Anoptimistic 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—orpossibly 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 todeliver on thepromise ofa 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.
From the Publisher
Education Next, February 3, 2011
“The strength of ‘A Chance to Make History' is in documenting that genuine reform can and is taking place throughout the country. Its limitation is that by focusing on certain key individuals in what she calls “Transformational Leadership,” Wendy Kopp has chosen not to delineate broader questions of culture, educational policy at both local and national levels, and systems of student and teacher evaluation without which no substantial and nation-wide system of educational reform can take place.”
Basil and Spice, February 1, 2011
“When I picked up ‘A Chance to Make History,' I expected to read a glowing history of Teach For America. While Kopp is justly proud of the organization she founded two decades ago, her book goes beyond TFA to explore realistic solutions to the chronic problem of underperforming schools that turn out underperforming students. This exploration makes it a valuable addition to the vast amount of literature on educational reform.”
MotherJones.com, February 10, 2011
“High school freshmen and veteran policy wonks alike will find A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn't in Providing an Excellent Education for All to be accessible and engaging.”
Huffington Post, March 14, 2011
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2010
“An optimistic narrative about school reform from an author with an unusual perspective
Kopp's insistence on aiming high should make it required reading for all professional educators.”
More Magazine, January 2011
“Kopp offers a perspective on lessons learned as she spotlights particularly effective teachers and techniques that have helped poor children from underperforming schools to exceed standards and get into college. Following profiles of teachers and schools, she offers lessons that are widely applicable.”
Time.com, January 6, 2011
“The group's 20th birthday coupled with its growing network of alumni means that TFA and Kopp, who is about to publish a new book and is becoming more vocal on school reform issues, will be in the news a lot this year.”
Washington Post, February 4, 2011
“Kopp's new book written with Steven Farr, ‘A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn't in Providing an Education for All,' offers an intriguing summary and analysis of all she has wrought
Kopp's book makes many valid if counter-intuitive points about why Teach For America makes sense.”