Teach for America supporters praise Kopp choice
By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, April 27, 2012
Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp’s success in transforming an idea she had as an undergraduate student into a prominent non-profit organization make her an strong choice for the Class of 2012 Commencement speaker, students and professors interviewed by The Dartmouth said. Teach for America’s popularity at the College has grown in recent years due to students’ increased awareness of education inequality in the United States, according to Co-Director of Career Services Monica Wilson.
Education professor emeritus Andrew Garrod called Kopp “an amazing young woman who has altered the face of public education in the United States and called forth the idealism of students who may have otherwise gone directly to Wall Street or other high-flying destinations.”
Adam Rice ’12, who will work as a Teach for America corps member next year, said he is looking forward to hearing what Kopp has to say about the current problems in education.
“It’s exciting to have someone who has been at the head of a movement to raise awareness and be active about educational inequality and the disparities and problems with the public education system in America, which in my mind is one of the largest moral and political challenges facing the country,” Adam Rice ’12 said.
Jennifer Paik ’12, who is also working for Teach for America next year, said she is impressed by Kopp’s success in implementing a “really creative solution to an under-addressed problem” right after she graduated from college. Kopp’s success is a reminder of the “power that we have as undergraduates to look for more creative solutions to problems that are out there,” she said.
Kopp’s selection as the Commencement speaker indicates the College’s dedication to improving education policy, founder and president of the Dartmouth chapter of Students for Education Reform Millen Abselab ’13 said.
“To have the founder of Teach for America come says a lot about Dartmouth’s commitment to education reform,” she said.
Dartmouth students have expressed a “growing interest in [Teach for America], driven primarily by a heightened awareness of educational inequity in the U.S.,” Wilson said in an email to The Dartmouth. Over 100 seniors have applied each year since 2008, she said.
Approximately 11 percent of the senior class applied to the program this year, according to Teach for America recruitment manager Angela Callado. Teach for America employs “a heavy recruiting program” at the College, according to Paik.
More than 120 Dartmouth graduates have worked for the organization since 2005, and over 40 applicants from Dartmouth’s Class of 2012 were accepted this year, according to a College press release.
Students participating in Teach for America next year credited the Tucker Foundation for fostering their involvement in education policy and service activities while at the College.
“[Teach for America] has been on my radar since freshman year, and my involvement in a variety of programs through the Tucker Foundation just reinforced my desire to continue working with under-resourced students after I graduate,” Christina Whittaker ’12 said in an email to the Dartmouth.
Rice said his current passion for education arose from a lunch he had at Dartmouth with Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker during his freshman winter, during which Booker described “islands of excellence” — a few exceptional schools among many that are under-resourced and struggling, Rice said.
Hearing Booker speak about the educational disparity was a “transformative experience” and prompted him to spend the summer working for a network of Newark charter schools that are part of the Knowledge Is Power Program, an organization founded by two Teach for America alumni, he said.
Rice said he realized that working in education would allow him to combine his passion for public service and his love for learning. Rice will begin his Teach for America experience as a kindergarten teacher at THRIVE Academy in Newark this fall, he said.
The College offers a number of different opportunities for undergraduates to learn about issues of education policy and work directly with students, Rice said.
Rice cited his involvement with Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth, a program that brings students from under-resourced schools to Dartmouth during the summer, and Athletes United, an organization that provides free sports programs for local children, as important influences on his desire to become a teacher. Dartmouth students are uniquely qualified for Teach for America due to the number of leadership opportunities available at the College and the variety of internships students participate in because of the flexibility of the Dartmouth Plan, Callado said.
Callado called the Rockefeller Center serves as a “huge asset” in fostering students’ development of the leadership skills necessary for becoming a teacher.
“Dartmouth students are becoming much more aware of the real inequities that our world faces and there is more of a vibe on campus around using your education in an impactful way,” Callado said. “Teach for America is one way to do that.”
Not all students, however, apply to work at Teach for America for “entirely altruistic reasons,” Garrod said. Due to the program’s exclusivity and competitiveness, some students join for “strategic reasons,” like bolstering their graduate school applications, he said.
“Even though [Teach for America] is service related, it still has that name brand,” Paik said.
Dartmouth’s student body has “mixed feelings” about the program, according to Paik. While some students see it as “wonderful,” others are cynical about participants’ motivation, she said.
A controversy exists surrounding the length of time Teach for America corps members commit to teaching, Garrod said. While participants are only required to serve for two years, it generally takes three or four years to “hit your stride” as a teacher, he said.
Over 67 percent of Teach for America participants end up staying in the field of education after their commitment, although only 6 percent anticipate doing so beforehand, Callado said.
Although some corps members choose not to continue to work in education after participating in Teach for America, the experience provides them with an understanding of the public education system that allows them to raise awareness about the current problems it faces, Garrod said.
Garrod said that while he supports Teach for America, he questions the amount of preparation participating teachers have before entering the classroom.
“Merely being a 3.8 out of Dartmouth isn’t adequate preparation to be a successful teacher,” Garrod said.
Many Dartmouth graduates who participate in Teach for America have not taken a single education class, Garrod said.
Garrod said that while there are “some things you can pick up as you go along,” students who have participated in the teacher certification process at the College are less likely to make errors when first starting out as a teacher.
“I’m a little skeptical because I think teachers do best when they’ve been prepared, and I don’t believe the length they spend preparing teachers is nearly long enough,” he said.
Paik said, however, that the organization looks for students “with the potential to be leaders, not just those who are well-educated.”
Additionally, Teach for America looks to hire “students who are committed to education reform,” Callado said.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Stephen Mandel ’78 sits on the Board of Trustees sits on Teach for America’s board of directors.