However a person might feel about the great debate regarding public school reform (vouchers, charters, etc.), the idealism – at least – of Teach for America seems to be broadly admired. It’s regarded as the education equivalent of the Peace Corps. During the holiday season I had the pleasure of meeting one of its members, Sherry, a young black woman who was teaching kindergarten in a public school in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. She is from Chicago and quite familiar with the issues and the challenges and still devoted to the mission.
I told her I’d recently read A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All by TFA founder Wendy Kopp. In her book, Kopp acknowledges the need to recruit more young minorities to the mission, one that has at its center a belief that all children, from whatever background, can meet high academic standards.
Kopp was a recent guest on the Tavis Smiley radio show on public radio. Kopp and her new book were featured recently in The Christian Science Monitor and an item reported by National Public Radio announcing a $100 million endownment to convert TFA from more than a movement to a more permanent feature of public education. And one of the more famous TFA graduates, Michelle Rhee, former head of the public schools in Washington, D.C., was featured on the cover of the December 13 issue of Newsweek as she launches an effort to represent the interest of public school students.
Journalist Donna Foote, in her book Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America offers an even broader perspective on the problems of public education in the U.S., the challenges faced by TFA recruits, and the promises represented by their efforts.
I’m delighted by the attention that TFA and public school reform are getting. But, having met Sherry, I know that from now on when I think about TFA, I’ll think about her and how she is doing in that kindergarten classroom on the west side of Chicago.