Make more noise, be louder, push harder.
That’s the advice from feminist leader Gloria Steinman and civil rights leader John Lewis at this weekend’s Teach for America Alumni Summit, which drew 11,000 people.
The results Teach for America, their alumni, the enterprises they have launched, and their friends have accomplished is mind-boggling. Thanks to Teach for America , students who had been ignored are living dreams – completing college and breaking out of poverty. Schools built by alumni are breaking levels of performance that were assumed impossible. For example, Julie Jackson, the principle, at NorthStar Academy in Newark, has taken one of the worst performing schools in the state and is delivering results comparable to the best school in New Jersey.
Communities that had the poorest education standards in the country – New Orleans and Washington DC – are starting to rise from the dust, and even offering some lessons in what can be done right. In Baltimore, a new generation of public officials is emerging – people who have lived in a classroom. Colorado is passing promising legislation focused on teacher excellence after senators are visiting the TFA classrooms.
I would speculate that if we check out Facebook in 2020, TFA alumni will dominate the list of the most admired leaders, just as Peace Corps alumni did 30 years ago.
Across the country, teaching is getting renewed respect. Teaching jobs are now some of the most sought after positions by the best performing college students. TFA is the only institution that can consistently compete against Goldman Sachs and McKinsey for candidates and win. Parents who demand excellence of their sons and daughters are no longer questioning their children’s decision to go into teaching. President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan recognize the new standards of possible. And for me, a business-person, the number and scope of entrepreneurial ventures that have been launched on efforts as diverse as training principals to providing one-on-one mathematical teaching with computers is nothing short of Silicon Valley.
It is the synergy and focus within this group that is making these leaders, leaders extraordinaire. As part of Teach for America, groups in a school meet and collectively learn from each other and mistakes, not unlike the Japanese education system. At this conference, the number of formal and informal meetings trading ideas and helping each other was a community collectively solving problems and creating new possibilities for education in America.
TFA believes that good leadership will lead to good teaching –- if you know how to lead and manage your classroom, it will lead to achievement gains with your students, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Effective leadership is creating a culture so that the impossible is possible. That is what this group is doing individually and collectively in and out of the classroom. The optimism, caring, commitment, and energy of the 11,000 people is contagious.
Teach for America’s challenge now is to scale fast without losing the focus on putting their core members in the high-need and hard-to-staff places. America’s challenge is that we can not afford not to. It is this community of 11,000 that have convinced me we will.