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By Stephanie Bragdon
October 3, 2013
Caption : POLITICO, Google, and the Tory Burch Foundation hosted Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp at a lecture this morning in D.C. as part of the "Women Rule" campaign lecture series.     

In 1989, Teach for America started as a dream of Wendy Kopp’s that would work to fix the inequalities found in the American education system. In college, Kopp wrote her thesis on educational inequality, which led to the creation of Teach for America. Her goal was to create a long term impact by giving future leaders the opportunity to work in and change the education system. However, implementing this idea was easier said than done.

After graduation, Kopp said she was “naïve and inexperienced, with no real understanding of what wasn’t possible.” People, including her college advisor, thought she was crazy to attempt such a big project, but she chose to ignore them. In the first year, 500 college graduates signed up for a two-year enlistment in TFA. Now, twenty-five years later, there are 11,000 corps members working in the nation’s highest-need urban and rural regions.

This morning, Kopp discussed her career and involvement with the U.S. education system at a lecture called “Women Rule: In Her Words,” which was sponsored by POLITICO, Google, and the Tory Burch Foundation. This Women Rule campaign explores how women are leading change in politics, policy, and their communities. The program focused on Kopp’s current projects including Teach for America and Teach for All.

To begin the conversation, Kopp shared some startling statistics. Twenty percent of American’s children live in poverty, a population that sees only 0.125 percent pursue higher education. Compare that to 80% of students who will go to college from high-income households. This is a problem. The system is failing the students. This is where Kopp and Teach for America enters the situation with a solution for this problem. TFA trains college graduates to teach in these low-income students to provide them a better opportunity for success in the classroom.

“Education is the tool to get kids out of poverty,” Kopp said.

Programs like Teach for America gives college graduates leadership experience and the opportunity to give back. Roughly 55% of TFA teachers come from similar backgrounds as their students, including race or socioeconomic status. TFA provides the necessary skill sets to get members involved in the political debate surrounding education, which is often ignored or pushed aside.

She compared America’s education to that of Poland or South Korea, which both do extremely well in educating their youth. She explained the importance of having people at every level of policy to help push the issue of education.

“There is a problem,” Kopp said. “We need to commit to higher standards.”

TFA provides an excellent training ground for young leaders to become involved and make a positive impact in their country.

Wendy Kopp exemplifies many other women making a difference throughout the country. Her idea is working to change the way education is shaped, both domestically and internationally. Teach for All, an organization Wendy co-founded with the help of other social entrepreneurs abroad, brings the TFA model to other countries to help develop the country’s education system and its young adults.

Kopp continues to fight to better America’s education system and has high hopes for TFA growing influence.

Check out Kopp’s entire lecture below:

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