An illuminating (in a good way) interview with Wendy Kopp that you’ve never seen

The ‘Cosmo’ magazine for middle aged women is called ‘More.’  My mother-in-law just gave me her copy of the December 2010 issue since it had this lengthy article about Wendy Kopp.

My opinion about Wendy has fluctuated throughout the years.  She’s only a year older than me, so when I first saw her in 1991 when she was about 23, the thing I noticed about her was that she wore a lot of pink.

In 1996, when I was working at the institute as a CMA, I was riding the elevator in Moody Towers when she got on.  TFA was still pretty small, relatively speaking (there was only one institute) so I wasn’t overly intimidated, though I was a little.  I asked her if I could have permission to print and sell to the CMs a self-published collection of essays that I wrote as a corps member myself and had printed in the Houston TFA newsletter (some of those essays are re-printed on this blog).  She said that I could, and with that I had a boost to my writing career.  When those essays eventually grew into my first book (I used the self-published thing I made my pitch to actual publishers), I included Wendy in the acknowledgments.

I sent her a copy of ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ when it came out in 1999 and she wrote back a nice hand written note, saying that she really liked it.  A few years later I attended a book signing party for her book ‘One Day’ and I was pleased that she knew who I was still, and wrote something along the lines of ‘Thanks for your humor,’ which I really appreciated.

But starting about 5 years ago, I got concerned that Wendy had gotten overly charmed with charter schools.  I went to a TFA fundraiser (I get a fellowship from a program called ‘Math For America’ (no relation) which buys a table each year, and I get to go since I’m part of both programs) and that’s all she talked about.  Charter this, charter that.  It didn’t seem like she had a good sense that Charters (even the good ones) won’t be the way to ensure that ‘ALL CHILDREN’ will one day have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

I was also concerned, based on the horrible ‘Teaching As Leadership’ book, that Wendy had given her advisors too much power.  She had put too much trust into the author of that book in revealing to the public what TFA had learned about teacher training after two decades of tinkering.  My nine part review of that book is, in my opinion, the best blogging I’ve ever done, though the amount of effort I put into it probably reveals a bit more about myself than I probably should.

But this past year at that same fundraiser, Wendy had a different tone.  She wasn’t mentioning charter schools at all, she was praising ‘traditional schools.’  Wendy was coming around — evolving.

Now, with this new article, which I encourage you to read (those of you who do not already subscribe to ‘More.’), I have even more respect for her.  According to the article, Wendy actually gave some negative feedback to ‘Waiting For Superman’ to an audience of Charter School Executives.  She even said that some charter school leaders “should very possibly be put in jail.”

Another thing I was pleased to see is that Wendy feels (like me) that the training aspect of TFA, despite its obvious importance, is the weakness of the organization.  I’ve been saying this for almost 20 years, myself.  I think that the flaws of the training model, which are so clear to me, are invisible to some of the people making the decisions of what needs to be improved and how to do that.  I hope that improving the training is considered a priority by TFA and that they are willing to explore many options for how to get teachers ready to teach in just five weeks.  When they’re ready to hear what they should do, they know where to find me.

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1 Response to An illuminating (in a good way) interview with Wendy Kopp that you’ve never seen

  1. Gary,

    This posts speaks to me. I am no Teacher for America alum–I share however a similar background. I took my advance degree in Biology and ran to teach in an inner city charter school. It was no “Waiting for Superman” charter school but despite this, I raised test scores from 25% (disadvantage group average) to 68% in HS Biology when the state average for all demographics was only 70% (in Austin Texas). I did this in one year–alas with a small sample size– but it was significant in that the results only illuminated what I already knew–I was effective–very effective. From this experience, In entered a world of teacher education and have spent the last 10 years training educators using the cognitive applications I used in the classroom backed up with the research that supports the application’s use. I am currently finishing my doctorate in education—specifically invested in how we prepare teachers and am disillusioned as ever. No one gets it–not Teach for America, not college teacher preparatory programs, not districts.

    Over an over again the research demonstrates that the single largest impact on student achievement is the quality of the teacher and yet no one really wants to look this demon in the eye and work through it. I too am here when they are ready! In the meantime, I will keep training on the back end–after teachers are already in the classroom and habituated to methodologies that are difficult to change. I will do it one school, one district, and one program at a time until they are ready. –Thanks for the post

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