Wednesday, October 6, 2010

TFA founder: It's all about people

Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, was in Charlotte this morning giving a pep talk to about 100 people involved with the quest for local philanthropists to boost public-school reform.
(There's more news from the CMS Investment Study Group coming today).

Her message: It is possible to break the link between poverty and academic failure and to do so on a large scale. But it isn't easy.

"It really is possible, not only at a classroom level but at a whole-school level," she said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work to have whole systems of transformational schools. It's going to take developing and unleashing extraordinary leadership."

I can practically hear the hackles raising among readers who are skeptical of TFA. Some see it as a means of replacing seasoned (and expensive) teachers who have made a long-term commitment to education with eager young rookies who stay a couple of years and move on.

For what it's worth, Kopp wasn't preaching TFA as the solution for CMS, which already relies heavily on its recruits. In fact, she made it clear that any formulaic approach to change -- more charter schools, a trendy curriculum, giving kids laptops, etc. -- isn't likely to move the needle. One of the reasons there has been so little gain to show for the last 20 years of investment is that "we just keep lurching after one silver bullet after another," she said.

Instead, she said, any district that hopes to transform high-poverty, low-performing schools must have leaders who can recruit great teachers and principals, then give them the freedom to figure out what works for their school.

Kopp said her Charlotte speech is an early roll-out of points she's making in an upcoming book, "A Chance To Make History."

Afterward, she noted that philanthropic support is emerging as a common thread in the districts with the best shot at helping poor and minority students succeed in school. But Charlotte's level of commitment is "extraordinary," she said, as is the willingness of Superintendent Peter Gorman to work with them.

4 comments:

wiley said...

In fact, she made it clear that any formulaic approach to change -- more charter schools, a trendy curriculum, giving kids laptops, etc. -- isn't likely to move the needle. One of the reasons there has been so little gain to show for the last 20 years of investment is that "we just keep lurching after one silver bullet after another," she said.

Interesting... Maybe she's in her 30's and wasn't around the other 20 years prior, but her comments are exactly what I have been saying except for the fact it's been more like 40 years - not 20.

The silence is deafening.

DarnYankie2 said...

She was on a talking heads program a few days ago and was to discuss the criticism of TFAs and the "short-term" fix. She didn't even discuss the question, instead deflecting to how she established TFAs to be the training ground for the new leaders of country.
Who is she kidding? The only thing most of the TFAs are looking for is a way to pay off their college loans. Kaching kaching at the expense of our students and other’s careers.

Anonymous said...

There is no freedom in CMS to teach as you see fit. Productive teachers have been put on action plans because a AP or Principal strolls in for 20 minutes with a TPAI form. Do its Pete's way or hit the road.

Anonymous said...

"any district that hopes to transform high-poverty, low-performing schools must have leaders who can recruit great teachers and principals, then give them the freedom to figure out what works for their school"

EXACTLY...and that ain't happenin'!