Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute has gotten some media attention recently for its proposal to establish a ‘Teach for Australia’ program, under which talented university graduates would work in disadvantaged schools for a couple of years, before going on to other careers. As they put it:
In the UK, the Teach First program targets top new graduates from universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, provides them with 6 weeks training, and then places them in hard-to-staff schools in disadvantaged areas. The graduates typically teach for 2 years only before embarking on their careers as lawyers, doctors or other professions. The program has become highly sought-after not only because it allows graduates to make a more direct contribution to their communities, but because it is now recognised by blue-chip companies and firms as an outstanding developmental experience. Consequently, being part of Teach First is a significant asset on a graduate’s resume.
Similarly, the Teach For America program targets students graduating from the top US colleges and young professions. It provides the recruits with 5 weeks of training and then places them in disadvantaged schools. Like the UK program, Teach For America is highly sought after. Last year, 19,000 applications were received resulting in 2,500 new Corps members. Eighty percent were new graduates and 20 percent were young professionals. The Teach For America brand provides recognition that a participant is a top graduate with significant leadership and communication skills.
The notion of encouraging high-fliers to teach just for a few years (with only a few months’ training) will strike many as pretty radical. But the proposal cites research onÂ Teach for America that suggests these teachers outperform other starting teachers, and even the more sanguine evidence (eg. work by Jonah Rockoff and coauthors) has Teach for America teachers being no worse. There’s also a less quantifiable benefit that flows from having the next generation of Australian leaders spend time directly confronting disadvantage.
At a time when we’re not exactly spoiled for new ideas in Indigenous education, this one just might be worth experimenting with.