Teach For America: It’s Really About an Alumni Movement

 

Nearly 20 years old, Teach For America (TFA) has prepared a force of 14,000 TFA alumni “to create massive and systemic changes to solve the inequities in education for students in low-income communities,” according to Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO, TFA.  “Our alumni who work directly in education, like Michelle Rhee, DC Public Schools Chancellor, as well as alumni who work in business, technology, law, medicine, and public policy, are agents for education reform.  Having worked directly in low-income schools, our alumni learned first-hand what is necessary for success for students in America’s most challenging classrooms.”

 

Educational disparities exist because children in low-income communities face extra hardships, including inadequate healthcare, poor preschool programs, and often stressful home lives, and because the schools they attend don’t have the capacity to put students facing these extra challenges on a level playing field. If you think that our nation will be stronger and the future better by educating all students to their greatest potential, then how do we get from here to there?  

 

“There are no silver bullets to success,” says Kopp.  “Leaders in every sector understand that.  The answer is not one thing – like computers for every child. You attain success through the hard work of building a strong culture, talent at every level, and accountability.”

 

As a new vehicle to engage alumni, Kopp announced that TFA is launching a series of leadership development initiatives, among them a board training and placement program to prepare its alumni for boards of nonprofit organizations and charter schools.  As my readers know, I am a long-time proponent of effective nonprofit board service to help organizations to envision their greater potential and build and achieve the revenues that are needed for success.  Who better than TFA alumni to power organizations and charter schools – given their personal experiences with TFA along with the variety of their positions and networks in the community. 

 

For leadership development aficionados, Kopp sees “teaching as leadership – setting a vision of where you want your kids to be at the end of the year, then motivating them and their parents to work with you to achieve the goals, and being purposeful and relentless.  As a teacher, you start by asking yourself – ‘what will make a meaningful difference in these students’ lives this year?’”

 

Furthermore, “our alumni who are most successful in the education-reform movement were the most successful teachers,” explains Wendy.  “People who excel with their kids prove to be leaders in the long-term.”

 

The visionary and driver that she is, Kopp says with staunch conviction that it will take tens of thousands of TFA alumni to create the systemic change that is needed.  She says TFA is just beginning.

 

 

photo credits to Jean-Christian Bourcart

 

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2 Comments

  • Jesse Alred

    I am veteran teacher from Houston seeking a dialogue with current and past Teach for America teachers regarding a pattern of TFA leaders and alumni in leadership positions promoting conservative ideas and profiting from close relationships with reactionary corporations while presumptuously claiming to be the new civil rights movement. I first became aware of this when a former local TFA Director, now a school board member, recently proposed to fire teachers based on test scores and opposed allowing us to vote to have a single union. Having won school board positions in several cities around the country, former-TFA personnel are apparently pursuing these sorts of policies as an agenda.

    The conservative-TFA nexus began when Union Carbide sponsored Wendy Kopp's initial efforts to create Teach for America. Union Carbide's negligence had caused the worst industrial accident in history, in Bhopal, India. The number of casualties was as large as 100,000, and Union Carbide did everything possible to minimize it's responsibility.

    Ms. Kopp wrote in her book she nearly went to work for the Edison Project, and was all but saved in financial hard times by their managerial assistance. The Edison Project, founded by a Tennessee entrepreneur, was an effort to replace public schools run by elected school boards with for-profit, corporate-run schools. Ms. Kopp's husband, Richard Barth, was an Edison executive before taking over as CEO of the KIPP's national foundation, where he has sought to decertify its New York City unions.

    In 2000, two brilliant TFA alumni, the founders of KIPP Academy, joined the Bush's at the Republican National Convention in 2000. This was pivotal for Bush, since as Governor had no genuine educational achievements of his own These charter schools do great service, but they start with families that are committed to education. They claim to be improving public schools by offering competition in the market-place, but they take the best and leave the rest. It's not a level playing field.

    Superintendent Michelle Rhee's prescription for improving D.C. Schools is two-fold: close them rather than improve them—and fire teachers rather than inspire them.

    TFA teachers do great work. But better schools are only part of the solution. Stable families are more able to be ambitious for their children than insecure, overworked and struggling ones. Our society has failed our schools by permitting the middle class to shrink. It's not the other way around. Economic inequality and insecurity produces ineffective public schools. Its not the other way around.

    Blaming teachers, public schools and our unions keeps the corporate money rolling into TFA coffers, but this approach provides big business with more ammunition in its 28-year war against the public sector.. Corporate domination of politics, and the weakness of counter-balancing forces like unions, are the obstacles to national health insurance, generous college funding, revitalized unions, and redirection of resources from military adventure to address domestic needs.

    Ms. Kopp claims TFA carries the civil rights torch for today, but Martin Luther King was the voice of unions on strike, not the other way around. His last book argued for modifying American capitalism to include some measure of wealth distribution, because opportunity would never be enough in a survival of the fittest society to allow most of the under-privileged to enter the middle class.

    Your hard work as a TFA teacher gives TFA executives credibility. You are the platform from which they speak. It's not the other way around. I would like a dialogue about what I have written here with TFA teachers. My e-mail is JesseAlred@yahoo.com.

  • Jesse Alred

    I am veteran teacher from Houston seeking a dialogue with current and past Teach for America teachers regarding a pattern of TFA leaders and alumni in leadership positions promoting conservative ideas and profiting from close relationships with reactionary corporations while presumptuously claiming to be the new civil rights movement. I first became aware of this when a former local TFA Director, now a school board member, recently proposed to fire teachers based on test scores and opposed allowing us to vote to have a single union. Having won school board positions in several cities around the country, former-TFA personnel are apparently pursuing these sorts of policies as an agenda.

    The conservative-TFA nexus began when Union Carbide sponsored Wendy Kopp's initial efforts to create Teach for America. Union Carbide's negligence had caused the worst industrial accident in history, in Bhopal, India. The number of casualties was as large as 100,000, and Union Carbide did everything possible to minimize it's responsibility.

    Ms. Kopp wrote in her book she nearly went to work for the Edison Project, and was all but saved in financial hard times by their managerial assistance. The Edison Project, founded by a Tennessee entrepreneur, was an effort to replace public schools run by elected school boards with for-profit, corporate-run schools. Ms. Kopp's husband, Richard Barth, was an Edison executive before taking over as CEO of the KIPP's national foundation, where he has sought to decertify its New York City unions.

    In 2000, two brilliant TFA alumni, the founders of KIPP Academy, joined the Bush's at the Republican National Convention in 2000. This was pivotal for Bush, since as Governor had no genuine educational achievements of his own These charter schools do great service, but they start with families that are committed to education. They claim to be improving public schools by offering competition in the market-place, but they take the best and leave the rest. It's not a level playing field.

    Superintendent Michelle Rhee's prescription for improving D.C. Schools is two-fold: close them rather than improve them—and fire teachers rather than inspire them.

    TFA teachers do great work. But better schools are only part of the solution. Stable families are more able to be ambitious for their children than insecure, overworked and struggling ones. Our society has failed our schools by permitting the middle class to shrink. It's not the other way around. Economic inequality and insecurity produces ineffective public schools. Its not the other way around.

    Blaming teachers, public schools and our unions keeps the corporate money rolling into TFA coffers, but this approach provides big business with more ammunition in its 28-year war against the public sector.. Corporate domination of politics, and the weakness of counter-balancing forces like unions, are the obstacles to national health insurance, generous college funding, revitalized unions, and redirection of resources from military adventure to address domestic needs.

    Ms. Kopp claims TFA carries the civil rights torch for today, but Martin Luther King was the voice of unions on strike, not the other way around. His last book argued for modifying American capitalism to include some measure of wealth distribution, because opportunity would never be enough in a survival of the fittest society to allow most of the under-privileged to enter the middle class.

    Your hard work as a TFA teacher gives TFA executives credibility. You are the platform from which they speak. It's not the other way around. I would like a dialogue about what I have written here with TFA teachers. My e-mail is JesseAlred@yahoo.com.