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The approach of Teach for America

It recruits top-flight candidates from universities and consists of an intense five weeks of training. Afterward, graduates commit to teaching two years in urban classrooms.

Class: Elizabeth Venechuk, a Teach for America participant, giving a math lesson last year in Washington.

Brendan Hoffman/AP/file

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Of all the alternative routes to enter teaching, few are as well known as Teach for America. The program recruits top-flight candidates from prestigious universities across the United States, and the statistics are impressive: This year, 15 percent of Yale's seniors and 16 percent of Princeton's applied, as did 25 percent of all African-American seniors at Harvard.

TFA has passionate supporters who believe it can help transform education in the US, as well as vehement detractors who dismiss it as promoting a sort of Peace Corps experience rather than recruiting more-permanent teachers.

The program consists of an intense five weeks of training, after which graduates commit to teaching two years in urban classrooms. While serving as TFA teachers, they also undertake university course work and receive coaching. The program started in 1990, and 20,000 people have gone through it.

Kilian Betlach became a TFA teacher in 2002, teaching language arts to students learning English in a middle school in East San Jose, Calif. His five-week training was targeted to the sort of setting he was teaching in, and since his experience, the training has improved, he adds. But he doesn't believe it can ever truly prepare teachers for what they'll face that first year.

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