LAMB: You’ve watched this up close for 18 years. What’s wrong with our education system?
KOPP: You know, I guess the way I’d come at that – I mean, the most salient lesson for me in 18 years is not so much what’s wrong, but what is possible. We see evidence every day in diverse communities at different grade levels all across the country, that when kids are given the chances they deserve, they excel academically.
Now, that, in and of itself, goes against, I think, the common perceptions out there that this is in some way an intractable problem, that because of all the challenges of poverty, because maybe students aren’t motivated or maybe parents don’t care, that we can only do so much.
And yet, we see real evidence that, when kids are given the chances they deserve, they are motivated. And, in fact, most parents care in every community. And certainly, we’ve seen that the parents in our communities want the best possible education for their kids.
So, I guess I leave this with a sense of hopefulness. And what I leave most focused on is just the need for greater local capacity of local leadership.
So, I look at a D.C. – you were asking about Michelle Rhee earlier, and I just – and we could talk about D.C., we could talk about New Orleans and Oakland and Chicago, and communities across the country where Teach For America has been placing folks for a decade or more now. We’ve been placing 50 people a year in Washington, D.C. – not terribly many.
But today, our alums run 10 percent of the schools in Washington, D.C., including the highest performing among them. One of the two newly-elected board members overlooking the school system there is a Teach For America alum. One of the right hands for the mayor for education policy is a Teach For America alum.
The only national teacher of the year in the history of Washington, D.C., is a Teach For America alum, who was in his eighth year of teaching two years ago when he won that recognition. And now we have a schools chancellor, a deputy schools chancellor and a team of folks in the district, inside the district, working for real change.
And I look at an example like that and think, gosh. And every alum I just mentioned came through Teach For America when we were bringing in 500 people a year. So, the fact that we brought in 3,000 folks this year and will soon bring in many more than that, the fact that we’ll soon bring in 200 people a year to the D.C. area, I think just gives me tremendous optimism that we can be one significant part of the effort to channel a new level of talent and energy into really making change happen.
LAMB: But, as you know, a lot of politicians will stand up day after day and say, our school system is a mess, our schools are a mess.
What is wrong? And you must have been motivated originally to change something. What’s wrong out there?
KOPP: You know what? You come out of this thinking – I think so many alums of Teach For America who have been working at this problem in many different ways would say the same thing.
You come out of it realizing that there’s nothing elusive about either what the problem is or really what the solutions are. And there’s no magic to it.
It’s about all the hard work that it takes to run successful organizations in any sector. There’s nothing other than that. It’s all about leadership and talent at every level of the system that can build very strong cultures and implement good systems for accountability and continuous improvement. It is all the basics.
But if you look at the capacity that exists in most of our public school systems versus that that exists in, say, our most successful corporations – like compare a GE, a General Electric to all the – you know, look at the tech systems and the people development systems that they have in a GE versus those that exist in our school systems, and the disparity is almost inconceivable. And yet, the work of educating our kids is at least as challenging as the work that General Electric is undertaking.
So, I just think we’ve hugely underinvested – using that word in the broadest sense of it – in building the capacity within our systems that it will take to really ensure that all of our kids are truly fulfilling their true potential.
Monday, October 01, 2007
A thought provoking discussion about educating children in poverty
Brian Lamb of C-span interviewed Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach for America, about educating children in povery. It was a very interesting and thought provoking discussion.