It doesn’t seem fair, does it? But it’s true. Kids who grow up in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to graduate from high school. They attend college at lower rates, and they get lower-paying jobs. They are more likely to abuse drugs and/or be incarcerated.
It’s a problem without an easy solution. But a growing body of research indicates that there may be a way to level the playing field. That's where David Montague comes in.
"Education," says Montague, "is the currency of our world. If you want choices, security, mobility, a healthy standard of living—those things come through education."
Montague ought to know. Six years ago, he founded Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR), a faith-based nonprofit that recruits talented college graduates to teach in Memphis's poorest neighborhoods. Today, MTR is listed among the top teacher training programs in the state by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
And two years from now, they’re moving into Crosstown Concourse.
"It's a good metaphor," muses Montague. "Crosstown is an existing structure that is being reclaimed, restored, and improved. That's what we want to do with these schools. We want to approach what's already there and say, how can we come alongside that and enhance it?"
This year, MTR will admit a class of 75 college graduates from around the country—places like California, Washington, and Indiana. Over the course of twelve months, each of these aspiring teachers will earn a master's degree in urban education. At the same time, he or she will undertake an internship, working as an assistant teacher at an inner-city school. (MTR currently has about 250 teachers serving in local schools.)
"Think of it like a medical residency," urges Montague. "If you go to school to be a brain surgeon, you don't start operating the day you graduate. You spend a year learning from the best people in your field."
"At MTR," he continues, "first our residents learn the theory. Then they apply it in the classroom, under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher and mentor. It’s the best way we’ve found to consistently produce excellent teachers.”
Six years on, the residency approach has started paying dividends.
Take Melrose High School. When MTR entered in 2010, only 7.3% of ninth graders were proficient in Algebra I. Today, 30.5% are proficient or advanced—a fourfold increase in five years. That’s a staggering improvement, no matter how you slice it.
But 30% is far from adequate, and no one knows that better than David Montague and his highly motivated staff. He says their job won’t be finished until kids at Melrose have the same kinds of opportunities as kids at Houston or White Station. That’s the kind of work he’ll be doing at Crosstown Concourse.
“What we’re talking about,” says Montague, “is Christian love expressed through equal education. It’s taking the values in your heart and living them out in your world.”