Teach for Australia

I spoke in parliament today about Teach for Australia (Joe Hockey, speaking before me, had wrongly suggested that my electorate was named after Malcolm Fraser, so I had to set him straight).
Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 6) Bill 2012, 14 February 2013

It is my great pleasure to serve as the member for Fraser, a seat named after Jim Fraser, who was the ACT's sole representative in this House from 1951 through to 1970. It is true that he did serve alongside Malcolm Fraser for much of that period, but there are significant differences in outlook between them. Jim Fraser was a proud Labor member, committed to social justice, committed to the rights of workers and a true reforming member of this House. While the shadow Treasurer may seek to model his politics on those of Malcolm Fraser, that is not my role model here in this place.

I rise today to speak about one of the schedules in the Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 6) Bill 2012, which provides tax deductible gift-recipient status to an organisation known as Teach For Australia. Teach For Australia is modelled on Teach For America, which is now in its third decade. Teach For America bases its success on two vital truths: firstly, that there is no more important job that teaching disadvantaged children and, secondly, that there is a reservoir of idealism among talented university students. More than one in 10 US Ivy League graduates now applies to Teach For America. Its recruiting is so selective that it is able to take just the top 20 per cent of applicants.

Since starting in 2009, Teach For Australia has sought to bring the same model to disadvantage in Australia's schools. Disadvantage is rife in the Australian school system. A few statistics bear that out: according to Teach For Australia, the most disadvantaged students in Australian schools are three years of learning behind the most advantaged by the time they are in mid-high school. One in five year 9 students living in households with no-one in paid work fail minimum reading standards. In remote schools, 39 per cent of students do not finish high school, and in very remote schools that is 65 per cent. Of those attending university, only 15 per cent of university students come from the bottom socioeconomic quartile, compared with 42 per cent from privileged backgrounds. There is a crying need to get great teachers into disadvantaged schools. The government's Gonski reforms are focusing on improving resources for those schools, but Teach For Australia also plays an important part.

Teach For Australia associates, as the teachers are known, train for six weeks in intensive summer training at the University of Melbourne, and then continue to receive formal education, mentoring and leadership coaching through their two-year placement. Teach For Australia associates are now teaching in schools in Victoria, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Like Teach For America, they are an extremely selective program. Fewer than one in 10 applicants to Teach For Australia is selected. The average university entrance score of Teach For Australia associates is 97.

Tony Simpson, principal of Copperfield College in Melbourne's outer west, describes his Teach For Australia teachers as 'mindblowingly successful'. The way in which Teach For Australia trains their associates encourages students who might not have studied education to combine theory and practice. As Teach For Australia founder Melodie Potts Rosevear put it:

‘TFA allows select individuals to complete roughly one-third of their degree, and then to combine theory and practice by doing the rest of the degree over the course of the next two years as they are teaching.’

Like the UK counterpart, Teach First, independent evaluations support the success of the Teach For Australia model. For example, a randomised evaluation that Mathematica Policy Research did on Teach For America found that the benefits from having a Teach For America teacher were equivalent to an additional month of learning.

But we will not just see the benefits of Teach For Australia in the classroom. Teach For America now, with nearly a full generation having gone by since the first Teach For America teachers went through the system, is beginning to reshape US education policy debates. Two Teach For America alumni have founded KIPP schools, a set of charter schools that focus on teaching American students in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. There are more than 26 elected officials in the United States who have a direct experience of teaching disadvantaged students as a result of Teach For America. Like President Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, who taught in Chicago and Melbourne, these politicians are far better policymakers for having taught disadvantaged students.

The challenge that Teach For Australia faces is to show the same successes in Australia. As the minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth said:

‘I congratulate these graduates for completing their initial training of the Teach For Australian program and for their commitment to teaching kids in some of our most disadvantaged communities over the next two years. Through Teach For Australia we are giving some of Australia's brightest and keenest graduates the chance to make a real difference in the lives of students who may be struggling because of their social circumstances.’

I know the commitment to Teach For Australia is a bipartisan one. I would like to acknowledge the member for Aston, who served on the board of Teach For Australia, and who I know is a strong supporter, as am I, of the Teach For Australia model.

Right here in the ACT we have terrific Teach For Australia teachers working in our schools. Imogen Byrne at Belconnen High School has now finished her TFA time and is still teaching at that school as are Corey McCann at Calwell High School and Igraine Ridley-Smith at Calwell High School, who received the New Educator of the Year Award at the 2012 Public Education Excellence awards—a real testament to her hard work with science and maths students. Felicity Olver at Erindale Secondary College and Lia Van den Bosch at Hawker College have also passed their first two years of the program and are teaching in the education system, which is a clear indication that many Teach For Australia associates stay in the education system beyond the two years they are required to.

Now in year 2 of the program in the ACT are Sebastian Knox at Belconnen High School, Bridget Martin at Erindale Secondary School, Stephen Barnard at Lake Tuggeranong College, Jessica Brunton at Lake Tuggeranong College, Tanya Greeves at Lanyon High School and Helen Baxendale at the Canberra College. Now in their first year of the program in the ACT are Min Kim at Calwell High School, Robert Pickup at Erindale Secondary School, Jessie Snodgrass at Kingsford Smith School, Alpha Cheng at Caroline Chisholm High School, Zed Mancenido at Lake Tuggeranong College and Hannah Brickhill at Melrose High School.

I had the pleasure of having two Teach For Australia associates work as fellows/interns in my office. These people not only work hard in the classroom and work on programs out of school hours but also in their school holidays decide to work for a member of parliament. It is a crazy idea but I and my staff delighted in having their ideas and enthusiasm with us in the office. I thank Daniel Carr and Tanya Greeves for that.

The power to change lives is a power that is in the hands of great teachers. I will read a letter from a Melbourne girl to her English teacher Liam Wood. She wrote:

‘You were the only teacher that believed in me... I was doubted, labelled dumb/stupid and put down constantly in every class, except in Writer's Workshop. You created an environment that made each student special, like they belonged in the class ... I know I never spoke about personal things but you and Writer's Workshop changed my life just before I had given up. Things at home have even gotten better since I joined your class. ... Never forget that by treating young adults/teenagers like equals or as a friend and just simply believing in them you'll give them faith, hope, dreams and inspiration.’

That was just one of the several letters that Liam received from his students.

Teach For Australia is a powerful program. It is changing lives among children in disadvantaged schools. I hope that as a result of it receiving tax deductible gift recipient status through this bill it will encourage further philanthropic support for a program which is part of the broader work that all of us in the House have to do to improve the quality of education that the most disadvantaged students in Australia receive.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.