Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Excerpt from Teach for America: Letting the cream rise

By George Will (Washington Post, Feb. 27, 2011)

Until recently - until, among other things, TFA - it seemed that we simply did not know how to teach children handicapped by poverty and its accompaniments - family disintegration and destructive community cultures. Now we know exactly what to do....Kopp, whose new book ("A Chance to Make History") ... has learned, among much else, this: Of the 15 million children growing up in poverty, 50 percent will not graduate from high school, and the half that do will have eighth-grade skill levels compared to those from higher-income families and neighborhoods.

In government, the axiom is: Personnel is policy. In education, Kopp believes, "people are everything" - good ones are (in military parlance) "force multipliers." Creating "islands of excellence" depends entirely on finding "transformational leaders deeply committed to changing the trajectories" of children's lives.

We do not, she insists, have to fix society or even families in order to fix education. It works the other way around. The movie "Waiting for Superman" dramatizes what TFA has demonstrated - that low-income parents leap at educational opportunities that can break the cycle of poverty. Teaching successfully in challenging schools is, Kopp says, "totally an act of leadership" by people passionately invested in the project.

Speaking of leadership, someone in Congress should invest some on TFA's behalf. Government funding - federal, state, local - is just 30 percent of TFA's budget. Last year's federal allocation, $21 million, would be a rounding error in the General Motors bailout. And Kopp says that every federal dollar leverages six non-federal dollars. All that money might, however, be lost because even when Washington does something right, it does it wrong.

It has obtusely defined "earmark" to include "any named program," so TFA has been declared an earmark and sentenced to death. If Congress cannot understand how nonsensical this is, it should be sent back to school for remedial instruction from some of TFA's exemplary young people.

About the Author:

Wendy Kopp is the chief executive officer and founder of Teach For America, whose mission is to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nations most promising future leaders in the effort. She is also chief executive officer and co-founder of Teach For All, which is working to accelerate and increase the impact of this model around the world.?

Wendy proposed the creation of Teach For America in her undergraduate senior thesis in 1989. Today more than 8,000 Teach For America corps members are in the midst of two year teaching commitments in 39 regions across the country, reaching over 500,000 students, and 20,000 alumni are working inside and outside the field of education to continue the effort to ensure educational excellence and equity.?Since 2007, Wendy has led the development of Teach For All to be responsive to requests for support from social entrepreneurs around the world who are passionate about adapting the model to their contexts. Teach For All is a growing global network of independent organizations pursuing this mission in 18 countries, from India and China to Brazil and Lebanon.?Wendy resides in New York City with her husband Richard Barth and their four children.