Teach for America can help Superintendent Linda Lane and the Pittsburgh Public Schools meet their dual goals of increasing teacher diversity and filling harder-to-staff positions.
As an alum of Teach for America’s Baltimore corps and an optimistic resident of the city, I welcome the opportunities to fill teacher positions and to diversify the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ teaching corps. In the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, it’s not feasible to fulfill those goals from local talent exclusively. While 67 percent of PPS students are people of color, only 33 percent of Pittsburgh residents are.
The district would be disappointed again if it turned to the local universities in order to achieve teacher staffing that more accurately reflected the demographics of the Pittsburgh Public Schools students. Eighty-two percent of the undergraduates at Duquesne University and 74 percent of the freshman class at the University of Pittsburgh are white. Fifty-seven percent of Chatham undergraduates are white. Of the few people of color at the universities, how many are studying mathematics or the sciences? How many will commit to Pittsburgh? And how many will commit to teaching? Not enough.
Teach for America prioritizes recruiting a socio-economically diverse corps of teachers each year. Among these are people with the requisite knowledge to teach in the sciences and mathematics and with the will to work directly with the students who most need effective teachers. My mother made just $16,000 the year I began at Pitt; that experience with poverty informed my teaching for six years.
Teach for America isn’t a silver bullet, but let’s not rule out a good solution while we await the perfect solution.