Teach For All's CEO, Wendy Kopp, was recently interviewed by International Innovation, a global publication that that provides unique access to content for the scientific, technology, and research communities. The following is the full text of the interview, reposted with permission.
Every child should have the basic human right to an education; however, in many regions this is not always realised. Teach For All works globally with an extensive network of partners and countries to fulfil its mission to train future leaders in the education sector and to ensure children around the world are given the learning opportunities to which they are entitled.
Teach For All works to eradicate the systemic, global issue of educational inequality. Why is this important?
Education has the power to transform and improve lives, communities and entire countries – this gives us hope and fuels our work. Yet across the world – in countries at all stages of development – socioeconomic background still largely dictates educational outcomes. This takes a massive toll on families, communities, countries and collective global welfare. It’s no coincidence that repression, unemployment and terrorism thrive where education does not. In today’s interconnected world, where our economic prosperity, public safety and environmental sustainability are linked, low educational levels and big educational disparities affect us all.
What inspired you to start Teach For All, and how has your professional background contributed to the organisation’s rapid development?
I met many inspiring social entrepreneurs who discovered Teach For America or Teach First in the UK and were determined to address the gap in educational opportunity in their own countries. They were looking for support to recruit and develop their nation’s most promising future leaders, and so the founder of Teach First and I created Teach For All in 2007.
As CEO, I oversee the growth and development of our global network, which works to increase our partners’ impact. That means extensive travel! I visit our partner organisations worldwide to better understand their educational concerns and how they are addressing them. Along with our team, I ensure that we’re doing all we can to facilitate learning and communication across the network.
Leading Teach For America for over 20 years instilled in me a deep respect for the social entrepreneurs pioneering these organisations and has given me some understanding of the challenges they face and the support they need. While I’ve brought some experience in how to start and scale an organisation, Teach For All is a completely different enterprise with its own set of challenges. Most people intuitively understand the need to improve education in their own country; it’s much more difficult to convince them to invest in improving education globally.
Are you working to strengthen STEM education?
Teach For All programmes aim to recruit and develop maths and science teachers, and foster their ongoing leadership as alumni working for broader curriculum and teacher training that will strengthen STEM education overall. Teach For Sweden, for example, places teachers exclusively in STEM subject areas, and programme applicants are required to have at least half of their university credits in math, technology or science. Our partners in New Zealand and Australia also recruit a large percentage of participants to teach STEM subjects – the majority of Teach First NZ and 42 per cent of Teach For Australia fellows.
Teach For America has worked in partnership with STEM organisations such as The Amgen Foundation and NASA’s Education Program to ensure more than 30 per cent of its members are secondary STEM teachers – compared to 12 per cent in the teaching field nationwide. Teach First UK partnered with the BP Foundation in 2013 to recruit additional science teachers in London’s most high-need communities and to fund a Leadership Officer to help these teachers to set goals that exceed national expectations. Teach For India is pursuing an online training portal that’s accessible to public school teachers, enabling professional development in maths and science – and other subjects – to impact far beyond programme fellows.
In addition, Teach For All alumni in the UK, Australia, Spain and Latvia are engaged in social enterprises, promoting STEM education on digital platforms such as online learning modules and open-source textbooks designed for both teachers and students.
If leadership is the core solution to transforming educational systems, what more can be done to implement this into the relevant sectors? How does Teach For All empower potential leaders to improve the educational system and challenge educational inequity?
Educational inequity is a deeply systemic problem in nature. To solve it willrequire strong leadership at every level of our education system – from classrooms to whole schools and school systems – as well as every level of policy and across sectors. Successful teaching in high-need communities is the foundational experience for committed and informed educational leadership and advocacy. So for the sake of the students growing up today, and for the pursuit of long-term system change, our partners invest a great deal in potential leaders, providing their participants with two years of intensive teacher training and professional development. They also offer ongoing support for programme alumni, who continue working for change both inside and outside the system.
Importantly, between 60 and 70 per cent of the teachers across our network commit to long-term careers in education. At the same time, it’s also crucial for some of them to take their conviction and insight into fields like policy, medicine and even business.
Could you discuss some of Teach For All’s main achievements?
Today, thousands of our teachers are inspiring students to take ownership of their education and grow their academic abilities, character strength and self-advocacy skills – opening the door to greater opportunity. Programme alumni often go on to lead the charge for educational equity in their countries, becoming veteran teachers, principals, policy makers and civic leaders.
The promise of this model can be seen in the US where Teach For America has been operating for nearly 25 years. Today, the programme attracts 60,000 applicants a year and fields more than 11,000 teachers across 48 urban and rural regions. Rigorous research shows that these teachers are having a positive impact on the success of their students. At the same time, Teach For America has produced 32,000 alumni – two-thirds of whom are working in full-time education. Across the country, Teach For America alumni are exerting entrepreneurial, student-focused leadership that is making a huge difference. As one indication, the recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that Tennessee and Washington, DC, made more progress in the last two years than most states have in the last 10. Teach For America alumni served as the state commissioner of education and the schools chancellor, respectively, and in many other roles throughout the leadership teams and ranks of the reform efforts.
Similarly, Teach First, founded in 2002, is today the largest graduate recruiter in the UK, providing over 2,100 teachers in nine regions across England and Wales, with over 2,600 alumni – more than 74 per cent of whom remain in education.
Through Teach For All, we are seeing how deeply the model resonates across diverse contexts. Our partners are attracting many of their nation’s most promising graduates. Early independent evaluations show positive impact in classrooms; for example, preliminary results from a Columbia University four-year longitudinal study on Teach For India suggests that Fellows have a more significant impact on their students than current teaching interventions. Additionally an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)-funded study showed that Enseña Chile teachers have a positive impact on their students’ academic, behavioural and socioemotional outcomes. Not only are most alumni across the network staying within education, we’re also seeing them exert the kind of leadership and entrepreneurship witnessed in the US and UK.
What can be learned from educational practices in other countries?
So much! Thanks to global surveys like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), we have more information than ever before about what distinguishes the most successful classrooms, schools and school systems globally. Top-performing, fast-improving countries embrace high standards for students by fostering critical thinking, investing in teacher development and committing themselves to equality by providing disadvantaged students with more support.
Significantly, Shanghai – which has topped worldwide rankings in recent years – has embraced a global approach to education – a so called ‘open door’ policy. They encourage their educators to travel the world, to see what was working elsewhere and bring back those practices to Shanghai.
How significant is collaboration and interdisciplinarity to your work? What can be gained from taking such an approach?
Collaboration is indispensable, not just for Teach For All, but for all to succeed in this new global age of education. As I recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, we must stop thinking of education as a zero-sum game (ie. if China is up, the US is down) and realise that we all have a stake in whether children across the globe receive a quality education. A rising tide lifts all boats – and so we must work in the same way. Teach For All’s social entrepreneurs are collaborating and adapting daily. For instance, Teach For All alumni in Mumbai, London and Santiago are pioneering new schooling models designed to meet the extra needs of low-income students, inspired by learning from and working with leaders of high-performing charter schools in the US.
What is your vision for the future?
We picture a world where Teach For All partners in virtually every country are channelling talented and committed leaders towards expanding educational opportunity. We envision these leaders innovating and spreading new solutions in their countries and sharing them across borders, thus fuelling an ever-accelerating global movement for educational excellence and equity.
Educational inequality: the facts
Kopp explains how educational inequality differs from country to country Educational inequality is pervasive all over the world – in rich and poor countries alike. In China, children born in poor rural regions have a 5 per cent chance of going to college, compared to 80 per cent for urban children; this looks similar to the US, where fewer than 10 per cent of low-income children graduate from college compared with 80 per cent of children who are born in the top economic quartile. In India, only 10 per cent of children complete high school. In Peru, children from the lowest income quintile average seven fewer years of schooling than children from the top income quintile. Poor children often have more in common with peers in other countries than wealthier children in the same town, which indicates that we can share solutions across borders.
Teach For All’s global reach is key to their success, as Kopp outlines.
Our organisations operate in 32 countries on six continents – from Austria to Pakistan, Malaysia and New Zealand. We benefit tremendously from the fact that this model magnetises such incredible hearts, minds and souls in such diverse cultures. As a result, we see real innovation across the network. For example, Teach For India influenced the way Teach For America and Teach First train their teachers because of the insights generated by Shaheen Mistri, Teach For India’s founder who brought 17 years of experience working with children in Mumbai and Pune slums. Innovations spread from organisation to organisation, and now we’re seeing the pioneering innovations of programme alumni spread from place to place as well.
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Read the interview in International Innovation