One Day, All Children & The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way
May 16, 2001
Like many skillful leaders whose successes throw them before the public's eye, Wendy Kopp has her share of detractors, including some within the ranks of the unique teaching corps she created. She has been criticized for never having taught herself and for placing inexperienced, uncredentialed teachers in classrooms all over the country (even though most principals adore their Teach for America teachers and are begging for more). And despite the fact that she has nearly single-handedly funneled more than 5,000 high-achieving college graduates into some of the most troubled schools in America—and consequently created a group of devoted advocates for equity in education (the author included)—Ms. Kopp nonetheless gets harangued for her reluctance to add herself to the already-crowded arena of education talking heads opining on innumerable policy issues.
Thus, her new book, which is heavy on the Teach for America story but light on policy talk and personal opinions about education reform, has been criticized for not taking a strong stand on the day's hot-button issues. But this book is vintage Kopp and provides the reader with an interesting glimpse into this reticent but supercharged leader.
Ms. Kopp conceived of Teach for America during her senior year at Princeton and simply set out to make it happen. Nothing, it seems, could distract her from this mission, although there were discouraging moments. She tells of staff revolts, disgruntled corps members, and the constant state of financial crisis that kept her scurrying from one prospective funder to another just to meet payroll. Through it all, she stayed focused on achieving her mission—a sustainable organization that would continuously feed new, capable teachers into failing schools—without bending toward what others might have wanted her to be (a warm and fuzzy people person, an outspoken critic of the public education system, a policy wonk using her position to try and sway public opinion, etc.).
One Day, All Children is not a Kozol-esque volume of affecting stories about children and the teachers that love them. It is a saga of young leadership and effective social entrepreneurialism. Perhaps it will inspire more individuals concerned with the fate of our education system to put these skills to use for the direct benefit of disadvantaged students.