Friday, July 16, 2010

Teach For America - What They're Doing After Harvard

The WSJ with a lengthy and very nice interview with Wendy Kopp last weekend:


Ms. Kopp said she first became aware of the educational inequities in America during college. She watched her roommate—a "brilliant first-generation college student from the Bronx"—struggle with her schoolwork. Meanwhile, students who had attended "East Coast prep schools . . . thought Princeton was a cakewalk," she recalls. "In a country that aspires to be a place of equal opportunity it is critical that all of our kids have the opportunity to receive an excellent education and we're not doing that right now."

TFA's fundamental premise is that a child's home life and socioeconomic status need not doom him or her to educational failure. "There is a perception in our communities that we have low educational outcomes in low-income communities because kids aren't motivated or families don't care. We've discovered that is not the case," says Ms. Kopp.

…Public funding makes up about 30% of her budget. TFA received a federal appropriation of $21 million last year, and it has asked for $50 million in fiscal year 2011 to take advantage of what Ms. Kopp calls the "incredible" recruiting environment.

Given that the Peace Corps gets $350 million, Ms. Kopp suggests "this seems like a no-brainer . . . particularly given that TFA has proven results and is so heavily aligned with the federal agenda around education." But so far, TFA has a big zero next to it in President Obama's budget. Almost no Republicans have signed on to support it because of budget deficit concerns.

Oddly, the other obstacle is finding districts that will take the teachers. Why wouldn't any superintendent trip over himself to hire young people with these qualifications?

The answer lies in the opposition to TFA by teachers unions and education schools. Though Ms. Kopp attributes any hard feelings to "some misunderstanding about the way Teach for America works," it is clear what the union interests are. If TFA corps members can do a better job in two years than many longtime veterans, what do public-school systems need with job protections like tenure? And if they can do it without education school courses, why do we need those institutions?

Some reform-minded districts are waking up to this reality. New Orleans will have 435 TFA instructors this fall. Detroit's new superintendent has invited 100 of them this year. The number in the Mississippi Delta region went from 280 first-year teachers in 2009 to nearly 500 first- and second-year teachers this fall. In some schools there, TFA members make up the majority of the faculty.

…even if she is reluctant to criticize the left for its lack of support for reform, the history she tells is compelling.

"I remember so clearly the movie 'Stand and Deliver.'" The 1988 film, she says, "made a national hero of a teacher in South Central Los Angeles who had coached a group of kids to pass the AP calculus exam." She recalls the reaction from audiences: "This was a one-of-a-kind superhero who accomplished these results with his charisma. There was no notion that we could in some kind of system-wide way replicate that level of success."

That's changed. "Today we have hundreds of examples not only of teachers replicating that example but whole schools moving whole classrooms full of kids and putting them on a path to graduating from college at much the same pace as schools in higher-income communities," Ms. Kopp says.


Teach For America - What They're Doing After Harvard

July 10, 2010
In The Wall Street Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley writes that Teach for America now attracts 12% of all Ivy League seniors. The program's founder explains why it beats working on Wall Street.
By Naomi Schaefer Riley

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