Innovating for Equity

Innovating for Equity
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Social Entrepreneurs get their start by pitching new solutions to people who can help them turn their ideas into action. Alejandro Gac-Artigas '09 is no different -- but the most important audience he's presented to was his class of six-year-olds at the Pan-American Academy in Philadelphia.

As a first-grade teacher, Alejandro noticed the learning students lost from one summer to the next, and he was determined to do something about it. He took action - and it landed him, along with eight other Teach for America alums -- on Forbes Magazine's recent "30-under-30 in Education."

Off the top of my head, I could list thirty people under thirty who are making a difference in education each day -- most of them teachers. Educators are on the front lines of changing this country. I've been proud to see many of our alums named "Teacher of the Year" in their state, district, or school, but I'm equally proud of the quieter victories I hear of -- the science fair projects, the essays, and art that our corps members, alumni, and all teachers foster in their classrooms.

Forbes' list was a different set of achievements -- young people who are pursuing educational change through social entrepreneurship. It's no surprise to me that so many of our alumni have gone on to see success in this regard -- they're experts at the dynamic problem-solving teaching requires every second. The ingenuity, grit, and creativity required of educators are qualities you're likely to see in the best entrepreneurs of our time.

The Teach For America alumni on Forbes' list have channeled those qualities into efforts to solve persistent problems facing students, families, and schools across America. As an organization, we work to get more great educators into classrooms, and we're particularly proud of the more than 10,000 alumni who work as teachers today.

Other alumni work toward educational equity both inside and outside of the field, and their work is critical, too. The opportunity gap is systemic -- we need dedicated people working in all sectors to make the progress our nation deserves. The nine alums of "30 Under 30" have chosen to lead through entrepreneurship, and I'm excited to see the traction their innovations will make in the broader national effort in years to come.

Alejandro's innovation, Springboard Collaborative, works to repair the literacy skills students lose over vacation. His program provides summertime instruction to children from prek-3rd grade, and empowers families to teach reading at home. It works -- last year's 642 students made a six-month leap in reading during just five weeks of programming.

The other Teach For America alums that were profiled -- Sydney Morris '07, Evan Stone '07, Katie Beck '08, Mandela Schmacher-Hodge '08, Dan Caroll '09, Elliot Sanchez '08, Beth Schmidt '07 and Caryn Voskuil '09 -- have seen similar success in their work. These alumni are imagining solutions to the problems they saw firsthand as classroom teachers.

When Sydney Morris taught second and third grade and Evan Stone taught sixth, for instance, they noticed how few of their colleagues' voices were represented in the growing public policy debate around improving education. The real experts were in our nation's classrooms, yet they had little say in the way policies were adopted or implemented. So Sydney and Evan started Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a nonprofit that helps elevate the voices and ideas of teachers in the policy making process with government, union, and education leaders.

Our education system needs this sort of advocacy, and it needs this innovation. When just 1 out of 10 children growing up in low-income communities will graduate from college, we need change. When just 4% of African-American students, and 11% of Latino and Native students who took the ACT score "college ready" in all four subjects, we need change.

There are so many hands on deck today, working to make that change, both inside the classroom and outside of it. American entrepreneurs are often in the spotlight -- usually for a new gadget they have built or a profitable scheme they devised. I'm proud to see innovators in education recognized for the change they bring to our world.

To Learn More About Our Other Alumni Entrepreneurs:
•Katie Beck's program, 4.0 Schools, and Mandela Schmacher-Hodge's Startup Weekend Edu work to incubate more education startups.
•Dan Carroll's project, Clever, helps make school data systems transferrable across different software. Also on the Clever team is Matt Pasternack '04.
• Elliot Sanchez's mSchools harnesses the power of software for education in community centers.
•Beth Schmidt's Wishbone connects donors online with students hoping to go to an after-school or summer program.
•Caryn Voskill works as the manager for school model innovation at Rocketship Education.

Reprinted with permission from Teach For America's blog, Pass The Chalk.

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