Cary Wright, Executive Director of Teach For America speaking at the 10th-anniversary event.

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Toward a New Approach for Public Education

Teach For America, a broad and diverse coalition of leaders who will spend their lifetimes working toward transformation, is changing lives in Dallas and beyond.

The beleaguered public education system in America, memorably recounted in 1983’s A Nation at Risk, is not meeting the needs of today’s children and their families. Some have predicted that this will be the first era in our nation’s history where the rising generation will earn less than its predecessors.  Despite the efforts of many, as a nation, we have perpetuated a calcified, outmoded, and oppressive system for decades with an undereducated, underemployed workforce to show for it. As a result, still some 43 percent of children in the United States live in low-income families; Dallas has the second-highest childhood poverty rate among large U.S. cities.

It’s inhumane; it’s un-American. We are all to blame.

Outstanding public education is the best strategy to lift children and subsequent generations of their families out of poverty. Yet our approach to education in America today, and the system that supports it lacks the agility, foresight, and ingenuity needed to prepare kids for the rapidly changing world they will inherit.  The result is a widening of the gap between those who have access to elite educational opportunities and those depending on their neighborhood public school to unlock a future of possibility.

Our existing system was not designed to meet the demands of the era we now call our own. Technology is accelerating. How we access, manipulate and share information is different. Our population is increasingly more multicultural and diverse. The students of our country deserve an evolving approach to public education. An approach that will level the playing field for those with means and those without them. An approach where it’s no longer possible to correlate the strongest outcomes by zip code. An approach that is both locally rooted and globally informed.

Every year, we recruit the most diverse, forward-thinking hearts and minds our nation has to offer. We develop that talent first as teachers to change the trajectories of their students’ lives through outstanding instruction.

So what’s the solution? At Teach For America (TFA), we believe it’s leadership – a broad and diverse coalition of leaders equipped with proximity to our education system and who will spend their lifetimes working toward transformation.

The most diverse teacher force in the nation and 60,000 leaders strong, TFA operates in over 50 native, rural, and urban communities across the country – here in Dallas, we recently celebrated 10 years of partnership and impact. Every year, we recruit the most diverse, forward-thinking hearts and minds our nation has to offer. We develop that talent first as teachers to change the trajectories of their students’ lives through outstanding instruction. Our corps members launch robotics programs, they take students on trips to visit colleges, they expose their students to skills and opportunities that change their lives. And equipped with an unwavering belief in their students and outraged with the inadequacies of the existing system, our leaders co-create a local vision for change alongside their students and all the communities.

Let’s all work toward a new approach to public education that provides every child in this nation with the education needed to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a rapidly changing world.

Cary Wright is the executive director of Teach For America Dallas-Fort Worth. He joined Teach For America in 2009 as a 5th-grade teacher at O.M. McNair Elementary School in Belzoni, Mississippi.

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