A younger woman with blonde and black hair wearing a black shirt, standing next to a podium looking forwards, holding her hands together, in front of a large projector screen.

#TFA25: What Will It Take to Reach One Day?

Saturday’s session at Teach For America’s 25th Anniversary Summit asked the question, “What will it take to reach One Day?” Seven accomplished speakers in the field of education aimed to answer it.
Saturday, February 6, 2016

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglass

That’s how former New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein opened Saturday’s session at Teach For America’s 25th Anniversary Summit that aimed to answer the question, “What will it take to reach One Day?”

With seven accomplished speakers in the field of education, the unifying theme between them was to recognize progress achieved, but more importantly, the progress yet to be completed and the obstacles that remain. Here are some highlights from the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C.:

Joel Klein:

A middle-aged man in a gray suit speaks from a podium with the Teach for America logo.

“In 25 years, Teach For America has done more to change the public school landscape more than anything else, so it’s appropriate to think about where we are and where we’re going. …Self-reflection is critical.”

“We’re in a presidential election and virtually no serious discussion about [education], the premier issue of our nation.”

“The people who created the great charter chains, the people who brought change to the school system, they came out of this great movement. If you don’t want radical change, you don’t want TFA. If you want a world of One Day, you want Teach For America.”

“What will it take us to get to One Day? Here, the answer lies in something that’s going to make us uncomfortable. It requires a different, a deeper, more robust understanding of politics and power and what we are dealing with. We do not understand the commitment to the status quo.”

“Schools alone are not the answer, but we can never be led to this false dichotomy that because they aren’t a complete solution, they aren’t an indispensable solution. Choice and accountability are incomplete as reform alone but are indispensable for success.”

Kevin Huffman, Former Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education:

A man with short brown hair in a charcoal suit speaks from a podium at the TFA 25th anniversary.

“Social mobility is an important issue. If you’re born well off, you don’t become poor. Where education comes in is as an intervention that could change that.”

“Schools don’t cause poverty. Our schools are not the reason people are poor but our systems of education play an institutionalized role perpetuating a caste system in America. …That is incredibly unacceptable.”

“My first two years [in Tennessee], the test scores went up to [record numbers]. Outside the state, not that many people reached out. But when we introduced a policy to change teacher licensure, a lot of people reached out because it was policy. It didn’t even become law. We’ve got to refocus on results, not policy.”

“Focus on perseverance. ...We were going to improve proficiency rates by 3 to 5 percent per year. People whispered that it wasn’t ambitious. Perseverance means improving by 3 percent and doing it again and again.”

Kira Orange Jones, Executive Director, Teach For America-New Orleans, and elected member, Louisiana Board, Elementary and Secondary Education:

A woman with thick curly black hair in a white blazer speaks from a podium at the TFA 25th anniversary event.

“When I think about what would be one element that would be critical in getting us closer to One Day, I believe it will ultimately be the ability of all of us as leaders, as educators, to be able to build our capacity to bridge more effectively.”

“What I mean is that the false dichotomy that has become a critical part of our education discourse—like either you are a new teacher or you are effective. Either you are African American from this community, or you are ineffective. There are many different ways that we’re going to have to find a bridge between huge tensions between ideology and ideas, and being able to ultimately find the way to bridge it to new solutions alongside our families and students if we are to achieve One Day.”

“A couple months ago, I made the decision to run again. This time, I surrounded myself with other leaders who are trying to better affect their students and bridge ideas. And what was particularly important was after that campaign cycle feeling way more effective.”

“I was able to win with 70 percent of the vote, which was an absolute landslide. 80,000 New Orleanians went to vote for me even though every day I stood there and said, ‘I am a low-income community. I am African American. I am Latina. I am a proud reformer. I am a proud Teach For America Executive Director.’”

Abigail Smith, Former Deputy Mayor of Education, District of Columbia:

A woman with blonde hair in a purple sweater speaks from a podium at the TFA 25th anniversary event.

“What will it take to reach One Day? It will take white folks digging deep and proactively and explicitly working to dismantle systems of racial oppression. …Not just work within them to get outcomes, but dismantle and rebuild them.”

“Are we owning our part in that system and doing our part in the work to change it? As parents, are we practicing what we preach? Are we buying into the notion that the way for our kids to succeed in life is to put them in elite environments which implicitly them that white people are meant to be leaders and winners, and people of color, by and large, are not? “

“Or are we putting our kids in schools that reflect the makeup of our communities, and resisting that fear that we are sacrificing our kids for a cause? Are we perpetuating the fiction that hard work is the sole differentiator of success, pointing to the people of color who have achieved that success as evidence? Are we pulling back the curtain with our kids, that even though the president is black, the system is still fundamentally rigged?”

“It will take white folks doing all of this anti-racism work in ways that are accountable to and in partnership with people of color, recognizing people of color should be central leaders in this movement for racial justice and for educational equity. …While our privilege is unearned and at times uncomfortable, it’s something we have to be prepared to use when it’s in service of changing that very power structure.”

Ana Ponce, CEO, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Los Angeles:

A woman with thick curly brown hair wearing a black sweater speaks from a podium at the TFA 25th anniversary event.

“We must work relentlessly. Academic preparation is the foundation to build good schools. But also, that our kids have access to health care. That they live in safe neighborhoods. That their parents make a living wage, and that they have safe water to drink. As educators, it is our shared responsibility to advocate for our children in education and adjacent challenges that impact their outcomes. That One Day is the day our nation moves beyond the token success of a few to provide universal access for all.”

“What will it take to reach One Day? Collective action, working in community, and fostering student agency.”

“Collective action is where we focus on harvesting our shared interests in the best interests of students, where we collaborate on social services, actually have a system that allows for case management of difficult situations, and have conversations on what it will take for all students to have access and be ready to compete.”

“When in community, we recognize that it’s not our role to do for others, but with others. …When we know who we are, and what we bring from a different perspective. When we value the very voices of the people we serve and give them a place at the table.”

“Student agency is where we support a positive narrative of family context, and don’t make assumptions or judgments. Where students acquire tools to hold us accountable, like [my former student] Javier held Camino Nuevo Academy and me [with a five-page reflection essay]. Where we empower our students and not control them, where we push our students to find their voice and to hear their voice, even when it makes us uncomfortable.”

Jonathan Klein, Co-Founder and CEO, Great Oakland Public Schools:

A man with short brown hair in a striped sweater speaks from a podium at the TFA 25th anniversary event.

“Elections truly matter. We should’ve gotten involved in politics much earlier. I’ve been in Oakland since 1999, and the first time we organized around school board elections was 2012, 13 years in. Over the last two election cycles, our candidates for school board have won five of six races. We’ve passed two measures that have brought over $650 million in resources to Oakland public schools. We’re now one of Mayor Libby Schaaf’s chief policy partners.”

“A recent analysis of five education reform organizations in Los Angeles found that just 24 percent of their members are registered to vote, and that just 3 percent of those organizations’ members voted in a school election that involved an education reform candidate. …That’s not acceptable, so please get involved.”

“Healthy unions matter. In 2010, our city had the opportunity to pass a parcel tax to raise $200 million to retain affected teachers. Our local teachers’ union didn’t support the campaign because the money would’ve benefited teachers both in district-run and charter schools. We needed a 66.7 percent, a two-thirds majority, for it to pass, and lost by just 760 votes.”

“Parent leadership is essential for change. No matter how strong your grassroots coalition may be, there’s no substitute for it. …Our strategy needs to better account for relational and cultural change, block by block, family by family, neighbor by neighbor.”

Julie Jackson, Chief School Officer, Uncommon Schools:

A young woman with dyed blonde hair in a black blazer speaks on stage at the TFA 25th anniversary event.

“By age 5, low-income students will have been exposed to 20 million words, while high-income students will have been exposed to 50 million words. By the end of fourth grade, African American, Hispanic, and low-income students are already two grade levels behind. The dropout rate for low-income students is seven times higher than high-income students. Half of all students in high-income families by the age of 25 have earned a bachelor degree; in low-income families, it’s 1 out of 10. These stats are alarming.”

“The bodies and minds of the students we teach every day are at risk. The tragic consequence of our broken system demands that we take action. This action cannot happen in a single day, or a single effort. One Day will not be achieved by one strategy, one approach, one classroom, one organization, or in one part of this country. It will take more than that. …It will take teachers and leaders and people inside and outside of education who are fed up with the current state of education in this country.”

“There are five key pillars that must be present, and these are the ones I live by: love, sacrifice, boldness, persistence, and urgency.”

“When you truly have love, self-sacrifice becomes natural. You are no longer part of the mission. The mission is a part of you. …Some of the greatest leaders of our time have sacrificed their time for the betterment of others.”

“There are critics out there and a lot of barriers. We cannot wait for the politicians. We cannot wait for policy changes, and we definitely cannot wait for poverty to be eradicated. We must utilize every minute of every day to ensure that our students are getting instruction that is rigorous, that is relevant, that is challenging, and that is engaging, and that prepares them for tomorrow. Because that is the true assignment, my friends, is to prepare them for tomorrow. We must act with urgency, and this is a call to action.”

Visit our 25th Anniversary Summit page and keep the conversation going on social media using the hashtag #TFA25.

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