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Reform: TFA's Engagement & Ideological Diversity Campaign

Teach For America Founder Wendy Kopp has written an open letter to critic Gary Rubinstein that you might not have seen and might find interesting (Open Letters FROM Reformers I Know) if only because reformers aren't generally known for engaging in open dialogue with their critics (or for spending much time engaging in debate online, for that matter).  

image from farm3.staticflickr.com

In her letter, Kopp reminds us that slightly more than half of TFA work in district schools, claims that there's no necessarily any "us vs. them" in education if we focus on the kids, and in particular rejects the notion that TFA is or has become ideologically rigid and narrow:

"Active and vocal alumni like you are proof that there’s no shortage of diverse opinion within the Teach For America community."  

But Kopp admits that TFA hasn't done enough to highlight the differences among TFA alumni, and blames the delay on TFA's much-delayed embrace of social media.

It's interesting to read how Kopp says she avoided having TFA take positions in part to create a big tent within the TFA community -- and only slowly came to realize that doing so didn't work.  

"I’ve learned the hard way that silence just reinforces misunderstanding... 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."

It's going to be difficult, Kopp acknowledges - a culture change as much as a technological or policy change.  On this front, she may understate the problem.  More opeds and encouraging blog posts are a good start but probably aren't going to cut it -- not even open letters like this one.

Putting folks like Rubinstein, Kamika Royal, and Steve Zimmer out front will be key.  What happens after that?  I have no idea.  If TFA pursued and achieved ideological diversity it would change the perception and practice of the organization at many levels, which could either reduce its reach and appeal or -- watch out, TFA haters! -- make TFA even more popular and compelling.

Previous posts:  TFA Responds To AFT "Bar Exam" Proposal,  Naive To Print Teachers' Scores, Says TFA FounderTurning School Reform Into A Soap Opera (critique of Brill book), TFA Founder Under Fire For Value-Added Views. Image via CCFlickr


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