Wendy Kopp Explains Teach For America

Question: How did you develop the concept for Teach For America?

Kopp:    You know, really, the fall of my senior year, I found myself, really, for the first time in a complete funk as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and also as I tried to figure out my thesis topic.  But there were a number of things going on in my head.  One, I’d been really focused on this issue of educational inequity.  Just the fact that where you’re born in our country does so much to determine your educational outcomes, and, of course, in turn, your life prospects, and as a public policy major and really just a concerned college student, I was thinking a lot about that issue, organized a conference about it that brought together college students with kind of leaders from across the country to think about what can we do to improve our education system.  And, one day, that concern just came together with my own search for what I really wanted to do after I graduated, and I just thought, you know, why aren’t we being recruited as aggressively to teach in low income communities as we were being recruited at the time to work on Wall Street, and, supposedly, our generation was “the me generation” and all we wanted to do was go work for these two-year corporate training programs, which I thought was great for people who really wanted to do that but, ultimately, I just thought that the label “the me generation” was wrong.  It wasn’t that that’s all we wanted to do.  It was that those there were the only people recruiting us.  So, that was where the idea of “Teach For America” came from and it became the perfect answer to my thesis dilemma. 

Question: What advice would you give to a young person looking to start her own organization?

Kopp:    You know, I would say that I had a number of things going for me with this particular big idea.  One was that, one was the timing.  I mean, truly, there really was a mood among college seniors where that was just conducive to this.  There was a tremendous need in school districts which were experiencing significant teacher shortages, and, you know, my senior spring, there was a front page article in Fortune Magazine saying that corporate America was going to take on education reform.  So, there were so many elements that made the timing for this perfect.  The other things is, I say this all the time, my greatest asset was my inexperience, my complete naïveté.   I was convinced that this both had to happen and could happen, that it had to start on a significant scale right from the start and really, no one was going to talk me out of this, like people would tell me how crazy this was and I would just not really hear it, and I think that was truly one of my biggest assets.  The other thing is that I think this particular idea was one that just very quickly magnetized just thousands of people, really, who really identified with the values on which it was built and just thought it made sense, you know, from college students who did in fact, you know, 2500 recent college graduates, you know, in four months responded to a grassroots recruitment campaign which at the time was flyers under doors, you know?  The folks in corporate America who were quoted in that article actually came through with seed grants and ultimately with significant support, so, you know, in the first year alone, corporations and foundations donated $2.5 million to make it possible, and there was tremendous support in the education community as well, in school districts, from central administrators, from school principals, from veteran teachers who were honestly inspired by this outpouring of idealism from this generation and wanted to be a part of it.  So I think we had a lot going for us in that initial year.

As a socially concerned senior at Princeton, Wendy Kopp created Teach For America as a response to the "Me Generation."

The world and workforce need wisdom. Why don’t universities teach it?

Universities claim to prepare students for the world. How many actually do it?

Photo: Take A Pix Media / Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Many university mission statements do not live up to their promise, writes Ben Nelson, founder of Minerva, a university designed to develop intellect over content memorization.
  • The core competencies that students need for success—critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and cross-cultural understanding, for example—should be intentionally taught, not left to chance.
  • These competencies can be summed up with one word: wisdom. True wisdom is the ability to apply one's knowledge appropriately when faced with novel situations.
Keep reading Show less

From zero to hero in 18 years: How SpaceX became a nation-state

SpaceX's momentous Crew Dragon launch is a sign of things to come for the space industry, and humanity's future.

Photo:Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
  • Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
  • Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.
Keep reading Show less

Six-month-olds recognize (and like) when they’re being imitated

A new study may help us better understand how children build social cognition through caregiver interaction.

Personal Growth
  • Scientists speculate imitation helps develop social cognition in babies.
  • A new study out of Lund University shows that six-month-olds look and smile more at imitating adults.
  • Researchers hope the data will spur future studies to discover what role caregiver imitation plays in social cognition development.
  • Keep reading Show less

    What the world will look like in the year 250,002,018

    This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now

    On Pangaea Proxima, Lagos will be north of New York, and Cape Town close to Mexico City
    Surprising Science

    To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.

    Keep reading Show less

    New study connects cardiovascular exercise with improved memory

    Researchers at UT Southwestern noted a 47 percent increase in blood flow to regions associated with memory.

    Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
    • The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
    • The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.
    Keep reading Show less