Teach for America began nearly 20 years ago with one woman's idea that her generation could make an impact on students in the country's low-income school districts.
Since then, more than 28,000 "corps members" have undergone Teach for America's intensive, short-term training program and entered classrooms in nearly 40 urban and rural school districts under the tutelage of teacher-mentors.
In Arizona, some continued in education, either in their districts or at charter schools. A new charter school in Phoenix was founded by a former Teach for America corp member. A handful now work for the Arizona Charter Schools Association.
Now an $18.85 million grant from entrepreneur and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford is helping Arizona State University institute some of the same training and recruiting ideas at its Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
Andrea Pursley is executive director of the Sanford Education Project, funded by the grant. Pursley spent three years as a teacher, also known as a corp member, with Teach for America. She then joined the TFA staff, three years as executive director in Phoenix and two years as a vice president.
Among other things, she is helping ASU adopt TFA's recruiting methods and assisting with ASU's adoption of longer field experience requirements, formerly known as student teaching.
Pursley is also bringing Teach for America's rigorous analysis of student data to ASU, training seniors on how to use that information as students progress in the classroom.
"As they teach and assess whether or not students learn what they're taught, they'll use that data to help inform their instruction throughout the year," she said. "They're using the TFA tools ... to help us take the training to the next level."
This week, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education's Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for P-12 Student Learning issued its report to turn teacher preparation "upside down." The recommendations include "strengthening candidate selection and placement," as well as increasing the clinical training for teachers.
Nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the field in their first five years, according to the commission. That shortens to 18 months to three years when they teach in urban districts.
ASU is taking several steps, including its look at Teach for America practices, to improve that outcome and teacher training, said Mari Koerner. Two other federal grants are assisting with a plan to create an on-site training program for all undergraduates, where they'll spend an entire school year at a public school. On that campus they'll not only do their clinical work - being in a classroom with an experienced teacher - but they'll also take their ASU classes.
The Teach for America project is "aligned with our missions," Koerner said.
"The deprofessionalization of teachers has happened over years ... Teaching should become a career of choice for smart people who want to have an impact on the world."