Blackboard Jungle

So what's a Darmouth man, rep tie and all, doing in front of a handful of Gratz High School kids, who are thumbing though their playlists, checking last night's game stats and knocking calculators onto the floor like it's contagious?

Teaching Geometry.

Really well.

I spent part of Thursday with Alex Kaplan, a Germantown Academy and Dartmouth grad, as he vied with a world of distractions to pound some ideas about prisms and rectangles into the brains of his charges.

Kaplan's 23, a first-year corpsman in Teach For America, which takes bright young college grads and applies them to the nation's neediest schools. He's the subject of Sunday's metro column. What I didn't get into is the question of just how well do these Teach for America teachers teach.

I talked to Ted Hershberg, ed prof at Penn, who referred me to a study by a colleague at Harvard who found that Teach For America folks are just as effective as those who go the traditional ed-school certification route. Hershberg made the point that all teachers get better after a few years of trial and error, and so the most effective TFA products are those who keep teaching after their two-year hitch is up.

The key then is getting teachers like Kaplan to stay on. Mike Wang, executive editor of TFA's Philly and Camden corps, told me that 2/3rds of the teachers do, in fact, stay in education - half in the classroom, the other as administrators, advocates, etc... (The number in Philly is closer to 55 percent.)

The most impressive stat I heard? That 16 percent of the most recent graduating class of Yale University applied to the program this year. That comes courtesy of our economic meltdown.

All this is the wind-up to today's video clip, from the movie that unleashed Rock and Roll onto the big screen and atop the pop charts. From 1955, and (not-actually-a)Temple grad Evan Hunter's book, One-two-three o'clock, four o'clock rock.....It's "Blackboard Jungle."