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Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp

What began as Wendy Kopp’s undergraduate thesis at Princeton University in 1989 is now funneling thousands of teachers into low-income schools across the country, including Denver.

Teach for America recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and Kopp, the CEO, was in Denver earlier this week to talk about lessons learned and her new book, A Chance to Make History.

She fielded questions from Dan Ritchie, chair of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and a standing-room-only audience at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Lodo.

“We didn’t create schools to transform kids’ trajectories,” she said. “We’ve never really said that’s the mandate. So we need teachers who are willing to go way outside of the four walls, the traditional expectations, to provide their kids with the extra supports that they need.”

A big fear, she said, is the oversimplification of the solutions needed to improve public education.

“It’s funding or charters or vouchers or any one thing,” Kopp said. “Now it’s teachers, that’s the latest thing, just fix the teachers and we’ll fix the problem.”

It’s not that simple, she said:

“And the longer we defer the effort to basically build the capacity of our education system so that we have the people power, and also change the policy context so that they are kind of empowered to do what it takes to fulfill a different mandate, we’re just deferring the day when we actually make serious, big change in a meaningful way.”

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