Letter: Looking at the data

Re: “Train for America” (Jan. 15): For the last 11 years, I have worked in urban education, first as the principal of New Haven’s Amistad Academy and now as the co-founder of Achievement First, a charter network that supports 17 schools serving more than 4,500 students in low-income communities. Though I’ve never been a part of Teach For America, I’ve had the opportunity to work with countless TFA members and alumni.

One of the things that we should do more in education debates is go beyond philosophical arguments and look at data. Leah Libresco begins by arguing that TFA’s training leaves teachers unprepared for the challenges of high-need classrooms. But a 2004 Mathematica Policy Research study — the most rigorous study to date on TFA — found that students of corps members attained significantly greater gains in math compared with students of other teachers.

My experience with TFA teachers supports the data. Over the last ten years, I’ve hired countless TFA members and alumni. In fact, two-thirds of Achievement First principals are TFA alums. Achievement First Bridgeport Academy, led by a TFA alum, just posted the greatest performance gains of any middle school in the state, while Elm City Elementary, also led by a TFA alum, is the only elementary school in the state where African-American students outperform state-wide averages.

Libresco also claims TFA doesn’t value teaching as a profession, but I think TFA is doing more than any other organization to strengthen the profession of teaching. The organization provides rigorous pre-service training and on-going professional development and support and has spent the last decade revamping these programs, a focus that won it praise from an article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly.

From the work of its teachers to the catalytic impact of its alums to the organization’s efforts to improve our collective understanding of great teaching, Teach For America is helping to close our country’s insidious achievement gap — and to bolster the profession of teaching. No one would argue that TFA is or should be the only route to end educational inequity, but it is an incredibly important pathway for talented people to enter the field. There are 14 million children in this country growing up in poverty, and the achievement gap will only be closed for them if we stay grounded in the facts and supportive of programs that are actually working.

Dacia Toll

Jan. 18

The writer is a 1999 graduate of the Law School and the Teacher Preparation Program and is currently the President of the Achievement First charter network.

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