Video: Challenge to bring in good teachers

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    >>> colleges the unsung heroes of america's education system . to reduce the dropout rate, the bill and ma linda gates foundation pledged almost $35 million. here's melinda gates on the "today" program.

    >> we have today over 8 million students in community colleges and these are students that you don't think of, nontraditional students, and the idea is to not have just 25% of them today complete with some sort of certificate or degree but to get so many more of them through the system, make it easier to complete community college to go on and get a job in the economy.

    >> wendy kopp joins us, from fortune magazine 's most powerful women's conference. teach for america has been really front and center in the reform debate and community colleges , of course, are participate of this debate. but in terms of primary and secondary education, how do you break the cycle and bring teachers in who are from higher percentage of achievement? you've done that and been more selective. how do you deal with the pushback from unions and others resisting this kind of broadening of the recruitment for teach eers in america.

    >> we worked in partnership with unions. we're on campuses across the country and beyond. sending the message that we need this country's future leaders to step up and do something about what we believe is our country's greatest social injustice which is just the fact that still today where you're born determines your eldcational prospects and, in turn, life prospects. i think the reason -- i think there are many reasons this message is resonating maybe more today than ever before and i think a lot of it is what we've learned in the last 20 years of this effort in urban and rural communities . what we've learned is giving us such optimism that actually we could make this happen. we can, to use your phrase, break the cycle of poverty by investing in education. and i think people want to be part of that.

    >> you've had an extraordinary increase in recruit lt, perhaps some of this is the economy but 46,000 applicants. take the top 10%. that is really a highly selective acceptance rate but at the same time how do you keep these young people after the first couple of years, the third year, there is an attrition rate which some would say is too high, for these very active, very enthusiastic young teachers.

    >> you know, i think it's important to understand, i guess, what teach for america is working to do. we're really a leadership finish initiati initiative, working to fuel the larger movement to ensure that all of our kids have an excellent education by enlisting our future leaders in the effort and the idea is that these are people with extraordinary leadership ability. they commit two years to teach in our highest poverty communities, teaching successfully in this context in urban and rural schools is an act of leader shship. we invest a lot in their training and support, so in the short run we're one more source of very committed teachers. many will continue teaching beyond their two years. others will decide, and this is the second part of what teach for america is working to do, you know, to fuel a leadership force of people who will work at every level of our education system ultimately at every level of policy and across our professional sectors to affect the systemic changes we need to see in order to truly solve the problem. some of our people will decide i want to become a principal. we have 600 who are running schools in urban and rural areas right now. others will decide i want to be a school superintendent or, you know what, i want to run for state senate and ultimately higher forms of political office . we think all that have is important. ultimately teachers alone going above and beyond to try to make up for all the weaknesses of the system doesn't ultimately solve the problem either.

    >> wendy kopp from teach for america , the founder, innovator, thank you so much for joining us.

updated 1/27/2011 10:49:44 AM ET 2011-01-27T15:49:44

Teach For America, the education organization that has placed recent college graduates in low-income public schools, is getting $100 million to launch its first-ever endowment in hopes of making the grass-roots organization a permanent fixture in education.

The program — which is now in communities from Atlanta to rural New Mexico to Los Angeles — announced Thursday that four philanthropists are joining to create a stable, long-term source of money. It's welcome news for an organization that had more than 46,000 applications for just 4,400 teaching slots this academic year.

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"A few years ago we embraced the priority of making Teach For America an enduring American institution that can thrive as long as the problem we're working to address persists," said founder Wendy Kopp, who dreamed up Teach For America for her undergraduate thesis and launched it in 1990. "I think it's only appropriate in our country — which aspires to be a place of equal opportunity — that we have an institution which is about our future leaders making good on that promise."

It's also likely to be unwelcome news for teachers' unions and other opponents, who say Teach For America puts inexperienced 20-somethings with just five weeks of training in classrooms and most of them move on after their two years of service. Some have criticized it as an organization that lets top graduates experiment in public education for a couple of years before moving on to something else.

Teach for America says one-third of its alumni keep teaching after two years, and two out of three remain in the field, some in as public-policy analysts or school administrators. It points to studies that show its teachers are at least as effective as those who enter the teaching profession in more traditional ways.

The idea of an endowment started with philanthropist Eli Broad, who pledged $25 million from his Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and encouraged others to commit to the project. Three more foundations stepped up with matching funds: the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Robertson Foundation and philanthropists Steve and Sue Mandel.

The endowment will only produce about 2 percent of Teach For America's $200 million budget at first, but Kopp said that will grow over time. The organization gets its budget from nonprofits, corporations and federal grants, but those aren't always dependable.

Kopp said she hopes that steady stream of revenue means the organization can double the number of active corps members serving two-year terms to 15,000 and increase the communities they reach from 39 to 60.

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Broad, whose foundation gives out the nation's top prize in public education each year, has donated $41 million total to Teach For America since its inception. He said he wanted to form an endowment to ensure the program persists.

"Instead of it being viewed as a movement, we have to make it look like an institution," Broad said in a telephone interview. "One of the ways you do that is an endowment like a college or university has."

Not only is Teach for America celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but Kopp's second book, "A Chance to Make History," debuted this week. The book outlines the lessons Kopp has learned as she's watched her organization's teachers try to change educational outcomes for the nation's poorest children.

"When I started on this endeavor 20 years ago, truly the prevailing notion at the time was that kids' socio-economic circumstances would determine their educational outcome," Kopp said. "Today we're surrounded by hundreds of examples of whole classrooms and schools that are taking kids from rural and urban areas and putting them on a different trajectory."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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