Teach For America Founder Addresses GW Greeks

Wendy Kopp told students in a speech Thursday that they have the opportunity to make a real difference in educational inequity.

October 29, 2012

Though the achievement gap in this country may be massive and daunting, it “truly is solvable.”

That’s according to Wendy Kopp, the CEO and founder of Teach For America (TFA), a national corps of teachers working to close the country’s achievement gap, who spoke to students in the Greek community at the Charles E. Smith Center on Thursday as part of GW’s Greek Week.

“In my lifetime, we can make a meaningful difference against this problem we’re addressing—not only in the United States but across the world,” Ms. Kopp told the students.

Just 8 percent of children from low-income communities will graduate from college by age 24, Ms. Kopp said. Economic background, she added, too frequently predicts education outcome in the U.S., a country that claims to be a place of equal opportunity.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Ms. Kopp told the story of one teacher, Ivy, whose fifth-grade students used to be at a second-grade level. But with a lot of hard work and extra support, Ivy’s students were soon “owning their path to college,” she said.

“Ivys are very rare,” she said. “We’re looking for them.”

Since its creation in 1990—Ms. Kopp proposed the idea for TFA in her undergraduate thesis at Princeton—Ms. Kopp and her team have found 38,000 corps members who have reached more than 3 million children across the country during their two-year commitments.

To effectively make a dent in the problem requires that education be prioritized on the president’s agenda, Ms. Kopp said, but it will also take effective local movements from people working at every level of the education system, from teachers to parents to policymakers.

GW is 13th in the nation for medium-sized schools that contribute the greatest number of graduating seniors to TFA, according to a list released in September by the organization. Throughout TFA’s 22-year history, 257 GW alumni have taught as corps members. Eight percent of GW’s 2012 graduates applied to the program, and 33 joined this year’s incoming corps.

In introductory remarks, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed said it’s critical that students and GW as a whole continue to dedicate themselves to service and making their communities a better place.

“We must ask ourselves what responsibility we have to make investments through teaching, research and service to enhance the capacity and contributions of our students, faculty and staff to address pressing local, national and global issues,” Dr. Reed said.

On Oct. 19, roughly 100 Greeks spent time volunteering in area TFA schools.

“The civic engagement of our students is one of the hallmarks of the GW experience, and I couldn’t be happier that the Greek community is living their values with this effort,” Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller said. “As GW is one of the top providers of TFA corps members, this is a natural partnership for our students, and I hope it is something that will continue for years to come.”

Ms. Kopp said GW has produced some of the greatest TFA corps members.

“We’re hugely appreciate of GW, and I think it’s just so impressive to see the Greek community put service at the center of your efforts.”