changing of the guard

Kopp, Teach for America's founder, shifts to international role

Teach for America’s founding CEO, Wendy Kopp (center), is being replaced by two top executives at the 23-year-old nonprofit. (Photo: Teach for America)

Nearly 24 years after first sketching out Teach for America in her undergraduate thesis, founding CEO Wendy Kopp is stepping down from running the organization, according to a decision that its board approved on Tuesday.

Kopp will instead focus on running Teach for All, the nonprofit she launched in 2007 to support organizations in other countries as they adopt the Teach for America model of recruiting and training strong teachers to work in high-need schools. Two dozen countries currently have Teach for All programs.

Kopp’s departure marks the start of a new phase for Teach for America, which grew from 500 teachers in 1990 to more than 10,000 in 46 regions today, including nearly a thousand in New York City, along the way jumpstarting a paradigm shift in teacher preparation. Nonprofit organizations are notorious for tending to struggle after their charismatic founders move on.

But Kopp’s successors have been steeped in her leadership. The group’s board chose Teach for America’s top executives, Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard, to share the CEO position starting March 1. Kramer is the organization’s president, and Villanueva Beard — who was a Teach for America “corps member” in rural Texas — is its chief operating officer.

And Kopp will continue to influence the nonprofit’s vision and direction as the chair of its board. Kopp offered one hint of what that direction might look like in an open letter last month to Gary Rubinstein, a New York City teacher who entered the classroom through Teach for America but has been critical of it in the decades since.

Responding to Rubinstein’s charge that the organization promotes only certain ideas about how to improve schools, Kopp said she had always worked to create a “big tent” for ideas, in large part by not asserting her own in many cases (but not all). She wrote:

However, I’ve learned the hard way that silence just reinforces misunderstanding. Going forward, our goal is to show the plurality of opinion within our community and provide more outlets to challenge one another and share our best thinking.

I believe there is real misunderstanding about what opinions Teach For America wants to hear – misunderstanding we haven’t done enough to combat. When corps members and alumni assume their opinions defy conventional wisdom and no one wants to hear them, they often choose not to speak up. This becomes a self-perpetuating problem. The people who do speak up express similar views, which reinforces the impression that we all think one way and discourages dissenting opinions.

Changing this will require more than providing discussion forums – it involves the difficult work of changing culture. As you’ve noticed, over the past year we’ve made a concerted effort to do just that by encouraging honest engagement and debate on several platforms, both inside and outside the organization.

Kopp’s successors appear to be carrying out that vision. Among the pair’s first acts, according to a letter they sent to Teach for America’s participants and backers today, will be a “listening tour” to solicit guidance from teachers, alumni, and supporters.

To support the board and the co-CEOs during the transition, one board member, Richard Parsons, is becoming an “independent lead director.” Parsons is also the chair of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission, whose first report last month included a recommendation to expand the use of alternative certification programs in New York State.

Kopp’s decision to run Teach for All full-time suggests that she no longer sees being New York City’s schools chancellor as “the best job in the world” after being Teach for America’s CEO.

Teach for America’s full press release is below. (Disclosure: GothamSchools’ board chair Sue Lehmann is on Teach for America’s national board.)

TEACH FOR AMERICA FOUNDER VOTED CHAIR OF THE BOARD
— Teach For America’s COO and President to become co-CEOs —

NEW YORK, NY – February 13, 2013 – In a vote yesterday, the Teach For America Board of Directors named CEO and founder Wendy Kopp as board chair, succeeding Walter Isaacson, who will become chair emeritus after more than seven years as chair. The board also appointed Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard co-CEOs of Teach For America, effective March 1. Kopp will continue in her current role as founding CEO of Teach For All, a global network working to expand educational opportunity.

As board chair of Teach For America, Kopp will work closely with Villanueva Beard and Kramer to inform the organization’s strategic direction. She will develop and lead the national board of directors, cultivate external support, and provide advice and counsel to the leadership team.

“Today’s announcement reflects Teach For America’s strength. Our dramatic growth over the past few years calls for more leadership capacity to respond to growing needs and opportunities,” said Isaacson. “We are excited to elevate two proven leaders who have a lot more to contribute and free up our founder to focus on the areas where she can add the most unique value.”

Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matt Kramer have served as senior members of Teach For America’s leadership team for eight years, and this transition is a natural evolution of their existing responsibilities. As co-CEOs, they will be jointly accountable for the organization’s performance and will assume the leadership role in charting its strategic direction, developing its team and culture, building external relationships, and raising public awareness.

Elisa Villanueva Beard will oversee Teach For America’s regional operations and represent the organization publicly. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Villanueva Beard joined Teach For America in 1998, teaching bilingual first and second grade in Phoenix for three years. She then spent four years as executive director of Teach For America’s Rio Grande Valley region, before joining the national staff as chief operating officer. In that position, she managed Teach For America’s now 46 regions, which are responsible for the placement and development of more than 10,000 corps members, fostering the leadership of their local alumni, and raising 80 percent of Teach For America’s funding.

“Having grown up in the Rio Grande Valley, my life’s work is fighting for educational justice for underserved kids in my hometown and across the country,” said Villanueva Beard. “I am honored to continue this work as co-CEO of Teach For America, an organization that I know has such deep potential to move us toward the day when all children have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. Matt and I look forward to working together to take Teach For America to the next level.”

Matt Kramer will manage all aspects of the central Teach For America structure, including recruiting and admissions, corps member training, administration, development, marketing and communications, and central programmatic support of the regions. Inspired by his wife’s experience as a corps member, Kramer originally joined Teach For America as chief program officer in 2005. He then moved into the role of president, where over the past five years he has helped oversee all aspects of Teach For America’s national operations, from growth and strategy to performance and organizational culture.

“I am thrilled to continue my partnership with Elisa, now as co-CEOs of Teach For America,” said Kramer. “Teach For America plays such an important role in developing the leadership our country needs to live up to our highest ideals, and Elisa and I are eager to continue the hard work of ensuring that all children in our country have the opportunity to reach their full potential. I am also excited that we will continue to benefit from Wendy Kopp’s extraordinary energy and wisdom in her new role as chair of the board.”

To ensure strong governance, the board has created a new role of independent lead director and has appointed Dick Parsons, former CEO and chairman of Time Warner, to this position. As chair of the board’s executive committee, he will help ensure the effectiveness of the board, support the development of the co-CEOs, and provide additional support in cultivating external relationships.

As CEO of Teach For All, Kopp leads a growing global network of independent organizations that, like Teach For America, are enlisting their countries’ most promising future leaders to become lifelong advocates for educational excellence and equality. Now in its sixth year, the Teach For All network includes organizations in 26 countries worldwide. In the coming years, Teach For All aims to build support for the growth of the network and its partners, and to accelerate the growth and progress of its partners by fostering learning, sharing, and innovation.

“It has been my privilege to serve as CEO of both Teach For America and Teach For All for more than five years,” said Kopp. “Today’s announcement helps ensure that each organization has the leadership capacity necessary to meet growing aspirations. Elisa and Matt are exceptional leaders and great partners. They have already contributed immeasurably to Teach For America’s growth and impact and I look forward to supporting them as they lead Teach For America into the future.”

About Teach For America
Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding individuals of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. Today more than 10,000 corps members are teaching in 46 urban and rural regions across the country, while nearly 28,000 alumni are working across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. For more information, visit http://www.teachforamerica.org/ and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”