“Yes, Teach for America has Limits”

Since matriculating into the alumni corps in 2008, my commitment to TFA has ebbed and flowed, but I managed stay connected to the movement through a variety of ways, which include attending alumni events, donating, mentoring first-year corps members, and, most recently, joining the Alumni Advisory Board.  I have witnessed both the power and limits of TFA.  I have been both a big supporter and, at times, critic.  After almost eight years of serving this movement to end educational inequity, my conclusion is this:  It will take more than TFA to reach “One Day.”

Time and time again, data-driven research supports what we already know:  TFA teachers make a direct impact on the education of students in the communities the organization serves.  According to a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, students of TFA teachers learned 2.6 more mathematics in a year than students in the same schools taught by non-TFA peers.  TFA’s own 2013 National Principal Survey reports that 78% of principals reported they somewhat agree to strongly agree that TFA corps members have a greater impact on student achievement when compared to the impact of non-TFA beginning teachers.  Locally, we have seen qualitative evidence of our impact through the expansion of TFA’s program into more SLPS schools and charter districts, in addition to establishing new district partnerships, including Normandy, Riverview Gardens, and Hazelwood.  We do great and important work, but that effort alone will not bring One Day to Saint Louis.

TFA sits as a leader within the education reform ecosystem in Saint Louis, but too many other components of the ecosystem appear just beyond our direct reach.  As a movement, we alone cannot pass laws and rules that govern our school systems.  We alone cannot arrange for wraparound services that address the individual needs of our students outside of the school day.  We alone cannot change the too-often believed perception that certain children cannot learn based on their zip code.  We alone cannot bring “One Day” to fruition.  It will take the entire Saint Louis community to fix this problem.

Saint Louis is blessed to have a strong non-profit community.  Organizations throughout the region tackle issues both directly and indirectly related to education reform.  Non-profits addressing problems such as literacy, health and nutrition, college-preparedness, mental health, parental involvement, and leadership development all have its role in getting Saint Louis to One Day.  Fortunately, members of our movement are already actively involved in these critical organizations.

So, my request (perhaps even a challenge?) to TFA Saint Louis is this:  Get us more allies!  Are you involved with an organization that addresses the achievement gap in some fashion?  Connect them to TFA and investigate whether there are challenges we can tackle together.  Have a friend that is working on education reform within his/her own non-profit?  Investigate whether there is an opportunity to share resources.  My own experience of helping connect TFA with area organizations tells me that this is worthwhile for both TFA and the other organization.  Without establishing these important links, I’m afraid “One Day” might soon turn into “Some Day.”

Jason Growe PictureJason Growe serves as Assistant Vice President at Stifel Financial Corporation in the firm’s Private Markets Group, dedicating his time to the group’s fund investment and investment banking mandates.  In this role, Jason sits as a non-voting member of the Investment Committee of Vectis II, a national healthcare and life sciences private equity fund.  Outside of Stifel, Jason is President of St. Louis Young Democrats and Community Chair of Teach for America’s Alumni Advisory Board.

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