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Teach for North Dakota and Minnesota

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Some 46,359 young people applied to Teach for America this year, determined to spend two years teaching in high-poverty schools. The number includes 18 percent of the graduating class at Harvard, 18 percent of the seniors at Yale and comparable percentages from other Ivy League schools.

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Teach for America selected fewer than one in 10 of the applicants. Those 4,500 students -- some of the highest-achieving young people in the U.S. -- will begin Teach for America's training program in education methods this summer.

Too bad none of them will wind up teaching in North Dakota, and only a relative handful in Minnesota.

North Dakotans and Minnesotans should call on their lawmakers to follow the lead of 29 other states and fully welcome Teach for America teachers in at-risk schools.

The above figures come from a New York Times story about Teach for America's growing -- and astonishing -- appeal. "This year, on its 20th anniversary, Teach for America hired more seniors than any other employer at numerous colleges, including Yale, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," the newspaper reported.

The screening process is so rigorous that applicants compare it to getting into an Ivy League graduate school. But unlike their counterparts who'll proceed to high-powered law and medical schools, Teach for America teachers will put their own educations to use in classrooms on Indian reservations, in urban public schools and in other high-poverty areas.

Both Minnesota and North Dakota have their share of such schools. Furthermore, in both states, the education gap between white and minority students remains shockingly high.

In Minnesota, that gap drew Teach for America's attention years ago. "Over time, Minnesota has become a place that has quite significant achievement gap and kids in low-income communities in Minnesota -- there are more of them than there used to be," TFA President Matt Kramer told MPR in 2009.

"Now it makes a lot of sense for TFA to be in Minnesota."

But although Minnesota passed a limited exception for a starter TFA program, the education establishment still frowns on alternative licensing plans for teachers.

That's true despite President Barack Obama's strong support for alternative licensure, the administration's "Race to the Top" requirement that competitive states actively support alternative licensure -- and in Minnesota, the effort this year by some key Democratic lawmakers to expand TFA's role.

"Though the proposals fell under heavy opposition from the state's teachers union, the ideas retain enough bipartisan interest that they're likely to carry into next year," Minnesota Public Radio reported in June.

As State Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, told MPR, "This year, we got much farther with this bill, and I would hope next session we can get over the top on it."

North Dakota, meanwhile, makes almost no provisions whatsoever for alternative licensure for teachers.

Teach for America is a popular and exciting program in a field, K-12 education, that's crying out for innovation. North Dakota and Minnesota should recognize its value and put Teach for America's energized young teachers to work. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald

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