What’s Right with Wendy Kopp’s Belief in Individuals


By Travis H. Brown, MBA

This week, a number of Missouri advocates for improving our schools had an unique chance to meet Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder of Teach for America. Wendy was kind enough to visit the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Later, she spoke before a packed audience as part of a book series on “What Works in Urban Education” at the Kansas City public library.

Wendy’s reality that Teach for America programs bring to both Kansas City and St. Louis public schools help return us to the vision that our Missouri State Constitutional fathers have for us still today in Article IX, Section 1(a):

“A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law.”

Teach for America (TFA) now has active teacher programs serving public school children in Kansas City and St. Louis. I was pleased to learn from Scott Baier, TFA St. Louis, and Alicia Herald, TFA Kansas City, report that TFA teacher allotments are expanding next year into Missouri.

TFA was founded on the premise that every child can and will learn if given the right mix of hope, instruction, and patience. Today, in our urban cores, they are doing what others only talk about: recruiting America’s brightest young minds, to educate perhaps our neediest kids. What’s even more amazing is that they do all this on less resources, with less time, and with remarkably high retention rates given the nature of their ambitions.

Perhaps the key element of TFA’s belief lies in individual empowerment – both inside the teacher making a difference, as well as inside the mind of children often several grade levels behind. Wendy Kopp’s initial entrepreneurial spark to challenge institutional systems is now becoming America’s mainstream solution – one individual at a time.

And why not? Isn’t that the America that harbored all of our dreams? I for one refuse to think that my nine digit zip code and place of birth should dictate the quality of our public education. Every Missourian deserves access to a great education – by any means necessary – including, if available, from an unlikely volunteer leader eager to change the world, inside my school district.

Maybe that’s why Missouri school administrators are hiring all of the TFA teachers that they can find. For the sake of society, I hope that they find more.