changing of the guard

Kopp, Teach for America's founder, shifts to international role

Teach for America’s founding CEO, Wendy Kopp (center), is being replaced by two top executives at the 23-year-old nonprofit. (Photo: Teach for America)

Nearly 24 years after first sketching out Teach for America in her undergraduate thesis, founding CEO Wendy Kopp is stepping down from running the organization, according to a decision that its board approved on Tuesday.

Kopp will instead focus on running Teach for All, the nonprofit she launched in 2007 to support organizations in other countries as they adopt the Teach for America model of recruiting and training strong teachers to work in high-need schools. Two dozen countries currently have Teach for All programs.

Kopp’s departure marks the start of a new phase for Teach for America, which grew from 500 teachers in 1990 to more than 10,000 in 46 regions today, including nearly a thousand in New York City, along the way jumpstarting a paradigm shift in teacher preparation. Nonprofit organizations are notorious for tending to struggle after their charismatic founders move on.

But Kopp’s successors have been steeped in her leadership. The group’s board chose Teach for America’s top executives, Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard, to share the CEO position starting March 1. Kramer is the organization’s president, and Villanueva Beard — who was a Teach for America “corps member” in rural Texas — is its chief operating officer.

And Kopp will continue to influence the nonprofit’s vision and direction as the chair of its board. Kopp offered one hint of what that direction might look like in an open letter last month to Gary Rubinstein, a New York City teacher who entered the classroom through Teach for America but has been critical of it in the decades since.

Responding to Rubinstein’s charge that the organization promotes only certain ideas about how to improve schools, Kopp said she had always worked to create a “big tent” for ideas, in large part by not asserting her own in many cases (but not all). She wrote:

However, I’ve learned the hard way that silence just reinforces misunderstanding. Going forward, our goal is to show the plurality of opinion within our community and provide more outlets to challenge one another and share our best thinking.

I believe there is real misunderstanding about what opinions Teach For America wants to hear – misunderstanding we haven’t done enough to combat. When corps members and alumni assume their opinions defy conventional wisdom and no one wants to hear them, they often choose not to speak up. This becomes a self-perpetuating problem. The people who do speak up express similar views, which reinforces the impression that we all think one way and discourages dissenting opinions.

Changing this will require more than providing discussion forums – it involves the difficult work of changing culture. As you’ve noticed, over the past year we’ve made a concerted effort to do just that by encouraging honest engagement and debate on several platforms, both inside and outside the organization.

Kopp’s successors appear to be carrying out that vision. Among the pair’s first acts, according to a letter they sent to Teach for America’s participants and backers today, will be a “listening tour” to solicit guidance from teachers, alumni, and supporters.

To support the board and the co-CEOs during the transition, one board member, Richard Parsons, is becoming an “independent lead director.” Parsons is also the chair of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission, whose first report last month included a recommendation to expand the use of alternative certification programs in New York State.

Kopp’s decision to run Teach for All full-time suggests that she no longer sees being New York City’s schools chancellor as “the best job in the world” after being Teach for America’s CEO.

Teach for America’s full press release is below. (Disclosure: GothamSchools’ board chair Sue Lehmann is on Teach for America’s national board.)

— Teach For America’s COO and President to become co-CEOs —

NEW YORK, NY – February 13, 2013 – In a vote yesterday, the Teach For America Board of Directors named CEO and founder Wendy Kopp as board chair, succeeding Walter Isaacson, who will become chair emeritus after more than seven years as chair. The board also appointed Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard co-CEOs of Teach For America, effective March 1. Kopp will continue in her current role as founding CEO of Teach For All, a global network working to expand educational opportunity.

As board chair of Teach For America, Kopp will work closely with Villanueva Beard and Kramer to inform the organization’s strategic direction. She will develop and lead the national board of directors, cultivate external support, and provide advice and counsel to the leadership team.

“Today’s announcement reflects Teach For America’s strength. Our dramatic growth over the past few years calls for more leadership capacity to respond to growing needs and opportunities,” said Isaacson. “We are excited to elevate two proven leaders who have a lot more to contribute and free up our founder to focus on the areas where she can add the most unique value.”

Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matt Kramer have served as senior members of Teach For America’s leadership team for eight years, and this transition is a natural evolution of their existing responsibilities. As co-CEOs, they will be jointly accountable for the organization’s performance and will assume the leadership role in charting its strategic direction, developing its team and culture, building external relationships, and raising public awareness.

Elisa Villanueva Beard will oversee Teach For America’s regional operations and represent the organization publicly. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Villanueva Beard joined Teach For America in 1998, teaching bilingual first and second grade in Phoenix for three years. She then spent four years as executive director of Teach For America’s Rio Grande Valley region, before joining the national staff as chief operating officer. In that position, she managed Teach For America’s now 46 regions, which are responsible for the placement and development of more than 10,000 corps members, fostering the leadership of their local alumni, and raising 80 percent of Teach For America’s funding.

“Having grown up in the Rio Grande Valley, my life’s work is fighting for educational justice for underserved kids in my hometown and across the country,” said Villanueva Beard. “I am honored to continue this work as co-CEO of Teach For America, an organization that I know has such deep potential to move us toward the day when all children have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. Matt and I look forward to working together to take Teach For America to the next level.”

Matt Kramer will manage all aspects of the central Teach For America structure, including recruiting and admissions, corps member training, administration, development, marketing and communications, and central programmatic support of the regions. Inspired by his wife’s experience as a corps member, Kramer originally joined Teach For America as chief program officer in 2005. He then moved into the role of president, where over the past five years he has helped oversee all aspects of Teach For America’s national operations, from growth and strategy to performance and organizational culture.

“I am thrilled to continue my partnership with Elisa, now as co-CEOs of Teach For America,” said Kramer. “Teach For America plays such an important role in developing the leadership our country needs to live up to our highest ideals, and Elisa and I are eager to continue the hard work of ensuring that all children in our country have the opportunity to reach their full potential. I am also excited that we will continue to benefit from Wendy Kopp’s extraordinary energy and wisdom in her new role as chair of the board.”

To ensure strong governance, the board has created a new role of independent lead director and has appointed Dick Parsons, former CEO and chairman of Time Warner, to this position. As chair of the board’s executive committee, he will help ensure the effectiveness of the board, support the development of the co-CEOs, and provide additional support in cultivating external relationships.

As CEO of Teach For All, Kopp leads a growing global network of independent organizations that, like Teach For America, are enlisting their countries’ most promising future leaders to become lifelong advocates for educational excellence and equality. Now in its sixth year, the Teach For All network includes organizations in 26 countries worldwide. In the coming years, Teach For All aims to build support for the growth of the network and its partners, and to accelerate the growth and progress of its partners by fostering learning, sharing, and innovation.

“It has been my privilege to serve as CEO of both Teach For America and Teach For All for more than five years,” said Kopp. “Today’s announcement helps ensure that each organization has the leadership capacity necessary to meet growing aspirations. Elisa and Matt are exceptional leaders and great partners. They have already contributed immeasurably to Teach For America’s growth and impact and I look forward to supporting them as they lead Teach For America into the future.”

About Teach For America
Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding individuals of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. Today more than 10,000 corps members are teaching in 46 urban and rural regions across the country, while nearly 28,000 alumni are working across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.