Teach For America has founded itself upon the belief that the 'achievement gap' between low-income rural and urban areas and high-income suburban areas must be closed.
The organization believes that the educational attainment levels of all students in America should be similar, regardless of seriocomic factors.
The achievement gap can be defined as the definable difference in educational performance between these areas, a "disparity between the academic performance of different groups of students" (Robelen). According to Erik Robelen of The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, "the average African-American student is several grade levels behind his or her white counterpart before entering high school."
Studies by the National Center of Education Statistics show that low-income minority students are three grade levels behind in math by the fourth grade, and three grade levels behind in reading by the age of 9 (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2000).
Other studies say that the gap does not reach three grade levels until the eighth grade, such as Robelen's analysis of the NAEP. The NAEP releases a yearly "report card" on a myriad of educational data, including the gaps in academic success between low-income minorities and their non-minority peers.
Regardless of which grade level this gap occurs at, "This means that the average 17-year-old African-American and Latino student is at the same academic level as a 13-year old white student," according to Robelen.
While it is difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for individual students' failures, Robelen explains that a broad "range of socioeconomic factors leave poor and minority students at a disadvantage even before they enter the schoolhouse doors."
Another probable cause of the gap is that different standards and expectations of minority students are in place, Robelen says. Sometimes teachers will settle for a "curriculum that aims at the most 'basic' elements of the content to be learned, on the assumption that no more can be managed and that mastery of the basics is an important accomplishment."
One of the tenets of Teach For America's curriculum is setting large goals for the students by inspiring them and encouraging them to set high standards for themselves. This is known as Teaching As Leadership.Each teacher enters the school year with a clear goal for his or her students' success.
Detailed information about Teach For America's success in closing the achievement gap can be found on the "Studies" page.