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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Education Reform/Closing Achievement Gap in the U.S. and Around the World

Wendy Kopp, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Teach For America/Teach For All
New York, NY
February 9, 2011

Date: 02/09/2011 Location: New York, NY Description: Wendy Kopp, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Teach For America/Teach For All, briefing at the New York Foreign Press Center on Education Reform - State Dept Image

11:00 a.m. EDT

MODERATOR: Good morning and thank you for coming.

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama called for more young people in the U.S. to join the effort to close the vast achievement gap that exists in this country. Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of Teach for America and Teach for All, believes it is our moral imperative to ensure that all children in the U.S. and around the world have access to a world class education. With that, I bring to you Wendy Kopp. (Applause.)

MS. KOPP: Thank you. Well, yes, as you heard a few days ago, our President called upon our country’s young people to teach. And you know Teach for America has been working to inspire our country’s most promising future leaders, our most academically able recent college graduates, people who have real leadership ability, from all academic disciplines, all career interests, to commit their initial two years out of college to teach in our highest-poverty communities.

We’ve been doing that both to channel the energy of people with real leadership skills into classrooms in our country’s most underserved communities because we know that we need more talented, committed teachers working to meet the extra needs of kids growing up in poverty, but also because we’re working to create a generation of leaders in our country who are committed to expanding educational opportunity.

And we know that those two years out of college are extremely transformational ones. And we’ve seen the foundational – I guess just the power of having people’s first two years out of college be teaching successfully in our most economically disadvantaged communities. They come out of this experience knowing firsthand that when kids who face the challenges of poverty are given the chances they deserve, they excel. And they, as a result, leave that experience – they can’t leave it, essentially. They leave with still greater conviction about the solvability of what we call educational inequity, just the fact that where kids are born determines their educational outcomes, and as a result end up devoting their lives to it.

So this year, Teach for America inspired about 47,000 people to apply to teach in our highest-poverty communities. Each year, about 15 percent of the senior classes of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale apply to Teach for America. We recruit a very diverse group of people from all over the country, hundreds of colleges, but it really is one of the most just popular career options for our most outstanding graduates. We have about 8,000 teachers in the midst of their two-year commitment right now, and a growing body of research shows that the Teach for America Corps members do have a greater impact than would be expected from other new teachers, and even in some cases, depending on the grade levels and the subject areas, than veteran teachers in their schools.

And at the same time, we now we have about 20,000 Teach for America alumni, people who’ve completed their two years, and they’ve proven to be quite a powerful leadership force for improving education. About 65 percent of them have ended up staying fulltime in education. About half of that group are teaching. Some of them are winning the highest accolades teachers can win as they’re district or state or even national teachers of the year. We have about 600 school principals among our alumni, and many others working in some cases as district superintendents and other leadership roles in school districts. They have pioneered some of the most important initiatives to reform the education system in the U.S., starting networks of very high-performing what we call charter schools as well as organizations to change the way other new teachers are brought into the profession.

And we think it’s important that some of them have moved out of the field of education and have gone into policy, into journalism, into law, into other positions of influence, because we think, ultimately, to really improve our education system is going to take certainly long-term, sustained, committed leadership from within the system. But all you have to do is spend time within the system to realize that we need lots of broader changes, too. We need a policy context that makes it easier for committed educators to do their work and to succeed with kids.

So that’s where Teach for America is today. This weekend, we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary at Teach for America’s 20th Anniversary Alumni Summit in Washington, DC, where about – more than 10,000 people will be coming together, thousands of Teach for America alumni, some of our teachers and other supporters, to reflect on the incredible progress we’ve made in education here in the last 20 years, but also on what more needs to be done and what we can each do to ensure that we realize the vision that really unites everyone who’s part of Teach for America, just the vision that one day all kids in our country will have the chance to attain an excellent education.

I’ll just quickly say that I would never have woken up, just given the urgency of the situation here and how much more needs to be done to improve educational, really, just opportunity here in the U.S. I probably wouldn’t have thought about expanding, quote, “around the world,” and yet, I started meeting very passionate, committed social entrepreneurs and leaders in other countries who were very determined to bring this model to their countries.

And ultimately, together with the first adaptation of Teach for America, Teach First in the UK, Teach for America worked to create Teach for All, which is a global network of organizations. Teach for America and Teach First are two of now 18 organizations in the network. And the mission of Teach for All is to really expand educational opportunity internationally by accelerating and increasing the impact of this model. And so we kind of envision the day when, in dozens and dozens of countries around the world, we have ultimately just kind of unstoppable efforts to improve educational opportunity.

So maybe I’ll leave it at that and see what you all are most interested in talking about.

MODERATOR: For transcription purposes, just state your name and your organization before your question.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Enny Pichardo. I’m a New York-based correspondent for NTN24. Can you briefly mention some of the countries in Latin America where Teach for All is working in?

MS. KOPP: Yeah. There’s so much energy in Latin America around this model. Two of the first programs in the Teach for All network were in Chile and in Peru. They’re called Ensena Chile and Ensena Peru. And now there are programs in Brazil, just starting in Argentina, about to launch, and soon to be in Colombia.


QUESTION: Yes. Neeme Raud, Estonian television. What inspires those young Americans to join the program? I talked to some teachers yesterday and they say it’s rather hard to join. But when you come out of Harvard or Yale or – you have possibilities and you go to those poorest neighborhoods. Do they get tuition reimbursing, or what’s the inspiration?

MS. KOPP: They’re really doing this because they want to make a huge difference, and I think they view this as our generation’s civil rights issue. And basically, some of the most successful Teach for America Corps members go back to these campuses and call upon the real leaders in the – among the senior class to say you’ve got to channel your energy in this direction, because just two years of a person’s energy who has a real leadership ability can make a life-changing difference for kids. And there’s no way to have a greater and more important responsibility right out of college than teaching in this context.

And ultimately, I think, the call is to become part of a generation of leaders who will work together not just for two years but throughout their lives to ensure that our country lives up to its promise to truly be a place of equal opportunity. So that’s really what I think is drawing people. They’re not doing it for the money. I mean, clearly, they – it’s possible to do this because the school systems hire them at regular beginning teacher salaries so it’s financially feasible, but clearly, they could make a lot more money in other pursuits.

QUESTION: Would you say it’s Peace Corps for teachers?

MS. KOPP: In a way. I think that it’s very similar in the sense that, like the Peace Corps, actually like corporate training programs, Teach for America is going out and saying just commit two years, but knowing that those two years will influence a lifetime of decision making. And so in that way, I think it’s similar.

QUESTION: Can I – my name is Sylviane Zehil from L'Orient du Jour, Beirut. Can you talk about Teach for All and Teach for Lebanon some more, and in detail, please?

MS. KOPP: Well, Teach for Lebanon is another of the early members of Teach for All. Again, the programs in these other countries – currently 18 countries around the world, including the U.S. and the UK – are – they’re independent programs. So people in these countries have decided we’re going to start an organization that is going to call upon our country’s – so Lebanon’s – most promising future leaders to commit two years to teach in Lebanon’s most under-resourced communities.

And what Teach for All does is support the process. Clearly, Teach for America, Teach First in the UK, and these other early-stage programs go through huge learning curves. We’ve learned a lot, so Teach for All captures that knowledge and tries to help new programs go up the learning curve more quickly. So we’ll help them figure out how do you recruit the top students, how do you select them, what admissions model will ensure that you bring in the people who are really ready to make a difference for kids? How do you train them?

I think over time in the U.S., we’ve learned – and in the UK – that there is a significant base of skills and knowledge to becoming a successful teacher, and so we’ve learned a lot about how to provide the kind of pre-service training and ongoing professional development necessary to ensure that these folks really do make a difference for their kids and that they learn the right lessons in the process.

So programmatically and also from an organizational development perspective, Teach for All helps build the capacity of these independent programs that are charting their own course but are aligned to the principles that really unite everyone who’s part of Teach for All.

QUESTION: I came very late, but could you talk about financing this program?

MS. KOPP: The financing comes – so it depends on the country. But there are great similarities across the board in the sense that in most countries – and this is partially true in Lebanon – the school districts hire these teachers at regular beginning teacher salaries. But the program itself needs to raise the funds, and usually this is largely private funding, some governmental funding as well, to recruit and select and train and support the teachers.

QUESTION: In the case of the Teach for All, who finances it?

MS. KOPP: Well, Teach for All is supported by – we’re in constant need of more support, but we’re funded by philanthropists, global companies committed to improving educational opportunity internationally and such.

QUESTION: Hello, good morning. My name is Elizabeth Mora. I am from Colombia. I have this question for you. Here in Queens, in some neighborhoods, we have among the Latino kids, boys, 70 percent drop out. Do you have specific programs for these boys, for the Latino kids here?

MS. KOPP: This is exactly the problem that Teach for America works to address. And really, this is exactly why we get all of these very determined, very idealistic graduating seniors and recent college grads who say that is our country’s greatest injustice. I mean, this in a country that aspires to be a land of opportunity and they come to this saying, “We’re going to do something about this.”

What we’ve learned over time is that, first of all, teaching successfully in this particular context is an act of leadership, meaning a truly tremendous teacher – I just published a book called A Chance to Make History, and it takes its title from a teacher, Megan Brusseau, who’s teaching not in – I think you said – Queens, but in the Bronx, working with a student population all of whom were learning English as a second language.

And she walked into her classes of 112 students in the Bronx and said to them, “This is your chance to make history.” And she called upon them to take and pass – they’re 9th-graders – the New York State Regents exam in biology. Her kids were starting the year way behind. Many of them were more than three years behind in reading ability. And yet, she got them invested in, basically, owning that big goal. She convinced them that if they did that, they would prove – she knew they would prove to themselves, but they would prove to others that they were – they should be on a college track.

And I kind of recount in the book this – the level of energy and discipline it took her students, and Megan herself, to ultimately reach that goal, which she did in her first year of teaching. So I think what we learn from her example is it’s not that the kids don’t have the potential. It’s not, as you know, that they don’t have a level of motivation, that their parents don’t care. It’s that they haven’t been given the kind of – met with both the expectations and the extra supports that they need to fulfill their true potential.

And I think to – we can’t solve the problem through hundreds of thousands of Megans. She’s a very rare person; only so many people in the world have the kind of leadership ability she has. But what we’ve learned over time, in part because of the efforts of some of the alumni of Teach For America, is that you can create whole schools that will make it much easier to attain those kind of results.

So even here in New York City where, 15 years ago, I don’t think we could have honestly taken you to one school that was taking a building full of kids who are growing up, facing the challenges of poverty – kids of color often – that was putting them on a trajectory to actually have the same kind of educational outcomes that kids on the Upper East Side of Manhattan would have, right? I don’t think we could have taken you to one. Today, we could take you to 40. There are schools that are doing this.

And what they’re doing is embracing a different mandate. They’re not just putting learning opportunities in front of kids. They’re saying we’re going to change the trajectory of our kids. They align everyone to this mission, they obsess over building strong teams of teachers and building a strong culture that aligns the kids and the parents and the teachers to reach that goal, and then they do whatever it takes. And it takes lengthening the school day and lengthening the school year and bringing more social services into the schools, but essentially, they redefine what it is – what schools should be in economically disadvantaged communities. And that completely changes the statistics.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Jiaojiao from China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Could you please elaborate on this Teacher For All program, how this program function in China, when it started, and how many teachers included? And we all know the recent debate of the Tiger Mother, this different parenting style of China and U.S. So how this Teacher For All program bring difference to Chinese kids? Thank you.

MS. KOPP: Well, the China Education Initiative, which is the name of the program in China, is in its early days. It’s in its second year now, I believe. They have about 60 teachers teaching in the Yunnan Province. They’ve recruited China’s future leaders, so people who understand the culture of China and have presumably been parented in that culture, to the charge of expanding educational opportunity in the Yunnan Province where kids are not provided with the kind of exceptional education that kids in other parts of China are provided.

They are – they have attained a really quite tremendous level of not only private sector support but governmental-level support. The officials in the province have really owned this program and they’re paying the teachers’ salaries. And in fact, other provinces are now, based on the quite incredible results of the teachers in this province just in the first two years, are bringing the China program to other provinces.

So I think there’s tremendous potential for the China Education Initiative to really attain a significant scale that could make a real difference in channeling China’s future leaders against this issue in China.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. KOPP: I’m trying to think about – I just was in China, actually, for a week in December and spent some good time with the teachers there. What’s interesting is I think it’s still early days at Teach For All, and I think we will learn a lot about what the most successful teachers in very different cultural contexts do. So whatever I’ll say now is really early lessons, but I’ve been very surprised at the commonalities that we’ve seen, and I think many of the other leaders of the Teach For All programs have been very surprised.

I think – I described a bit about this teacher, Megan Brousseau, and just to reflect on what she was doing, she was operating like a great leader operates, right? Like, she came into a situation that a lot of people would have given up on and said, “Here’s the vision. By the end of the year, here’s where we’re going to be.” And it was a vision of a place that would make a meaningful difference for kids. And then she convinced kids who aren’t surrounded by high academic expectations that it was important for them to get to that vision, and that if they worked hard enough, they would get there.

And then she was just very goal-oriented. I mean, if you sat in the back of Megan’s classroom, you – I mean, it’s fun to sit there. It’s not a teacher going through a lesson plan; it’s a teacher on a mission to move from one point to another. And then there’s a great deal of kind of extra supports that they provide their kids because they are coming way behind and they do face a lot of extra challenges. And I have to say that from India to China to Chile and Peru, it’s been very interesting to see that that approach, which I think is rooted in just an understanding about the nature of the problem we’re addressing, where we have kids facing extra challenges, showing up at schools that generally are not structured any differently from other schools to meet their extra needs. Like, to be a successful teacher in that context, I think maybe this is – there’s something in this that’s potentially somewhat universal.

QUESTION: This is Jong Park from Chosun Ilbo Daily, South Korea. Teach For America has made huge success. What’s the magic formula that holds for other countries, including South Korea?

MS. KOPP: Well, one thing I go around saying a lot is that there’s nothing magic about what it takes to put kids growing up in high-poverty communities on a different trajectory through education. And when I say that, essentially, it’s all about leadership, whether it’s – wherever you see change for kids that is not just incremental but is meaningful, meaning incremental change in this context – I mean, in our country, where we have 15 million kids living below the poverty line and half of them don’t graduate from high school and the half who do have an eighth grade skill level, incremental change really does not change lives. Like, we need transformational change.

And wherever we have that kind of change, whether it’s at the classroom level or the school level or the system level, there’s transformational leadership, people who deeply believe in their kids, who know what their true potential is, and are determined to ensure that they fulfill that potential. And so I think – I mean, that insight is at the core of the mission that unites everyone who’s part of Teach For All, which is just to say, “You know what? We need to channel our country’s most promising future leaders against our most fundamental problem.” And so that’s the idea.

Now, I can’t speak for Korea because we’re not doing anything in Korea and I don’t know – I’m not sure the applicability of it, but I do think there’s something universal about the power of channeling any country’s future leaders against a big challenge.

QUESTION: Hi, I am Young Shin of Donga Daily from Seoul, Korea. President Obama has repeatedly pointed out the problems of public educational system of the U.S. What problems do you think the education – the public schools have in the U.S., and what solutions do you have?

And my second question is: The – okay, I’ll ask this later.

MS. KOPP: Okay. So I – my work really has focused on this particular issue. I mean, I think maybe there are a couple different issues in the U.S. and one has to do with the quality of education across the board, and one has to do with what I believe is a very significant crisis, which is what’s happening in our high-poverty communities where, I mean, the notion that only half of our kids in our country, which is obviously such a well-resourced country, are attaining high school degrees. Without a high school degree, there’s no future, and yet the people who do – the kids who do get high school degrees have a middle school education level, so they too are not at all equipped to have any kind of meaningful job.

In a country that aspires to be a place of equal opportunity, this is just unconscionable, right? And I think what I’ve seen firsthand over the last 20 years is that we can solve this problem; this is a solvable problem. The issue is that with – either you got to solve poverty or – I mean, I think what we’ve discovered is we don’t have to wait to solve poverty. We can solve this through education. It’s just that it takes a lot. It takes a lot to solve the problem through education. But in my view, we have to do it.

And to your question about, so, what’s the problem, the problem is simply that kids are facing many extra challenges. And so showing up at schools that are not designed to meet the needs of kids facing many extra challenges is not going to work. We need to create a different kind of school that actually has a different goal, which is not just to put information in front of kids, but to actually ensure that they learn, and which then approaches that big goal of ensuring that their kids get on a trajectory to have the full range of educational and professional options. You have to go after that with the same level of energy and discipline that it takes to accomplish anything great and ambitious in anything.

So ultimately, there’s no magic to this, right? It’s like you know and we all know that accomplishing something great is always about a leader who builds an incredible team, establishes a strong culture, operates in a very goal-oriented way, and does whatever it takes. It sounds maybe a little – but that’s all there is to this.

Today versus 20 years ago in the U.S., we have hundreds of schools that are making it happen. We have schools that I could take you to serving the highest poverty student populations in our country where the student work would put the student work in my own kids’ school right up here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to shame, meaning like, there are schools in our highest poverty communities with their kids excelling on an absolute scale. So it’s possible. It’s just – it takes a lot to make that happen.

QUESTION: Hi, Matthew Hall from SPS Australia. I believe you were in Australia not so long ago and you met with the federal government there. Can you give some insight into that trip, what you learned from Australia, what Teach For All can do in Australia and your discussions with the government?

MS. KOPP: This was a bit ago. This trip was not this past summer here, but it was maybe a year and a half ago, just to put that in context. I sort of probably need to get back to Australia and learn the latest lay of the land. But there – we certainly felt that certainly, the people I met were very determined to effect real change and to undertake initiatives that would better address the kids who are facing the challenges of poverty. And there was quite a bit of – quite a lot of enthusiasm for what Teach For Australia could do – not to be the only source of excellent teachers, but to be another source working alongside others and supported by, actually, the kind of very committed teacher ed system there.

So I met the early recruits. I haven’t yet seen them in classrooms, but it seemed that they were experiencing the same success that I’ve seen around the world and attracting just deeply committed and talented folks who wanted to teach in the hardest-to-staff schools. And I left with lots of optimism that they would ultimately be a source of both effective teachers and long-term leaders for the broader reform effort.

QUESTION: My name is Thomas Koch. I am writing for regional German newspapers. You said your organization is (inaudible) concerned with recruiting, selecting, and training people. Could you extend a little bit on this, especially on the training part of it?

MS. KOPP: I would say – one thing, just to clarify, is that we really view not only Teach For America, but the programs in the Teach For All network – you said you’re from Germany – as leadership development programs, meaning we know none of these programs are aiming to provide all the nation’s teachers. They’re aiming to recruit some of the most talented and promising future leaders and invest a lot – and I’ll speak more to this – in their training and professional development in the hope that they will be very successful teachers during two-year commitments, and ultimately, effective long-term leaders working to expand educational opportunity.

So all of these programs spend lots of energy on a few things programmatically. One is recruiting top talent, and they engage in a level of recruitment that few of these countries have seen in terms of – like the notion that some of the most aggressive recruiters on college campuses would be Teach For programs rather than corporations. I mean, I think

many people would say that in the U.S. Teach for America has the most aggressive recruitment effort of any private sector organization. And I think these other programs in the Teach For All network are bringing that same approach.

We are then selecting people based on very high standards across the Teach for All network. Each of these programs engages in lots of analysis over time about what personal characteristics differentiate the people who actually succeed with their kids and develops a rigorous selection model. So in the U.S., out of 47,000 applicants this year, we’ll select 5,000 people. And the numbers – the rates – selection rates are very similar around the world.

Then each of these programs invests, as I mentioned, a great deal not only in pre-service development of teachers but in their ongoing professional development. It’s just a different approach than I think traditionally – so it’s not necessarily even saying this is a better approach. It’s just that we have come to find that if you invest not only in pre-service training but in – you then cluster the teachers in schools and provide two years of ongoing management and support, that this can be a very effective approach.

I could say more about the nature of the training and support to your question, but then beyond the two years, again, each of these programs are building a network among the alumni and also undertaking various leadership initiatives to help accelerate the degree to which they move into school principalships or run for elected office. Or depending on the cultural context in the country, it could be different pursuits.

QUESTION: Thank you. So how do you do the selection of the schools, because now you have told us how you do the selection of the teachers –

MS. KOPP: Right.

QUESTION: So now the selection of the school, and if the parents or somebody could ask you for help.

MS. KOPP: The way it works not only in the U.S. but in everywhere so far around the world, is that we’ll decide on, first of all, a geographic location. Like, Teach for America works in 39 urban and rural regions, like New York City is one of the 39 regions. We’ll then have a local office that will establish relationships with the central system and also with school principals. So we will then decide where are we going to cluster our teachers to meet the greatest needs. And we just form partnerships with the school systems in making those determinations.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if someone asked earlier, but here in New York, for instance, recently Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the closing of some schools due to the budget deficit. Now, how does that affect your program? How does that affect Teach for America? And as a leader of this program, what will you tell not only Mayor Michael Bloomberg but also Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has also talked about the firing of some teachers?

MS. KOPP: Well, the school closings don’t particularly impact our particular program. But I think, I mean, we’re obviously operating in a very tight fiscal climate and need to make tough decisions, and at the same time I think have seen, I mean, in some of our schools are not serving our kids. And in some cases, kids are better served by moving to another school that have much higher success rates. So I think broadly that the mayor and the chancellor are doing what they need to do and actually are operating in the best interest of kids.

I think we’re heading into a very, very challenging situation given the fiscal climate, and as it relates to the teacher layoffs that you describe. I think over the last few years in New York, the school system has made enormous strides in the caliber of people they have hired, the new teachers they’ve brought in to the profession. They’ve almost, based on the last study I saw that I believe the Urban Institute did, they eliminated the teacher qualification gap between high-income schools and low-income. I mean, that’s quite extraordinary and hundreds of Teach for America Corps members and New York City Teaching Fellows, which is kind of an adaptation of Teach for America, made up almost all of the new hires.

And so I’m hoping very much that we can avoid teacher layoffs in general, which are such a disruptive force for kids. And if we can’t, I’m hoping that we can find a way to take teacher effectiveness into account. I mean, clearly, experience matters a lot. But for the sake of kids and especially for the sake of kids in our most – or hardest to staff schools, I think to look at seniority alone will be devastating for kids and families. We will see huge portions of our teachers in our hardest-to-staff, meaning most economically pressed communities, moving out of those schools. And I think we’re going to have to look at the equity of that, and that it’s going to lead us to realize that we can’t make decisions based on seniority alone.

QUESTION: From the standpoint of a business model, what is special for TFA model? What makes it keep going? Did you invent an education voucher?

MS. KOPP: Well, Teach for America has – we’ve now been around for 20 years, and we went through a lot in our first decade trying to figure out how we were possibly going to sustain ourselves and went through many near-death experiences and nearly didn’t make it and all of that.

But I think ultimately we found – I think a few things happened in the end. I mean, one, school districts started really valuing Teach for America as a source of teachers. People who want to teach in the places of greatest disadvantage, who bring an extremely high level of commitment to doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of their kids and who have a different level of academic qualification and who are trained in a different way, trained to be successful particularly with high-poverty kids.

So school districts value Teach for America and also I think as the broader education reform movement has seen momentum, there’s been growing recognition that Teach for America is the fuel for many, many other initiatives. And so communities started coming together and saying how do we grow Teach for America within communities. So today, 75 percent of our budget is coming from communities, from school districts, in some cases states, but largely private sector companies and individuals and foundations that say we want to grow Teach for America in this community.

QUESTION: Yes, I have one more question. You addressed that briefly before, but still in our materialistic society, how do you build up the prestige of this program? I mean, people come out of school with a lot of debt and everything, and you have 45,000 people competing for 5,000 slots. That’s amazing.

MS. KOPP: I think I do – gosh, you would not apply to do this if you didn’t have a deep inclination to want to make a difference. And I think, I mean, really the first insight that I had when I proposed the creation of Teach for America in my senior thesis was exactly that. I mean, our generation was known as the Me Generation, and I just thought that label was so misplaced. I mean, I was a senior at Princeton at the time, and all the recruiters were corporations asking us to commit two years to go work in their firms.

And I think that’s great if that’s what you really want to do; it’s just that I felt like I was one of thousands of people who are just searching for something else. And I think Teach for America made it possible for people to act on their inclination. I think over time, I mean, the reality is that it is exceedingly challenging to teach successfully in low-income communities.

And as a result, Teach for America has had to become even more selective. We know it’s a very rare person who’s ready for this right out of college. And so I think the fact that we are legitimately – I mean, for very important reasons – highly selective probably helped as well to counter the image that teaching generally has of being something that if you have other opportunities you wouldn't pursue.

QUESTION: Can you describe the selection process, like what you’re looking for?

MS. KOPP: Yeah. We’re looking for leadership qualities, meaning – and we’ve isolated certain personal characteristics that we’ve found through research to differentiate the most successful of our teachers. In the U.S., we’re looking for past demonstrated achievement, perseverance in the face of challenges, the ability to influence and motivate others, problem-solving ability, and a fit with this mission, a desire to work relentless in pursuit of this mission, high expectations for kids in urban and rural areas.

I think you would find that the selection criteria of the programs across the network are – they’re adapted to the local kind of context, the cultural context, but they’re very, very similar at some level. And what people do is apply, in our case in the U.S., through an online application, but we do phone interviews and then bring about half of our applicants together for a day where they do sample teaching sessions and discussion groups and personal interviews, and we’re really trying to gain a holistic view of each candidate to make sure that they are basically of the leadership qualities necessary to truly not just survive but excel as a teacher in this context.

QUESTION: Would it be possible to come and (inaudible) see, as a journalist, this kind of (inaudible)?

MS. KOPP: Probably.

QUESTION: As it takes place?

MS. KOPP: Yeah. It just – we just had our last recruitment deadline. But there’s already spring recruitment for the next year’s rising seniors, so you could probably talk with our folks about that.

QUESTION: Can you explain a little bit more about your career background or personal experiences which made you start this program 20 years ago?

MS. KOPP: Well, my “career,” quote, has been spent really just doing this. I was a senior in college and thought of this idea for the reason I mentioned. I had been really focused on the issue of educational inequity as a policy issue as a public policy major. But more than anything, I think it was that coming together with my own sense that, I mean, I was one of many, many other people who were just searching for something that we weren’t finding. And one day I just thought of this, like why don’t we have a national teacher corps that recruits us as aggressively to commit two years to teach in our most under-resourced communities as we were being recruited to spend two years working on Wall Street.

And I just became obsessed with it. I thought it would make a huge difference for kids and that it would make a huge difference for the priorities and the kind of consciousness of our country if we got our future leaders to have their first two years be teaching in high-poverty communities instead of working on Wall Street. So I needed a thesis topic, proposed this in my undergraduate thesis, and it was just one of these ideas that was very quickly far beyond me. I mean, it was clearly meant to happen. We inspired 2,500 people to apply in the first year. There was no real email at the time and we were putting flyers under doors. I can’t imagine – I mean, today it should be a lot easier at some level.

But we brought in 500 teachers in the first year teaching in New York and L.A. and six places across the country. And that was really the beginning of a very steep learning curve about how to do this well, how to select the right people and train them well and support them well, and then how to sustain the organization and grow it financially. But as of about 10 years ago, we finally had a solid foundation. We had a thousand teachers at that time across 13 communities, and we launched a growth plan and have built a lot of momentum since then.

QUESTION: So now what is the development about the federal government into your program? And for example, in Queens, I know that you have one of the best school there, Newcomers is the sixth best school in the country, but on the other side you have Corona High School that is one of the worst. So how could you work to fix the problem and how is the idea of the federal government for the education program in general?

MS. KOPP: So more about the broader education than about how we work with the federal government, right? I think that it’s been a significant step forward that we now – and I hope we won’t let it go. I think being clear about rigorous standards. I mean, we don’t have national standards in the U.S., but I think there’s a move towards states embracing a group of common standards that are based on high standards and international benchmarks. And I think the move to be transparent about how states and schools and school districts are doing against those standards and to really report out how they’re doing not just in aggregate but for their different groups, for their Latino kids as an example, has been very important. I mean, I think without that kind of transparency it’s possible for people to really kind of delude themselves about where we are, so I think that is one important step.

Ultimately, I think what we’ve seen – and this is just my personal view – is that we’ve seen the limitations of central mandates and top-down requirements about how our local educational leaders and educators should move towards those rigorous standards. I think wherever we see the kind of transformation of either teaching or schools that I’ve been talking about. We see local educators with a deep passion and commitment to putting their kids on a different trajectory, and I don’t think you can centrally mandate that.

So I think the role of the federal government should be to incent the development of local leadership and commitment and really should – I think we need to empower our educators to get results.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. KOPP: I’m guessing – I mean, don’t quote me. I don’t know. You’d have to ask our team. It’s about $35,000, I’m guessing, at this point.

QUESTION: Have you heard from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan? What has been the reaction from them and from the federal government, especially President Barack Obama and the First Lady? Have you heard anything from them when it comes to your program?

MS. KOPP: There’s tremendous support on the part of Arne Duncan, who, as a superintendent in Chicago, worked very closely with Teach for America. I think he saw Teach for America as a source of some of his most talented teachers, and also as the kind of leadership force that’s doing a lot of innovative things in Chicago. And so he’s been – really embraced Teach for America very publicly, and so have members of the Administration at every level, including the President.

MODERATOR: Okay, I think that’s it. Thank you very much.

MS. KOPP: Thank you. Thanks.

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