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


Wendy Kopp

About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions.