Established in 1990 as a member of AmeriCorps, the organization places teachers, who commit to two years of service, in low-income areas. Now it has more than 9,300 corps members teaching more than 600,000 students nationwide.
Henson Adams, who just finished his first year with the program, said he believes it has made up a lot of ground.
“I got a really intelligent group of kids, they’re just a little behind skills-wise,” said Adams, who teaches algebra at Frederick A. Douglass Mid-High in Oklahoma City, where his students were three years behind in mathematics when he started.
“It’s a really good opportunity to come in and help boost those state test scores, so we can get more kids graduated and more kids in college.”
Teach for America Oklahoma started in Tulsa in 2009, when it was initially called Teach For America Tulsa. With the addition of OKC came a name change.
“We believe this has to be a statewide movement,” said Lance Tackett, executive director of the state program.
Teach For America has placed 60 teachers in Oklahoma City, bringing the total number of TFA teachers statewide to 200.
Justin Harlan, manager of strategy and regional operations for TFA Oklahoma, said the organization’s teachers are, on average, just as high performing or higher performing than those in other pipelines.
“Our corps members really take it upon themselves to own a responsibility for their students’ achievement,” he said.
But Harlan said TFA is not the one answer to the country’s education problems.
“We do not think it’s us against the world here. We’re just a very small part of this greater education reform movement,” he said.
He also said that Teach For America’s mission doesn’t stop at providing teachers for at-risk schools.
“You have your two-year experience in the classroom, and then, whether you stay in the classroom or not, you’re really an advocate for the movement for the rest of your life,” he said.
Harlan said low-income students generally have less success in school than their high-income peers, and that Oklahoma City has not been immune to this. He also said he believes students, regardless of their family’s income or location, should have the same opportunities.
“I don’t think that everyone has to go to college, but I think everyone should at least have the choice,” he said.