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Teach for America alumni at the head of the class

(Reuters) - From the start, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp predicted that joining TFA would be life-changing for her recruits. They might not stay in the classroom after their two-year commitment, but she was certain many would devote their lives to education. She was right.

Trainee English teacher Juan Salinas from the Teach for America program is pictured during class at George Washington Carver Middle School in Los Angeles, California July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education reviewed dozens of education-related organizations last year and found a startling number were founded or led by TFA alumni. To further its reach, TFA has been working to build a sister organization, Leadership for Educational Equity, which has a $3.5 million budget and a goal of boosting more TFA alumni into elected offices and influential policy posts nationwide.

Here’s a look at 12 TFA alumni who have made a splash in the world of education:

* Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin co-founded the KIPP charter school network. KIPP’s 125 schools will educate 39,000 kids this year, 85 percent of them from low-income families.

* John White leads the Louisiana Department of Education, where he has promoted charter schools and launched a voucher program that lets thousands of families use public dollars to pay tuition at private and religious schools.

* Michelle Rhee served three years as chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools, where she closed two dozen schools, fired hundreds of teachers and principals and put in place a new system to evaluate teachers in part by how much their students improved on standardized tests. She now runs StudentsFirst, a national education advocacy group based in Sacramento, California, that aims to raise $1 billion over five years to promote policies such as eliminating tenure protections for veteran teachers.

* Mike Johnston, a state senator in Colorado, was the driving force behind landmark legislation that tied teacher evaluation to student academic performance and made it easier to fire ineffective teachers. The law, passed in 2010, became a national model.

* Cami Anderson, superintendent of Newark, New Jersey, public schools, has worked to reduce drop-out rates and expand charter schools. She was recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

* Sarah Usdin founded New Schools for New Orleans, which advocates for charter schools and trains teachers and administrators.

* Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama founded the IDEA charter school network, which serves 9,000 kids in Texas. Many of the network’s teachers and administrators are also TFA recruits or alumni.

* Kevin Huffman runs the Tennessee Department of Education, which has implemented a teacher evaluation system tied to student progress on standardized tests.

* Tim Daly runs The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit run out of Brooklyn, New York, that aims to recruit and train new teachers for urban schools. The organization was founded by Rhee.

* Zeke Vanderhoek launched The Equity Project, a charter school in New York that wants to bring new rigor to teacher development by paying all its teachers a base salary of $125,000 a year, with bonuses for high achievement.

Editing by Prudence Crowther