February 1, 2016
Dear Supporters and Advocates,
In these final weeks leading up to Teach For America’s 25th Anniversary Summit, I am reflecting on the power and potential of this moment we’re in as a leading education organization, and as part of the broader movement for equity in America.
I was a freshman at Nikki Rowe High School in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas when Wendy Kopp put into action her big idea to focus the passion and leadership of a generation into the promise of an excellent education for all children by launching an organization called Teach For America. I remember the exact moment I learned about TFA, and I remember how deeply it resonated in my soul. I wanted to be part of this team of people so committed to something that mattered so greatly; who would go to extraordinary lengths to do right by kids who looked like me; who had the audacity to believe young people could make a profound difference in the face of intractable problems standing between the ideals of a nation I loved and a starkly disappointing reality; who were bound by a fierce belief that all children, from American Indian reservations in South Dakota to Oakland to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bronx, should have the opportunity to write their own stories and fulfill their true potential.
It’s incredible to go home to the Rio Grande Valley and see dramatic progress toward a vision that 25 years ago we could not have dreamed: For kids growing up in my community, my story is increasingly not the exception but the expectation. Pharr–San Juan–Alamo Independent School District, where many corps members and alumni work, has increased its graduation rate from 72.8 percent in 1998 to over 90 percent today. Almost all high schools in South Texas districts have early-college options for students, setting a powerful expectation that students will go on to college. Change is happening in this community, and indeed, in schools and districts in rural and urban communities across America, where students and families are coalescing around a new bar for what’s possible. This would not be happening without Teach For America working alongside brilliant students and committed educators and families in my hometown and across the nation.
Our 25th Anniversary Summit comes at a pivotal moment for the future of the movement. Public awareness of educational inequity is at an all-time high, and there is broad consensus that our public education system fails to meet the needs of students today or prepare them for what will be required in the future. Yet a divisive public debate on how to make change (and how we have made change) persists, and it’s impeding the American ingenuity and momentum for the systemic change and collective action we need to realize educational excellence and equity for all children in our lifetime.
This conflict is shaping the conditions that our students and our community of Teach For America educators step into every day, and it’s pushing the next generation of potential educators and leaders away from these efforts.
But rising to and overcoming challenges is as much the fabric of Teach For America as it is of our nation. In 1990, it was by no means a given that young leaders with diverse backgrounds and experiences would be motivated to teach in underserved communities; that schools would choose to hire them; that we could prepare and support them to have a positive impact on students; or that their teaching experience would ground and shape their long-term leadership. It was difficult for many to imagine the entrepreneurial force this would become—the leaders who would pioneer classrooms, schools, systems of schools, social innovations, laws, and public policy that would challenge and replace the prevailing narrative in our nation that children born in poverty are destined to lives defined by that circumstance. This leadership has proved, unequivocally, that given the opportunities and support they deserve, all children can attain an excellent education.
Today, after 15 years of rapid growth, Teach For America is a network of more than 50,000 remarkable, diverse leaders stretching across the nation and bound by an unbreakable belief—a fierce, unwavering belief in the potential of all students and in their right to an excellent education. The next generation of Teach For America will revolutionize that unparalleled network of incredible individual leaders into a connected, thriving community—and harness the power of collective leadership and action to accelerate the transformation of public education and propel our nation forward.
We are a constantly evolving organization, and over time we have improved how we train teachers and develop the next generation of leaders. And now, at our 25th anniversary, we are ready to change not incrementally, but by leaps and bounds, to embrace the lessons we carry forward and the potential of this moment. In 2015, we launched a new strategic direction grounded in three essential objectives:
- Strengthen our community.
- Pivot our programmatic model of transformational learning and leadership.
- Rally the next generation of leaders to join this effort.
This year's annual report is a window into how these priorities will help us realize our potential as a force for change and remain at the vanguard of education in this next era.
Of many lessons from our first 25 years, one rises to the top: Wherever we see transformational change, we see transformational leadership. TFA’s most significant contribution to the effort to expand opportunity for all children will continue to be the leadership of remarkable people.
Investing in leadership takes vision. The leaders of the first few corps of Teach For America could not have known that they were kick-starting a revolution in education with two future chancellors of D.C. Public Schools, the future state superintendent of Tennessee, a future National Teacher of the Year, the founders of KIPP, the future president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board, and the minds behind some of our country’s most innovative social ventures. It’s impossible to know what a classroom, school, and system in which every child fulfills her potential will look like. What we do know is that it will take bold, transformational leadership to imagine and then build a place where every child can thrive. We know that the leadership experience of Teach For America shapes the perspective of an individual for a lifetime. We know that the individual and collective leadership of Teach For America corps members and alumni in this next era will change us and move our nation even closer to our aspirations and our potential.
Thank you for supporting Teach For America. Thank you for your unwavering belief in the potential of all children. Thank you for your partnership in pursuit of our shared vision that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. The stakes for our nation and the test of our courage and conviction have never been greater.
With gratitude and ganas,