An optimistic narrative about school reform from an author with an unusual perspective.
Kopp (One Day, All Children...: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way, 2001) founded Teach for America 20 years ago, and currently serves as its chief executive. Because of her vision, tens of thousands of young men and women decided to instruct the neediest children in schools across the United States, both in decaying urban cores and isolated rural areas. Despite—or possibly because of—their lack of teacher training within colleges, those trained by Kopp tend to improve classroom learning. The author mostly remains in the background as she distills lessons learned from Teach for America enrollees. Although numerous attitudes and skills constitute superb teaching, perhaps the foremost attribute is the belief that disadvantaged children can learn well enough to attend college. Then it becomes a matter of persuading those children about what they can achieve. As Kopp seems to be veering into the never-never land of outsized optimism, she reins herself in by showing how far most schools need to travel to deliver on the promise of a first-class education for every student. A large percentage of the author’s examples derive from New Orleans, where school administrators started fresh after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina; Washington, D.C., during the controversial tenure of superintendent Michelle Rhea; and New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chief Joel Klein refused to believe that good was good enough. Kopp labels the desirable educators "transformational teachers." She has observed many such educators, especially those she knows from Teach for America, and interviewed many of them while composing this book. Transformational teachers tend to raise the overall learning abilities and standardized test scores of every student in the classroom, despite the seeming improbability of such an outcome. However, Kopp emphasizes that there are no shortcuts. Even the most successful teachers need time, counted in years, to hone their leadership skills and sell their ways of functioning to suspicious, by-the-book administrators.
No matter the real-world glitches in her proposals, Kopp’s insistence on aiming high should make it required reading for all professional educators.