S.C. education board approves Teach for America expansion

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COLUMBIA — The state education board has approved expanding a program that puts enthusiastic, mostly non-education college graduates into hard-to-fill slots in South Carolina’s underprivileged schools.

The board voted 7-6 this week to allow Teach for America to place more recruits in schools outside the Pee Dee region in its second year in the state. The program, as approved in December 2010, called for a three-year phase-in of recruits for classrooms in the state’s northeastern corner, starting with 30 this school year, 60 next year and 90 in 2013-14.

But then the New York-based nonprofit received additional calls for help.

“What became apparent to us early in the fall is that 30 teachers weren’t enough,” said Josh Bell, the executive director for Teach for America in South Carolina, adding that the group remains committed to the Pee Dee.

The nonprofit hopes to provide 80 teachers in 2012-13, including 30 in Charleston County and up to 20 additional teachers in Orangeburg County, which has a dozen after the state board gave special approval, Bell said.

The board’s vote Wednesday broadens the guidelines, saying the state board will designate approved regions and districts for Teach for America corps members. The change also gave the board chairman approval powers in the board’s stead if there’s a time crunch.

Opponents worry recruits could take jobs from education graduates of South Carolina colleges. They argue the program should be phased in slowly as initially planned and evaluated first.

“We wanted a failsafe in to protect our teachers here in South Carolina, that graduates here will be placed first,” said Jackie Hicks, the president of the South Carolina Education Association.

State Superintendent Mick Zais said that’s nonsense. The recruits are needed because districts can’t fill those slots, he said.

Proponents also note hiring decisions are left to local school officials, as Teach for America recruits interview alongside other candidates with a traditional certification. They receive the same salary and benefits as any first-year teacher in that district, and the district must spend $4,000 per corps member yearly to help pay for the program. The state House’s spending plan for 2012-13 includes $2 million for Teach for America.

The designation, recommended by both the independent South Carolina Education Oversight Committee and Gov. Nikki Haley, helps fund the expansion, Bell said.

Teach for America plans to divide the allocation to recruits coming on board in fall 2012 and 2013.

The program is also funded with private donations. That includes $1.5 million from investor and philanthropist Darla Moore, the namesake of the University of South Carolina’s business school, who was behind the effort to bring Teach for America to the state.

An alternative certification path adopted by the state board in 2010 specifically for Teach for America recruits involves a six-week summer training program, passing the state certification exam and continued training at night after they’re in the classroom.

The national nonprofit, which operates in 34 states, says it recruits recent top graduates from across the nation to fill vacancies in struggling rural and inner-city schools. Only 12 percent of applicants are accepted. Those picked commit to teach at least two years, and the hope is that their experience compels them to stay.

However, some recruits don’t fulfill the commitment.

Three recruits in South Carolina have left for various reasons, Bell said, declining to be specific. Zais noted they’re entering schools where the regular teacher turnover is very high.


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