The MSE Symposium presented Teach for America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp in Shriver Hall on Wednesday.
The audience consisted of 50 people, or one person for every 26 who had attended MSE’s first event, Seth Meyers. Kopp began by stating the core problem facing TFA and innumerable students, teachers and policy-makers in America.
“The issue is that in our country, which aspires to be a place of equal opportunity, more so than in any other developed country in the world, where you are born and the color of your skin determines your educational outcome,” Kopp said.
From this premise, the core of Kopp’s speech focused on the ability of individuals within the education system to make a tangible difference. Multiple times, she re-stated the MSE Symposium’s theme of “The Power of the Individual,” shifting it to the “power of the pioneer.” She talked about herself, outstanding teachers and founders of alternative schools as examples of this power.
“These weren’t actually superheroes... they were people who were basically doing what great leaders do,” Kopp said, referring to the outstanding teachers she has experienced.
Kopp additionally emphasized the power of a group of these visionary individuals.
“It’s not about just one pioneer, it’s about lots of people working together in a coordinated effort, who share the same convictions and the same values,” Kopp said.
Her whole speech, however, lasted only 25 minutes before she opened the floor to questions.
After 20 more minutes, the questions were also cut short. She took personal questions after her presentation, and a line of students waited to talk about career paths and other concerns.
During the question and answer period of the symposium’s event, one Hopkins student asked her what she felt the most severe problem facing schools was and possible ways to fix it. Kopp said that she believed the biggest problem was in the highest poverty communities.
“In the communities in which we’re working, kids have the opposite of safety nets; if one thing goes wrong, it begins this downward cycle because they just don’t have the resources available to solve that problem. There are just so many extra stressors and challenges,” Kopp explained.
Her solution to this problem serves as the core for TFA: for kids to be exposed to dedicated teachers who will exceed expectations and do the extra work to fill the shortfalls of their schools.
After the presentation, students said they enjoyed the talk.
“The most memorable part was probably at the very end, when she talked about problems in our local community and in Baltimore,” freshman Rebecca Grenham said. “I guess that kind of struck close to home, especially because we’re college students at one of the top universities in the world and people ten minutes away are not receiving half as good an education, which is very disturbing.”
Throughout her talk, Kopp cited Baltimore and other statistics, showing the recent progress in minimizing the achievement gap and the necessity for more work to be done in this arena. In Baltimore, only 6 percent of students graduate from college.
Nationally, 50 percent of students graduate school with an education equivalent to only an eighth grade skill level.
Although places like New York have seen relative success, with the fourth graders a full year ahead of where they were a decade ago, there is still lots of progress to be made.
TFA seeks to make this progress. It is a non-profit organization that addresses issues of educational inequality by sending high-achieving college graduates and professionals to low-income communities to teach for two or more years.
Founded in 1990, the organization now receives almost 50,000 applicants and operates on a budget of just under $250 million.