Nurse for America?
By John Merrow
Published: April 21, 2007 / The Washington Post
This week seniors at some of America’s most prestigious colleges learned whether they’d been accepted into Teach for America, which recruits the “best and brightest” from Yale, Duke, Brown, Dartmouth and other top colleges and puts them through intensive summer training. The program is a proven magnet: 10.4 percent of Yale’s Class of 2006 applied, as did 9.6 percent of Dartmouth’s graduating seniors. Scripps College topped the list, with 15.7 percent.
Most schools of education accept just about everyone who applies, but Teach for America, which puts capable, smart and idealistic young men and women into some of the country’s toughest public schools, rejects an astonishing 83 percent of its applicants.
If they don’t make the cut at Teach for America, many students will fall back to their second choices, often top law or business schools or high-paying jobs on Wall Street.
Seventy-seven percent of those who are accepted will enter Teach for America. By comparison, only 71 percent of those accepted into Yale choose to enroll. The “yield” is lower at Princeton, at 69 percent, and Stanford, 67 percent.
Teach for America, now in its 18th year, has become the country’s largest provider of teachers for low-income communities. What began in 1990 with 500 men and women working in six communities has grown to 4,400 teachers working with 375,000 students.
The success of Teach for America has inspired the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to create a similar program — it plans to distribute $10 million in grants — to provide guidance and counseling at high schools in nine states. That program will recruit and train college seniors to work full time as advisers for one or two years after they graduate.
“It will be the next Teach for America,” Vance Lancaster of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation told me in an e-mail, although they’re not calling it Advise for America. Instead it’s the College Advising Corps.
Unfortunately, the success of Teach for America reveals an unpleasant truth about how little we value education and children. Consider another helping profession that is often compared with teaching: nursing. Just as there’s a teaching shortage, the United States desperately needs nurses. Nationally, hospitals have about 210,000 empty nursing slots, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But there is no “Nurse for America” program, because it’s inconceivable that someone could step in and provide nursing care after just two months of summer training.
Just imagine: “Hi, Mrs. Lingering. I’m John Merrow, your new nurse. I just graduated from Dartmouth. Now let’s see. It says you get two cc’s of this medicine. That’s about the same as a tablespoon, isn’t it? And I’m supposed to examine you. Do you know which orifice this instrument goes in?”
No, we will never have a Nurse for America program, because that profession’s standards are higher than those of teaching. Nobody says, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, nurse.” That slur is reserved for teaching, an occupation that’s ridiculously easy to enter, at least through education schools.
So, two cheers for Teach for America — but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Nurse for America and Teach for America were equally inconceivable? If teaching could become not merely an honorable calling but also a well-paying, highly respected profession that was difficult to get into?
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