Hartford's decision to hire 25 new teachers from the Teach for America program furthers the city's goal of closing the achievement gap between low-income nonwhite students and middle-class suburban students.
Teach for America is a 17-year-old organization that recruits bright college graduates, including those who would otherwise go on to postgraduate studies in law, business or science, to work in the neediest urban and rural public schools for a minimum of two years.
Research shows the program works.
A 2004 study by Mathematica Policy Research found that students taught by Teach for America members scored better in math and reading than those who received instruction from certified teachers.
Moreover, 74 percent of principals surveyed believe Teach for America teachers are more effective than other beginning teachers. Sixty-three percent said they're more effective than the overall teaching faculty in their impact on student achievement.
Traditionally, Teach for America attracts thousands more applicants than it has jobs for, which allows the organization to pick from among the best seniors. Of the 17,000 graduates trained by Teach for America since it began, about two-thirds remained in the education field well past their two-year commitment.
Hartford Federation of Teachers President Cathy Carpino nevertheless characterized Teach for America recruits as more or less inexperienced young elites on a two-year lark to pad their resumes.
The facts don't support her view.
In Connecticut, Teach for America graduates got a good share of the credit for the gains made at the Elm City College Preparatory School, a New Haven charter school where low-income students far surpassed the state average in all categories of the Connecticut Mastery Test.
Hartford can't lose by trying the same approach. There is something to be said for young, cocky idealists who enter teaching through an unconventional path and aren't afraid to be held accountable for the success or failure of their students.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at