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  • Does Teach For America Work?

    Wendy Kopp speaks about her new book, “A Chance to Make History.”

    The founder of Teach for America Wendy Kopp speaks with Dana Goldstein about her new book, A Chance to Make History, defends the organization’s record—and says she’d love to run NYC’s schools.

    When Wendy Kopp’s son Benjamin was 8 years old, he interviewed her for a school project on learning to overcome challenges. The topic was the founding of Teach for America, Kopp’s bold experiment—which began as a 1989 Princeton University senior thesis—to convince recent elite-college grads to devote two years to teaching in struggling inner-city and rural public schools.

    “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?”

    Two decades into TFA’s existence, Benjamin’s question—recounted in his mother’s new book, A Chance to Make History—remains a point of controversy. Though Teach for America began as an insurgent challenge to teachers’ unions, teachers’ colleges, and established school district hiring practices, today TFA is itself very much part of the American education establishment.

    A power player in Washington education-policy debates and a favorite beneficiary of deep-pocketed philanthropists and corporations, TFA has 8,000 teachers working in 60 cities, and a network of 20,000 alumni spreading the school-reform gospel in fields such as banking, medicine, politics, and education itself. Its new sister organization, Leadership for Educational Equality, is aimed at helping TFA alumni win public office; some, such as Colorado Senator Michael Johnston and Washington, D.C. City Councilman Sekou Biddle, already have.

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