“Alfonzo, one of my eighth grade students, wrote to me that he wants to be a doctor. Alfonzo spent the past two years in the middle school where I now work — one of the lowest performing middle schools in Baltimore City. As a result, he reads on a fifth grade level and has difficulty thinking critically. Although Alfonzo is bright and hard-working, he may not graduate high school on time, let alone make it to medical school, simply because of where he was born.”

Lindsay Miars, a University alum and Teach For America corps member, is currently teaching eighth grade language arts at a middle school in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the only language arts teacher in the middle school. Miars’s students, who are performing well below grade level, are unfortunately typical victims of a broken education system in which students in low-income communities significantly underperform compared to their more affluent peers.

This academic achievement gap is one of our nation’s greatest social injustices. Unfortunately, a child’s place of birth has become a powerful factor in determining the quality of education he or she will receive. In fact, only 1 in 10 children who grow up in low-income communities graduate from college. This is unacceptable. In the so-called “land of opportunity,” nothing is more fundamental than providing a quality education for each and every child, regardless of where they happen to live.

Teach For America is leading the movement against educational inequity, and we need the help of University of Michigan students to address this problem. We have an obligation to ensure that future generations of Americans have the tools and opportunities needed to achieve academic success, regardless of their racial or socioeconomic background.

The persistence of the achievement gap is painfully obvious — even in our own backyard. Though only 40 miles separate Ann Arbor and Detroit, there is an enormous disparity students from these two districts. According to the Ann Arbor Public School website, “Over 96% of third graders and 93% of seventh graders met or exceeded state standards in math. Also, 91% of third graders and 91% of seventh graders met or exceeded state standards in reading.”

While Ann Arbor Public Schools have been extremely successful, the Detroit Public School system is struggling. According to Teach For America, “Detroit’s academic achievement is among the lowest for major U.S. cities — only three percent of Detroit’s fourth-graders and four percent of its eighth graders meet national math standards. As an example, test scores suggest that only one in three of Detroit fourth-graders can correctly subtract 75 from 301, even when given a choice of three multiple-choice answers.” A proper education system cannot simply cater to children in higher income neighborhoods. Every student is entitled to an excellent education regardless of his or her zip code.

Teach For America is working to close the achievement gap by enlisting college graduates to commit two years to teaching in a low-income community in one of 41 regions across the country. Within these communities, Teach For America corps members make a dramatic difference in the lives of their students, academically and beyond. Corps members receive full salary and benefits as employees of their school district and also have access to loan-forbearance programs that help make Teach For America a financially viable option for recent college graduates.

Many college students have never considered a teaching career. Many are also under the impression that without a major in education, they are unqualified to apply for Teach For America, which isn’t the case. In fact, while admission is highly competitive, Teach For America recruits students from all majors.

Though 39 percent of Teach for America teachers choose to stay in the classroom, Teach For America recognizes that after fulfilling their two-year teaching commitment many corps members will choose to attend grad school or enter the private sector rather than continue with a career in education. Teach For America seeks to hire individuals who will become leaders in education as well as in medicine, business, law, policy, engineering and other fields. These individuals will be able to continue advocating for students in low-income communities in a broader scope in every professional sector. As America’s future leaders, Teach For America corps members will soon be in positions of influence, where they can continue to affect broad social change.

Together, we can fight educational inequity and close the achievement gap. If you are interested, please join us Monday, Oct. 25 for a Teach For America Alumni Panel, featuring Unversity and Teach For America alumni from a variety of academic disciplines at 7:00 p.m. in the Pendleton Room of the Union. Also, learn more about Teach For America and the next application deadline, Oct. 27, at www.teachforamerica.org.

Curtis Kowalk, John Oltean, Felix Lopez and Lauren Ross are University seniors on Teach for America’s recruitment team.

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