1.7 million American children, which is only 3.26% of America’s school-aged children. Presently in the U.S., there are approximately 52 million school-aged children, ages 5 to 17.

In total, TFA and charter schools impact only 3.56% of America’s children combined. Assuming that every TFA corps member made significant gains and every charter school produced significant academic achievement, the impact would still not be large enough to even make a dent in the massive achievement gap.

The most powerful tool these education reform groups offer is the work that is done outside of the classroom. The advocacy, discussion, and action at the classroom level demonstrate the true impact of organizations like TFA and the charter schools. Thanks to schools like KIPP, YES Prep, and the Harlem Children’s Zone, the public school systems have clear examples of what it takes to produce meaningful learning for America’s kids.

The burden of closing the achievement gap does not lie solely on the backs of those who have committed themselves to solving it, but every American, regardless of capacity, occupation, political party, race, or socio-economic status. We all have a role in this fight, and we should all be invested in its resolution. By 2050, according to the U.S. Census, the U.S. will be a majority-minority nation, with Hispanics and African-Americans making up the largest segments of the new majority. If we do not repair our education system, these groups will continue to be the least educated populations, resulting in an undereducated majority citizenry; the mere idea should cause any reasonable American to search for solutions.

Non-profits and charter schools did not create the achievement gap; it is the result of a country and society neglecting significant segments of our population over time, largely on the basis of their race. The time to seek meaningful change is now. If we think our economy is unstable now, just wait until we have a nation of people unprepared to fill any of the jobs and not educated enough to innovate jobs on their own. I commend TFA and charter schools for their significant role in this work, but it is not their burden to bear; it is all of ours.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Edward Williams

Edward Williams is currently a 3L at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is a 2009 Teach For America Atlanta Corps Member. He graduated from Howard University in 2009 with a BBA in International Business and Finance with honors. He has interned at JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch in their investment banking/sales and trading divisions, and was a 2010 Teach For America Policy and Advocacy Leadership (PALI) Fellow at the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, DC. Edward is originally from Savannah, GA.

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