The State of Illinois has over 5,000 Schools serving more than two and a half million children. As of 2001, the Illinois State Board of Education reported that approximately 2,200 schools fit the "of need" description. These schools report test scores that are mediocre to poor or enroll a high number of students from low-income families. Teachers must cope with students who present some of the most difficult educational challenges and concomitant social problems. These schools are facing critical teacher shortages due to both a retirement crisis and extremely low retention rates.
The Golden Apple Scholars Program (GASP) was founded in 1989 by The Golden Apple Foundation for Excellence in Teaching (GAFET). It offers those selected a unique way to augment their traditional teacher preparation. GASP's goal is to develop a diverse group of teachers optimally prepared to teach students who present the most difficult educational challenges. This is accomplished by keeping consistent contact with the Scholars from their first year of college into their early years of teaching. In the end, recruits are provided with three times more hours of training than normal teachers receive.
The Program promotes both racial and economic diversity: As of 2001, 58 percent of Scholars were minorities and 57 percent came from low-income families. These recruits are offered $28,000 of college financial assistance at one of 38 Illinois institutions. GAFET administers four consecutive summer institutes that offer Scholars early exposure to, and advanced study of, the profession. The program's greatest innovation is the constant involvement of "master teachers" who offer mentoring, apprenticeships and frequent visits in the teacher's first professional year.
In return for their training, Scholars agree to teach for five of their first eight years after college in an "of need" designated school. GASP has maintained an 81 percent retention rate since its inception. Of the 158 Scholars who have begun their careers, 157 continue to teach or have completed their five-year commitment. The program's philosophic belief is that the single most important element to a child's successful education is a caring, resourceful and inspiring teacher. In 2001, the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a two-year study of GASP. This study reported that "principal interviews strongly supported the assertion of Golden Apple Scholars as very close to their conception of the ideal teacher."