Customer Reviews: A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn't in Providing an Excellent Education for All
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on January 20, 2011
What an incredibly inspiring account of teachers, schools, administrators changing the game for kids growing up in low-income communities. Wendy Kopp has done an amazing job of showing example after example of hard work and thoughtful, purposeful actions leading to tremendous student achievement. She pushes us to think past whether we think we can make a difference and instead whether we are willing to put the energy into making history, because it is in within our reach. I am optimistic that this book and these stories can ignite the pace of change. This is a must read and will definitely be central to the dialogue on education reform.
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on April 26, 2011
When Wendy Kopp envisioned Teach for America as part of her senior project at Princeton University, I believed that she was on to something special on two fronts.
First, the program would provide an opportunity for a recent college graduates who had not planned to become teachers a chance to" test the waters." In an era of teacher shortages, it might have served to attract new recruits into the profession who had not considered teaching previously. Second, Kopp could have made a case for a national service committment for all college graduates. With an all volunteer military,a required term of national services could have included the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America or a military option.
Instead, " A Chance to Make History" focuses on Teach for America alums who moved to educational leadership rather than classroom positions.The greatest success in my view was the KIPP Academy program created by two TFA alums, Michael Feinberg and David Levin.
However, Kopp continues to champion Michelle Rhee, another TFA alum who went on to become the controversial chancellor of DC public schools. Kopp calls her a " transformational leader." Others have labeled Rhee a union busting bully. That should not have been the intent of Teach for America.
I concur with Kopp's assessmeent that there are no "silver bullets " out there" to cure the problems of public education in America. But given the current war against the teaching profession being waged by a number of governors, Kopp would better serve the profession by convicing TFA alums to stay on the front lines in the classroom and help students. That can help make Teach for America an enduring success.
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on January 20, 2011
I keep fairly abreast of the education reform movement, and have seen films like The Lottery and Waiting for Superman. As someone who grew up in a low-income community and went to public school there, academic achievement was always going to be my path to the wide world beyond my rural town of 5,000. Very few of us realized that dream, which we had all shared at one point or another, and slowly by slowly, often saw slipping away.

Beyond believing that absolutely all children are capable of amazing things and each one deserves an excellent education (that they're just not getting right now) - this book really brought home the many ways we all contribute to seeing this dream realized. Yes, we need exceptional teachers who will do whatever it takes - and there are many anecdotes of when this alone can change the life path for a student. We also need families, communities, school and district leaders, our elected government officials - and everyone in between. I hope my husband and family and friends are ready for me to recommend this book to them at every opportunity - because I think this is something we should all read, discuss, and take action on.
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on May 21, 2011
It was just as I feared -- a long advertisement for Teach for America. Too many times, it came across as simply a pat on the back, oh look at me, I founded Teach for America, isn't that great. I was looking for something more substantial, with concrete pointers on how a teacher can be more effective in a classroom, how a principal might find a keep an effective teacher, which metrics can and should be measured to judge the effectiveness of a teacher or school. And there might have been more studies cited on exactly what programs were working well. Overall, a disappointment.
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on April 10, 2011
Wendy Kopp has created a wonderful program, Teach for America. This book, however,
is less than wonderful. Ms. Kopp presents one idea, that underpriviledged children deserve what she calls a "transformational education." The problem is that she repeats this word and idea so many times that it begins to cause the same reaction as fingernails on a chalk board. The book reads more like a marketing piece for her program than an intellectual discussion about what works to achieve excellence in public education. Too bad.
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on August 20, 2012
This review is of the unabridged audio book version of "A Chance to Make History" by Wendy Kopp.

I was hoping to find inspiration in Wendy Kopp's book but instead found the entire book to be an advertisement for KIPP Charter Schools, and organization headed by the author's husband, Richard Barth. The book also functions as a propaganda tool for Wendy Kopp's "Teach for America" non-profit organization" which pays Kopp generously for her services, $265,585 in 2008 for example. Richard Barth was paid over $300,000 by KIPP the same year. So it appears the couple is not entirely driven by altruism in their pursuit of education excellence. KIPP schools are referenced and promoted hundreds of times through the book by Kopp.

Kopps' argument that KIPP schools are superior to regular public schools is correct. However, Kopp refuses to explain why and how the KIPP schools outperform regular public schools serving essentially the same communities. In her book she touts the outstanding improvements in test scores and graduation rates, but is reluctant to explain the results other than hard work, "heroic teaching", going above and beyond, and expecting greatness, etc. But a closer look reveals that KIPP schools, the kind Wendy Kopp says are superior to regular public schools, enjoy better funding, higher paid teachers, and retain superior students over time.

In truth the reason KIPP charter schools outperform regular public schools is that the teachers and the students are cherry picked through a process of attrition. A study published by Western Michigan University and jointly released by Columbia University in 2011 showed that KIPP schools receive greater amount of public funding and have higher drop out rates than do other public schools in the same communities they serve. While KIPP school leadership states that if a student finishes middle school at a KIPP school they have a 95% high school graduation rate, the study found, quote (Baltimore Sun) "But nationally, the report found, on average about 15 percent of students drop from KIPP cohorts every year, compared to 3 percent in public schools. Moreover, between grades 6 and 8, about 30 percent of KIPP students drop off of the rolls." That means that superior students are retained at KIPP schools and inferior students are dropping out. Furthermore the study found, quote (Baltimore Sun) "The report also concluded that KIPPs high outcomes, when compared to public schools, could be a result of serving significantly less special education students, and English language learners--two populations that are more prone to be less competitive academically and more expensive."

Although KIPP schools are said to have something special, it turns out the something special is more funding. Their teachers are paid more than regular public school teachers, and the KIPP schools also receive more federal dollars and more public funding overall than regular public schools. Quote (Baltimore Sun) "Researchers also found by using a federal dataset on school finance, that for the year 2007-2008, KIPP received more per-pupil public revenue ($12,731) than any other comparison group. "Charter schools don't generally receive more than public schools, but KIPP does," Miron said. "It's remarkable."

In addition to getting more federal and public funding, KIPP schools receive thousands of dollars in private funds per student.

KIPP schools have longer school years, and as Kopp states, longer school days. Teachers who don't share the vision of sacrificing mornings, evenings, and weekends for the mission are removed from the staff according to Kopp (she says most discover themselves to be inferior teachers and then voluntarily resign).

So in conclusion, through greater funding, and selective student and teacher detainment, and greater teacher pay, KIPP schools out perform regular public schools. However, the comparison of one of apples to oranges. Unfortunately, students who don't earn a place in a KIPP school by way of lottery, or by way of parental interest and follow through are left to attend schools without the many financial and selective culling advantages of KIPP schools.

Kopps' books is dishonest in that it shows only the superior performance of KIPP schools, without revealing the underlying advantages of how charter schools are allowed to construct an unfair advantage into their educational system. Since she and her husband have a huge financial interest in the promotion of the KIPP school myth, her book "A Chance to Make History" must be considered propaganda for so-called school reform that in reality is proving only that greater teacher pay, longer school hours, and selective culling of staff and students leads to better test results and graduation rates.
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on January 28, 2011
If you think you know what this book is all about, you are in for a surprise - a pleasant one. It does not engage in the same rhetoric that we have come to expect from the ed sector and frankly, grown a bit tired of. It does not preach. It does not just tell the same story of a newbie teacher, although the ones in the book are quite inspiring. It simply tells you what's not working in our current efforts to ensure universally excellent education and points out what is working. It's an inspiring book, no doubt, but more importantly it is refreshingly instructive and action-oriented.
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on January 20, 2011
I'm already a true believer (and - full disclosure - a Teach For America staff member). Regardless - Wendy's latest book is both insightful about what it takes to improve the quality of education for kids in low-income communities and inspiring in the tales of the leaders she profiles and the impact they are having. Some of the solutions Wendy describes - and some of the things she pointedly says are NOT solutions (e.g. simply blaming parents or unions) - will surprise you. On the heels of Waiting For Superman, President Obama's Race To The Top initiative and the latest international test score data, A Chance To Make History is a timely and important read.
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on March 1, 2012
Wendy Kopp's creation "Teach For America" is an admirable cause to help change the face of education, this book is not. If you take away your personal opinions on TFA, this book is only highlighting the anecdotal success stories of Teach for America, and not the many burnouts. What's worst than this myopic piece is that Wendy Kopp barely wrote this book, instead her ghostwriter practically wrote all of it. Terrible book!
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on April 4, 2011
Kopp describes wonderful, hopeful results in primary school education, but the book is a pain to read, and I finished only by skimming. Kopp makes the case convincingly that most of the students who are currently learning little, can potentially do well enough to be ready for college. However, she is repetitive, and while she is specific about the accomplishments to date, she shies away from the concrete details of just what is being done in the successful schools.

Part of this may be ideological. Kopp cites the importance of feedback loops, in which progress is constantly measured and analyzed for lessons learned and in order to identify where teacher support is needed; but she also stresses the importance of local autonomy, rather than centralized prescriptions. Motivation is key, motivation of students, parents and teachers.

It is difficult to argue with the accomplishments since many of the achieving schools are doing so with the same student population who were previously failing. In other schools, it is true, there is a lottery system for entrance, so they may be attracting more motivated students, or at least more motivated parents.
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