Enlisting our city’s most promising future leaders in the fight for educational equity

Our vision of Los Angeles in 2050 is a city where every child, regardless of what zip code they live in or the where they were born, has the opportunity to obtain an excellent education. At Teach For America (TFA) we believe the key to an exemplary education system in Los Angeles is leadership and we are working to build a team of leaders committed to creating change.

There are three parts to our mission:

1) We recruit diverse recent college graduates and professionals with demonstrated leadership ability to teach for a minimum of two years in low-income public schools.

2) We provide intensive training and support for these teachers, called corps members, so they can have an immediate positive effect on student achievement and deepen their own understanding of what it takes to end educational inequity.

3) We foster their leadership as alumni who, deeply affected by their experience in the classroom, work at every level of education and across other sectors to advocate for the interests of students.

Teach For America has been working alongside communities in Los Angeles since the organization’s founding in 1990. Since then our corps members have taught 440,000 Los Angeles students. This year approximately 300 corps members are teaching more than 20,000 students every day in and around Los Angeles.

As a result of our 23 years in this city, our alumni network includes more than 1,600 individuals, including 50 principals and school leaders, 13 school system leaders (who supervise clusters of school leaders), and 11 elected officials. In concert with our communities, our alumni have worked to establish whole schools of excellence, which serve as proof points throughout our city of what is possible for our children. Our more mature alumni now have the experience and credibility to lead schools and school system and drive policy for the public and private sectors. The two decades invested in developing our people as leaders are now paying off. We believe the benefit of this investment will ripple throughout our city over the next 20 years when today’s corps members are teaching in classrooms, leading schools and businesses, serving on city councils, crafting legislation, and advocating for our students.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Over more than two decades in Los Angeles, our corps members, alumni, and their students have proven what is possible in classrooms and in schools throughout our city. Some exciting recent developments include:

1) A recent report released by the Harvard Strategic Data Project found that Teach For America Los Angeles teachers and Career Ladder teachers (a pathway for LAUSD paraprofessionals such as teacher’s aides) are more effective than other novice teachers within LAUSD at promoting student learning in math. The effect of having a TFA teacher corresponded to a month and half, or nearly 20 percent, of additional learning, compared to other teachers.

2) This year’s Los Angeles corps represents diversity of background (two-thirds identify as people of color); diversity of experience (30 percent came from graduate school or professional backgrounds); and diversity of teacher placement (more than one-third teach math or science).

3) As noted above, alumnus Tommy Chang (corps year ’97) was appointed by Superintendent John Deasy to be one of five local superintendents in LAUSD. As superintendent of intensive support and innovation, Tommy oversees 130 schools and 130,000 students, including a majority of chronically failing schools in the district. He and his team work aggressively to transform outcomes for students across these schools. Other notable TFA alumni in the district include Drew Furedi (corps year ’93) who is spearheading the new teacher evaluation pilot in his role as the executive director of talent management for LAUSD. Drew’s team includes at least six other TFA alums.

4) One hundred percent of Camino Nuevo schools K-12 principals are TFA alumni, as is the charter network’s chief executive officer, Ana Ponce (corps year ’91). Ana was also named one of the World’s Seven Most Powerful Educators in Forbes magazine this year.

5) In the KIPP LA network, six out of seven schools currently operating are run by TFA alumni. Alumna Angella Martinez (corps year ’01) led KIPP LA Prep to become the top-performing middle school in LAUSD and now supports all KIPP schools in Los Angeles as their chief academic officer. Other alumni continue to increase their leadership presence in charter organizations like the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, PUC, and Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), as site principals, assistant principals, and school-based instructional leaders. Alumna Allison Bajracharya (corps year ’00) supports all charter partners as vice president of regional advocacy at the California Charter Schools Association.

With the striking evidence of what our corps members and alumni are capable of we can only imagine what our leaders will accomplish toward our goal of educational equity over the coming decades.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We partner with more than 100 placement schools and administrators in Compton, Hawthorne, Huntington Park, Inglewood, Lennox, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and South Gate. We work with 11 leading charter management organizations, including The Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), Green Dot, KIPP, Aspire, Bright Star, Camino Nuevo, Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC), Wiseburn Charter Schools, Para Los Niños, and Value Charter Schools. Our 2 university partners are Loyola Marymount University (our teacher preparation institute and corps member credentialing) and Cal State Northridge (an administrative credentialing program for a career in school leadership for our alumni).

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We have identified three priorities to help us achieve our vision for Los Angeles:

1) Cultivate more talent & leadership in Los Angeles: Educational inequity is a massive problem, and we need to dramatically increase the number of people in Los Angeles working together to solve it. This year, we aim to support up to 175 new corps members in Los Angeles, who will begin teaching in the 2013-14 school year. To meet the needs of our school partners, the majority of these corps members will teach science, math or special education.

2) Increase student learning & support corps member professional development: Once in Los Angeles, our teachers must be prepared to provide high-quality instruction and be equipped to address the additional challenges children growing up in poverty often face. In short, they need to be great at what they do. Each year we aim to increase the positive effect our corps members have on student achievement by using data from previous years to improve our model. Progress is determined through a combination of standardized test grades, end-of-year reports from school districts, and in-class evaluations. It is tracked throughout the year. We measure each corps member’s progress against an ambitious benchmark—the score a high-performing teacher would accomplish, which accounts for subject, grade, and student starting point. By 2015, we aim for the average growth of students to be at the top 75th percentile of students across the country.

To achieve ambitious results in the classroom, teachers need support. All corps members attend our intensive summer training institute and regular professional development trainings, have Teach For America coaches, share resources and best practices, and enroll in content-specific credential and/or Masters programs. Helping their students succeed and feeling supported in their efforts ensures that our corps members complete our program with the conviction to continue the fight for educational equity for Los Angeles students over the long run.

3) Foster alumni leadership: Filling high-need classrooms with passionate, high-achieving individuals who will do whatever it takes to help their students succeed is a critical element of our approach—but it’s not enough. Our city needs people in every sector who are passionate about solving educational inequity. In addition to our 50 school leaders (defined as at or above the principal level), our short-term goal is for 10 alumni to become new school leaders by September 2013 and for a total of 16 alumni to become new school leaders by September 2014.

We support alumni by identifying job openings and offering resume and interview coaching, and helping to create pathways to pursue career advancement.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Only 10 percent of the individuals who join TFA report that teaching is one of their top career options. Yet 93 percent of our program’s alumni report they support TFA’s mission through career, philanthropy, volunteerism, or graduate study and 63 percent still work or study full-time in education. Our project will develop the next generation of city leaders in Los Angeles who are deeply committed to our students and a stronger education system.

We have seen the benefits our corps members bring to their individual classrooms, to entire school buildings, and to school systems:

Teacher Leadership

Los Angeles native Beatrice Viramontes (corps year ‘08) taught math and science at John Leichty Middle School just a few miles west of downtown. All of her Algebra students started the year at varying levels behind grade level. By the end of the year, 70 percent of her students were on or above grade level. Algebra is frequently referred to as a gatekeeper subject because it is the first in a series of higher-level math classes needed to succeed in college and life. Beatrice’s class was a stepping stone for even greater accomplishments; so far, her students have been accepted at Emerson College, Northwestern University, San Francisco State, and the University of California Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and San Diego. Beatrice now coaches and supports groups of corps members working to help future college applicants make their dreams a reality.

School Leadership

Many of our alumni become principals to expand their impact from individual classrooms to entire school sites. Six of our 50 alumni school leaders are at the helm of California Distinguished Elementary Schools, including Frank Lozier (corps year ’00), the principal of Laurel Street Elementary in the Compton Unified School District. Laurel Street achieved a remarkable 927 Academic Performance Index (API) score last year. (API scores range from 200 to 1000, and the statewide target is 800.)

School System Leadership

With more than two decades in Los Angeles, we also have 13 alumni impacting whole school systems, including:

• Tommy Chang (corps year ’97), Superintendent of Intensive Support and Innovation, who oversees 130 schools and 130,000 students, including a majority of chronically failing schools in the LAUSD;

• Gordon Gibbings (corps year ’99) and Chad Soleo (corps year ’01), both Cluster Directors overseeing groups of principals for Green Dot Public Schools; and

• Angella Martinez (corps year ’01), Chief Academic Officer for KIPP LA schools.

This spring, we will welcome the next group of new teachers, who we will train and support over the coming two years. These corps members may be the next Beatrice Viramontes, Frank Lozier or Tommy Chang, opening doors for thousands more Los Angeles students who deserve an excellent education.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

If we succeed by 2050, we would have put ourselves out of business. It is our hope that over the next few decades, the academic success we see in individual classrooms and in our city’s most successful public schools will be a reality for every Angeleno.

If we continue to grow at our current pace, by 2050 more than 7,000 Teach For America alumni would live in Los Angeles. Our corps members and alumni would teach nearly 5,000 students every day. Five million students would have been taught by our people over the course of our history. If, together as a city, we succeed at infusing enough leadership into our system to move Los Angeles to a “tipping point” where the talent, innovation and policies exist to ensure that all children in Los Angeles have access to a high-quality education, our mission will be achieved.