In the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, we're taking up his mantle and demanding equity for our kids.
Fifty years after Dr. King gave his life here in the fight for equality, only 31 percent of Memphis kindergarteners are reading on grade level. Similar statistics occur with older children, too: only 39 percent of Memphis third graders and 38 percent of Memphis seventh graders are proficient in reading. By high school, only 6 percent of our students are graduating college-ready. These statistics serve as reminders that our students need and deserve a systemic solution to improve the current state of education, and they need it now.
Today, though inequities persist, countless signs of progress give us hope. Through the collective work of our corps members, alumni, students, families, advocates, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and community members, we are impacting student outcomes and changing the narrative about what is possible. The collective sense of urgency in our community is visible at every level. Strategic efforts led by local foundations have helped lay the groundwork for transforming Memphis into “Teacher Town, USA.” Our oldest district partner, Shelby County Schools, has been nationally recognized for the creation of its iZone schools and their progressive approach to improving student achievement while creating multiple pathways for all children to succeed. The Tennessee State Report card consistently names Teach For America Memphis among the state's top teacher-preparation programs, and we are the only program to earn that distinction for the past eight years in a row.
We’re proud of the role our corps members have played in partnership with educators and advocates of all backgrounds since Teach For America joined the Memphis community in 2006. We know that in order for our movement to be successful, it must be diverse in every way, and our incoming Memphis corps members are increasingly more diverse, with almost half of our 2018 teachers coming from a low-income background and almost half identifying as a person of color.
Throughout their corps experience, our corps members grow as leaders and learn how to ensure their impact encompasses more than academic achievement. Our alumni continue to effect change at all levels. Today we count over 500 local leaders among our program alumni serving as teachers, deans, school leaders, school system leaders, and others working in education, policy leadership roles, and social entrepreneurship. Our people go above and beyond to unlock the potential of historically marginalized students, empowering them for success well into the future.
With increasing momentum behind the movement to ensure educational equity for all, Memphis is full of promise. To continue pushing our city forward, our goal is to attract more exceptional individuals to join our corps, develop their leadership skills, and support them in their diverse efforts to expand opportunities for all students. The magnitude and complexity of the change we seek will require sustained leadership both inside and outside of the current education system.
As we consider the educational landscape in Memphis today, we are firm in our belief that this city must be the place that fulfills Dr. King’s dreams of a day when we are “an oasis of freedom and justice;” a place that refuses to question whether some kids can achieve and others can’t, but instead demands that all do at the highest of levels.