Commentary: Knight Foundation grant for Teach for America opens opportunities

Miami-Dade's public school system, the fourth-largest in the nation, has struggled for years to improve the academic performance of its poorest students. Their graduation rate, though improving, remains low.

Poverty and language barriers sometimes conspire against these students, even though proven programs can help them achieve on par with suburban kids. Teach for America is one of those programs.

So it's welcome news indeed that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is about to give a big boost to TFA with a $6 million grant that by 2014 will have some 350 teachers helping 25,000 Miami-Dade students from elementary to high school.

TFA began in the district in 2003 and now has almost 100 teachers at 35 Miami-Dade schools that have a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch -- a poverty measure. More than half of those teachers are making a difference at Miami Central Senior High.

On average, TFA students improve their reading skills by 1.5 grade levels in a school year.

Nationally, Teach for America has 7,300-plus teachers in 35 regions. It began small in 1990 and has built a strong record of achievement at inner-city and rural schools by recruiting top college graduates in all academic majors to teach for two years.

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