The problem of educational inequality is universal.
Through our work with Teach For All, a network of organizations like Teach For America in 23 countries, we’ve discovered that countries at all stages of development struggle with significant educational disparities. Few if any countries or communities have broken the link between socioeconomic background and educational outcomes. In fact, poor children from different countries often have more in common with each other than they do with more affluent children in their own countries. No matter where they’re born, they typically attend schools that aren’t designed or resourced to meet their extra needs. An outdated set of assumptions about the potential of low-income children and the role of educational institutions perpetuate the situation.
We can’t be satisfied with incremental progress.
Over the past twenty years, hundreds of schools have shown us that we don’t have to settle for incremental change—it’s possible to provide disadvantaged students with the kind of education that puts their lives on a completely different trajectory. With extra support and high expectations, children in low-income communities can overcome enormous obstacles and excel on an absolute scale. Now that we know that it’s possible to give kids a transformational education—and recognize the dire consequences if we fail—we have a moral imperative to immerse ourselves in the lessons of successful schools and to act on them with urgency.
Leadership is at the core of the solution.
It is tempting to search for silver bullet solutions to educational inequity, and yet all over the world we see evidence that no one thing will solve the problem—not more money, not technology, not even teachers. Wherever we see meaningful changes for children—whether at the level of classrooms, schools or systems—it is always a function of extraordinarily dedicated, informed leadership. We need more people who will engage in this long, hard work as teachers, principals, and district leaders, and who will shape a supportive policy and community environment as political leaders, policy makers, and advocates. It would be nice if it were easier, but there is no way around the long-term effort to develop the leadership capacity necessary for change.
Recent college graduates are our greatest resource.
To win the fight against educational inequality, we must unleash the energy of our countries’ most promising future leaders against the problem. Fortunately, they don’t need any convincing—top college graduates all over the world are already clamoring to rise to this challenge. In its first year, Teach for Colombia had 1,000 applicants vying for 28 teaching spots, and every year Teach For America receives around 50,000 applications. We’ve found that two-year teaching commitments are foundational for lifetimes of educational leadership and advocacy. First-hand experience in high-needs classrooms gives recent grads insight into the problem, deepens their conviction that it can be solved, and shapes their career choices. Two-thirds of our 24,000 alumni in the U.S. are working in education today, and of those who have left education, half have jobs related to schools or low-income communities.
We can create ever-accelerating global movements for educational equity.
Consider this: in the year after Sir Roger Bannister broke the world record by running a mile in under 4 minutes, the record was broken again and again. Often it just takes one pioneer to show what feats are possible, and then many others follow suit. As education, policy and civic leaders around the world pioneer new solutions to educational inequity, we at Teach For All are working to bring them together so they can share their discoveries. By learning from each other we can accelerate progress in our communities, countries, and across the globe.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Wendy Kopp is CEO and co-founder of Teach For All, which is fueling a global movement for ensuring educational excellence and equity by accelerating the impact of national organizations that are enlisting their nations’ most promising future leaders in the effort.
Wendy founded Teach For America in 1989 to marshal the energy of her generation against educational inequity in the United States. Today, 9,000 Teach For America corps members—top recent college graduates of all academic disciplines—are in the midst of two-year teaching commitments in the nation’s highest-need urban and rural regions, and Teach For America has proven to be an unparalleled source of long-term leadership for educational change.
Just four years into its development, Teach For All is a growing network of 23 independent organizations around the world, including its co-founders’ Teach For America and the U.K.'s Teach First.
Wendy has been recognized as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards for public service. She is the author of A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All (2011) and One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way (2000). She holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University, where she participated in the undergraduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She resides in New York City with her husband Richard Barth and their four children.