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Struggling Schools Turn to Top Grads for Teaching Boost

In the latest installment in a series about education reform, John Merrow reports on how public school systems struggling to close the achievement gap are increasingly turning to the Teach for America program for help.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now a plan to use rookie teachers in one of the toughest school districts in the United States. The NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has been chronicling the efforts to improve public schools in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

    Tonight, he looks at how some novice teachers fared in New Orleans this year.

  • TEACHER:

    Say what you mean. You can do better than that. I know what you're trying to say, but tell me what you're actually trying to tell me.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Almost everyone agrees that teachers are the single most important factor in a child's education.

  • TEACHER:

    We're seeing some really good ideas, some really interesting ideas.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    But good ones can be hard to find. Teach for America, or TFA, believes it has the solution: recruit top college graduates for a two-year stint in the nation's toughest public schools.

    PAUL VALLAS, New Orleans superintendent: We are rebuilding a public school system from the ground up.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    New Orleans Superintendent Paul Vallas is one of Teach for America's biggest fans.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    They bring an extraordinary work ethic. They're very innovative. They're very creative. They're brilliant. They have high expectations for the kids.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Vallas is hoping TFA will help close the achievement gap in his Recovery School District, where 65 percent of students are at least a year behind. Since his arrival two years ago, Vallas' district has hired 128 Teach for America members. They and other so-called fast-tracked teachers now make up 20 percent of his staff.

    Although they have only eight weeks of training, Vallas believes their intelligence and enthusiasm more than compensate for their lack of experience. Can this be true? What impact do novice teachers have on troubled schools?

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