Teach for America's 'Egypt Moment'

This past Saturday a swarm of education reformers met in D.C. to celebrate Teach for America's 20th anniversary; 11,000 alumni, activists, teachers, non-profit reps, administration officials, (including the Secretary of Education), feminist Gloria Steinem,  chancellors and former chancellors attended what some bloggers compared to a religious revival meeting.

Indeed a couple of weeks before the summit, Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA, promoting her newest book in an interview with Dana Goldstein at the Daily Beast, blurted out that she had "really drunk all of the TFA kool-aid for myself."

Actually Kopp, who once called her organization less a "teacher-education model" and more of a "movement for social justice," was not the only one who showed up over zealous for the all day event.

Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, told the crowd that "transformational change" wasn't enough. The educational system needed "radical change." And then coming the day after the 18 day uprising in Cairo, Klein rallied the troops:

Is this our Egypt moment? Will we seize the moment?...I challenge this group to seize the moment.

Klein along with other notables, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and Richard Barth, (Kopp's husband) touted education as America's next frontier. Barth founder of the lucrative KIPP schools plugged his venture stating, "We are working to ensure every KIPPster can leave the world better than they way found it."

Kaya Henderson, D.C.'s new interim chancellor and TFA class of ‘92, admitted to the attendees that she had been drinking the night before. Her remarks that DC schools were "chock-full of TFA teachers and alumni" and that "DC schools are tearing it up; We went through a bloody battle to get there" were just the beginning.  She then nixed American history in favor of the French:

We need to storm the Bastille and take over the school district

Louisiana Department of Education's Paul Pastorek also joined the fray. He jubilantly exclaimed that we need to "Break up the monopolies...Because we have to define what will be a truly great school. We need the flexibility to innovate. We need the city to get out of the way."

Pastorek hopes to grow new schools, fund them and root out the bad ones with his "seed, feed and weed" initiative. His enthusiasm for a radical decentralization of the system via charter schools went over big at the summit.

Shana Brodaux, senior manager of Early Childhood programs, Harlem Children's Zone, spoke during the afternoon session entitled, "From Cradle to Kindergarten: the role of early childhood education in ending educational equity."

Brodaux, who has an MS in non-profit management from the Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy, stresses the importance of programs that target children while they are still "in the womb."  Brodaux posited a true Rousseauian educational approach.

The contagious zeal continued until the end when President Obama sent a comparatively understated video message praising Kopp's ability to "harness the desire of young people to make a difference."  The  day-long hoopla, complete with all the current movers and shakers in the education reform movement, may have revealed a bit more than Kopp, the "godmother of social entrepreneurism," intended. 

Read more M.Catharine Evans at www.potterwilliamsreport.com