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Preparing Tech-Smart Teachers, TFA-style

In a new policy brief, the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic-aligned think tank based in Washington, proposes preparing a corps of tech-savvy teachers aimed at boosting 4th grade literacy rates in low-income communities. The plan would use Teach for America as a program model.

According to the seven-page report, "The Digital Teachers Corps: Closing America's Literacy Gap," 4th grade is a critical year for students—there is "a nearly 80 percent correlation between being two years behind in reading at the 4th grade mark and dropping out of high school later." And the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores show that only 14 percent of African-American children and 17 percent of Hispanic children are deemed "proficient" readers in 4th grade. The authors see digital tools as key to improving literacy, citing rises in test scores at New York City's School of One and San Diego's High Tech High Charter School, which personalize curricula through technology.

The Digital Teacher Corps initiative, seemingly still very much an idea in progress, would recruit 1,500 members in its initial years and work up to 5,000 annually. Corps members would go through an eight-week technology "boot camp" and then be dispatched to low-income school districts "where they are most needed." The authors say the program would "avoid TFA's sometimes ephemeral and less sustained impact by building on local capacity." One-third of the DTC corps would be made up of master teachers and "digital mentors" who could help train the other two-thirds of the corps, made up of recent college graduates. And while TFA asks for a two-year commitment, DTC corps members would serve three years in the classroom.

The published proposal is little more than a rough sketch. But do you think it's worth a shot? How does this compare to what TFA is doing now? Do you agree improving teachers' competency with digital tools could help close the literacy gap?

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