Wendy Kopp: My Reasons for Optimism on Education
Wendy Kopp with a great op ed in the WSJ:
Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the latest winners of Race to the Top, the initiative he devised to leverage federal dollars to drive education reform at the state level. While no grant process is perfect, the competition drove a remarkable volume of new plans and even new laws designed to advance educational opportunity. Many states showed boldness—and I'm particularly excited that all 12 winning states mentioned Teach For America in their applications.
This fall marks Teach For America's 20th anniversary, and I have spent much of the summer reflecting on the sea change that has taken place in public education over the last two decades.
When we set out to recruit our first corps of teachers in 1990, it would be fair to say that there was no organized movement to ensure educational opportunity for all children in our nation. The prevailing assumption in most policy circles was that socioeconomic circumstances determined educational outcomes. Thus, it was unrealistic to expect teachers or schools to overcome the effects of poverty.
When Jaime Escalante led a class of East Los Angeles students to pass the AP calculus exam in 1982, the Educational Testing Service questioned the results, and Hollywood went on to make the hit movie "Stand and Deliver" about his success. Escalante was lionized as an outlier—not as someone whose example could be widely replicated.
Today, there are myriad examples of teachers who are setting out to accomplish what Escalante did. They are aiming to change their students' expected trajectories and doing whatever it takes to accomplish this end. Every day teachers across the country demonstrate that with high expectations and extra support, economically disadvantaged students can succeed on an absolute scale.
A decade ago, though I saw teachers making exceptional progress with their students, I struggled to find more than a handful of schools in high-poverty areas that were putting students on a successful academic path. Now there are hundreds. Schools like those in the growing charter-school networks and an increasing number of traditional schools are showing that we can ensure educational excellence in low-income communities.
The question facing us now is whether we can provide educational equity at a system-wide level.
- SEPTEMBER 2, 2010