"It's a definite plus for us to be able to learn from them," said Nancy Santiago, a district administrator working on the project. "And they have inroads into the Ivy League schools."
Marjorie Adler, the school district's executive director of human resources, expects a boost in the quality of recruits.
"Teach for America has a good retention rate," she said. "They go to top-tier schools nationwide, as opposed to a more regional approach, which we have had."
Adler pointed out that Teach for America has a five-year retention rate of 65 percent, compared to a national average of 50 percent, which is about the same as the school district's retention rate.
Also, Teach for America is known for recruiting a high-caliber candidate - with an average grade-point average of 3.3 and an average Scholastic Assessment Test score above 1200 - officials said.
Keeping new teachers in the classroom has been a continuing battle for Philadelphia schools, especially at the middle school level. As of the end of February, there still were more than 180 teaching vacancies, about 50 of them in the middle schools.
The program will target graduates or professionals with bachelor's degrees in fields other than teaching. Recruits will go through a five-week training program in the summer, including lectures on literacy, educating adolescents and other topics.
They also will intern in summer school, working with middle school students, and take part in routine district training for new and experienced teachers.
The New Teacher Project recruited 50 teachers for New York City this year - 70 percent of them minority candidates - and helped Massachusetts launch a high-profile recruitment program that carries hefty signing bonuses.
In Philadelphia, the recruits would be paid at starting levels and be eligible for the signing bonus that the city's Board of Education approved last June: $1,500 after five months on the job and $3,000 more if they complete three years and provide proof that they have moved into the city. They also will get six graduate credits in education.
Michelle Rhee, the project's chief operating officer, said her organization would recruit on 200 college campuses, with its heaviest effort on the East Coast.
"We want to put together a group of people who are high-achieving individuals, outstanding candidates from all walks of life," Rhee said. "We'll try to create a buzz in the city, an excitement about the program."
The project will go beyond traditional recruitment fairs and market the program to high achievers as a way of helping with school districts' education-reform efforts.
"Those kinds of messages are very appealing to high achievers," she said.
The organization also will talk to civic groups and try to network with young professionals who may have an interest in changing careers.
The project has received about 60 inquiries for applications for teaching positions in Philadelphia after just one week of recruiting, Rhee said.
The organization is hoping to get three times as many applications as openings, she said, adding that the organization and district employees together would select the hires together.
Nancy McGinley, executive director of the Philadelphia Education Fund, which helps the district with reform efforts, knows there has been debate about the worth of programs that put uncertified teachers in classrooms.
"We at the fund are torn," McGinley said, "because we agree with all the literature about quality teaching being the key determining factor of whether in fact students are achieving, but we're also very sensitive to the high vacancies in our schools."
She said the project was appealing because of its training program.
"So they're not walking out of an accounting office or college one day and into a classroom the next," she explained.
Under the district's current apprentice program, hires with virtually no teaching experience are placed in classrooms with little to no prior training.
This year, the fund helped the district launch a program that put "literacy interns" in elementary classrooms with regular teachers to improve instruction. The interns did not have teaching degrees but went through a summer training program run by the fund.
Just five of the 260 teachers - less than 2 percent - have resigned this year, McGinley said. That's much better than the district's percentage of about 6 to 8 percent.