More Wendy Kopp (Fearless Leader of TFA)

An alert reader pointed me to another Wendy Kopp, leader of TFA, event when she is here on March 2nd. She is speaking at MOHAI in the evening but before that she will be speaking at the Northwest African-American Museum from 4-5 p.m. on behalf of Washington Women's Foundation. There is no cost but you have to register to attend. It just might be too good to pass up.

I do have a rather lengthy TFA thread to write but here's some Wendy Kopp talk from the Daily Beast:

When Wendy Kopp’s son Benjamin was 8 years old, he interviewed her for a school project on learning to overcome challenges.

“I just don’t understand,” Benjamin asked his mother, “how if this is such a big problem—you know, kids not having the chance to have a good education—why would you ask people with no experience right out of college to solve it?”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Kopp modestly admits she was hoping Mayor Bloomberg would have asked her to be the NYC Schools Chancellor (but alas he didn't).

Kopp, whose four kids attend public schools on Manhattan’s West Side, says running the city’s schools would be a dream job, far more attractive than heading to Washington, D.C. to succeed Arne Duncan as the secretary of Education.

Seriously? If Duncan stepped down, she thinks Obama would consider her for Secretary of Education over someone like Diane Ravitch?

Points for Wendy:

While the Bloomberg administration is fighting the United Federation of Teachers in court for the right to release to the news media individual teachers' "value added" ratings—an estimate of how effective a teacher is at improving his or her students' standardized test scores—Kopp says she finds the idea "baffling" and believes doing so would undermine trust among teachers and between teachers and administrators.

"The principals of very high performing schools would all say their No. 1 strategy is to build extraordinary teams," Kopp said. "I can't imagine it's a good organizational strategy to go publish the names of teachers and one data point about whether they are effective or not in the newspaper."

Now we get to the crux of the interview. As we recall the premise, the focus of TFA is to close the achievement gap.

Yet it remains an open question whether the program is moving the needle on the goal of closing the achievement gap between middle-class white children and their poor, minority peers.

“If you look at the data on the aggregate level, the achievement gap has not closed at all in the last 20 years. But I’m so optimistic,” Kopp says.

That's so sweet but you've had 20 years and not a dent. Clearly, TFA has provided some good/fair teachers to schools that had staffing issues. But TFA was NEVER and is NEVER going to close the gap themselves. They don't have the numbers and their teachers don't have the training. That it's 20 years and she still thinks it will happen because of TFA is delusional.

Beyond not having the numbers or the training, here's why:

In her book, Kopp emphasizes the extraordinary amount of energy it takes from teachers to get low-income kids—who are often mired in dysfunctional schools and facing difficult family situations—up to grade level in reading and math. Kopp offers story after story of young TFA teachers who work themselves to the bone, rising at the crack of dawn to deliver personal wakeup calls to students; attending kids’ birthday parties and sports games; offering free afterschool piano lessons to students four days a week; organizing fundraising drives for art programs; skipping lunch every day in order to give children extra tutoring; and holding test-prep classes on Saturdays.

There is no human being who is a teacher who can keep this up. It sounds great, it's "relentless" and it sure is a great formula for burning someone out of teaching quickly.

And now we come to teaching low-income kids:

And in a direct challenge to the orthodoxies of veteran educators and their unions, Kopp says it’s fair to ask whether teaching low-income kids, given how difficult and exhausting it can be, should be a lifelong profession for most of its practitioners.

“I’ve heard a number of our alumni—people who are running schools and school systems—think a lot about different models for the teaching profession,” Kopp says. “Models sort of like in the law profession, where people come in and have to meet a very rigorous bar to make partner, maybe in year seven. You could consider a structure like that, where you try to recruit folks to spend five or seven years in teaching, and then retain a very, very few of them.”

Yes, because becoming a partner at a law firm is just like being a teacher at a low-income school.

I can agree that we need several models for teaching but having a revolving door at low-performing schools is not one of them. If anything, those students need consistency and continuity of staffing. But it's a great way to keep TFA going, no?

The article ends with the real idea around TFA (bold mine):

In October, the group announced a partnership with Goldman Sachs, in which TFA recruits are guaranteed jobs at the investment bank directly following their two years in the classroom.

The program feeds straight into criticisms of TFA as more of a résumé-builder than a serious commitment to improving public education, but Kopp defends the idea of providing a pathway directly out of the classroom.

“I think it’s hard to predict where the catalytic leadership will come from that ultimately solves the problem” of educational inequality, she says. “I think some of that will happen at the school level and the school system level, but enlightened business leaders can make an enormous difference in all sorts of things.”

“We spend some time around here asking ourselves if enough of our people are leaving,” Kopp admits. “Are enough of them going into policy… are enough of them going into business?”

Yes, those enlightened business leaders who have made health care what it is today. Those enlightened business leaders, like Goldman Sachs, who ran our economy into the ground.

Those people are the ones we need to keep AWAY from public education.

Lastly, I understand that under Obama's budget, TFA would have its federal funding cut way back and Wendy Kopp was whining on the national news that it would "zero them out." Odd, given all the private donors they have listed on their website. Maybe it would mean a cut in Wendy's paycheck but many people have done that (and worse) already.


Anonymous said…
Okay, you really can't post this BS right after lunch...

anonymous said…
"Seriously? If Duncan stepped down, she thinks Obama would consider her for Secretary of Education over someone like Diane Ravitch? "

Sadly, I think Obama would consider Kopp over Ravitch. Obama clearly supports reform and charters.
SPS Alumna and Mom said…
Goldman Sachs isn't TFA's only "employer partner." See the list here:

This really bugs me, since part of their public self-justification is premised on the claim that their "alumni" stay in teaching at rates similar to other new teachers (you know, the ones who have been to graduate school and don't have a deferred job offer from an investment bank). Yuck.
I guess what is truly puzzling is if this woman is this tone-deaf to what she sounds like.

I think most of the TFA recruits do have the best of intentions and want to do good in the world but are they making a difference in the long-term? Are they the front for something bigger than the intentions?

If TFA can't exist without government money, maybe so.
dan dempsey said…
"If TFA can't exist without government money, maybe so."

It is all about Government Money. Sen. Eric Oemig told me that the CCSSI would likely need three iteration to be successful, yet he voted for SB 6696 because of the Race to the Funding.

Well we received no funding.

None of this avalanche of crap would be upon us without Gov. Funding + uninformed legislators (or purchased legislators).


There is scant evidence to support the CCSSI as likely to improve anything, except perhaps some corporation's bottom lines.

Yet there is overwhelming evidence that the CCSSI is about the centralization of control coupled with the homogenization of education markets to benefit certain well-connected & organized companies from both the technology and publishing sectors.

Neither of these scenarios would be likely to occur absent the coercive reins of federal initiatives & dollars.
Anonymous said…
As posted on "This Week in Education" by John Thompson (Feb 15, 2011):

Last week in New York City, Wendy Kopp told Malcolm Gladwell that TFA is not a teaching organization but rather a leadership development organization. That's good to know.

Another reader
salander said…
Principals regularly ask 14 year olds what and how their teachers should be teaching then write that on teacher evaluations as suggestions for improvement
Bird said…
Last week in New York City, Wendy Kopp told Malcolm Gladwell that TFA is not a teaching organization but rather a leadership development organization. That's good to know.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who's spent 15 minutes looking at what they have to say about themselves on their website.

That said, I have too ask, why are poor kids the ones that must bear the burden of providing a teaching training exercise for these future "leaders"? It's so appalling.
wseadawg said…
Classism and Paternalism, Bird. With a little garnish of "those-kids" based racism. How many reformers' kids are subjects in an education experiment right now? Why isn't Wendy Kopp or Michelle Rhee "teaching for America" if they are so devoted to their cause? Cause they aren't going near the front lines in the fight, nor would they put their kids into the mix.

Nothing really new here. The anti union drum will continue to beat until people wake up and realize that without unions, this nation and middle class is screwed. Look what's happening in Wisonsin, folks. If Wendy Kopp had half a brain, she'd realize that bashing teachers hurts her country and undermines the way of life of those very kids she's trying to help. But well-heeled, well-connecteds like her will never connect those dots because as privileged individuals, they've never had to. God help the USA as people like Kopp gain power.
Anonymous said…
"Last week in New York City, Wendy Kopp told Malcolm Gladwell that TFA is not a teaching organization but rather a leadership development organization."

I had to laugh when I read this quote.


It's amazing how these people believe that it is more important than teaching our children to just get into positions of policy-making within our government.

Very frightening indeed.
Over at the LEV blog, they are urging readers to support HB 1609 (which would end the use of seniority as the main criteria for RIFs). They cite several editorials and this sentence from the Spokesman-Review jumped out at me:

"Reformers note that newer teachers tend to be overrepresented at schools surrounded by low-income households, so the layoffs disrupt these children disproportionately."

Here's what I wrote:

I’m glad to see LEV supports this premise because that’s one of the key problems with Teach for America recruits. They are new, unseasoned (and relatively untrained) teachers who go to the lowest performing schools and leave after two years, creating a revolving door of young teachers. Even if they are great teachers, off they go. Not so good for these children who need consistency.

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