Tom Bloch on Teach for America
In 1976, Tom Bloch joined H&R Block, the world's largest tax services provider, where his father was CEO. In 1981, after introducing automation to the company's office network, he was elected President of the Tax Operations. Later, he oversaw the company's innovative practice of filing tax returns electronically to the IRS, which revolutionized the industry. Bloch was promoted to President of the corporation in 1989 and CEO in 1992. His second career began in 1995 as a middle school math teacher at St. Francis Xavier, an inner city parochial school. Five years later, he co-founded the University Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City. Bloch continues to teach 7th and 8th grade math at the urban college prep school he helped design and launch. He is also President of the school's board. The Academy has grown from 200 students in grades seven through nine in its first year to over 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade twelve. The school moved into a new, $40 million facility in 2005, and it became the first school in Missouri to receive a ten-year extension of its charter. Over the last five years, all but two graduates of the Academy have gone on to attend college, an almost unheard-of success rate for an urban school. Bloch is the author of Stand for the Best, a memoir about his journey from CEO to inner city teacher and school founder. He graduated cum laude in 1976 from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
Tom Bloch: I think Teach for America is a wonderful idea. In our school, for the first time this year, we have two Teach for America teachers, and I think it’s an interesting concept and what it [appeals] to me is that they are finding the best and brightest young people out of colleges to become part of this program. Now, they may not have the time and depth of study and the education by the time they begin teaching, but they are smart and energetic and I think very determined to succeed.
Question: What other programs do recommend?
Tom Bloch: There is a very interesting program, it happens to be in Kansas City, at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. It’s called the Institute for Urban Education. The philosophy is that teachers need to be prepared for the inner city as… in other words, they need to be like specialists, just like doctors when they go to medical school will specialize in a particular field.
That same concept is used at this Institute for Urban Education, so that the time a student comes in as a freshman, they are immersed in schools that are in the urban core, and they are absolutely prepared, for over a four-year period, to be placed in an inner city school. And I really think this is a very novel idea for a couple of reasons, it sort of suggests that this… the environment in an urban school is unique, and it also is unique in the sense that these students are spending much, much more time in inner city schools. So that, over the four-year period, they will spend at least double the amount of time in actual schools than in a traditional teacher education program, which I think is a positive thing.
Recorded on: October 13, 2008
Though it has its weaknesses, Teach for America is a vital opportunity to put passionate teachers into schools that need them.
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