Every year, GSV honors remarkable individuals whose lives have profoundly impacted the world for good. This year, our proverbial “hallowed halls” of venerable and innovative honorees welcomes the CEO and co-founder of Teach For All and founder of Teach For America, Wendy Kopp.
Wendy’s vision has transformed classrooms and empowered leaders across the globe. Her tireless determination—grounded in partnership, responding to community needs, and a promise to students and communities—makes her easy to honor with the GSV Lifetime Achievement Award.
Quality education from public schools was foundational in Kopp’s childhood. By the time she arrived at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, she realized she was differently prepared for university than some of her peers who hadn’t had access to the same quality of public education. This was the start of Wendy’s devotion to disrupting the growing inequities within the education system, leading her to realize a solution to create collective, systemic impact was to recruit incredible leaders, support them to advance students’, and develop alumni who are system-change leaders forever impacted by their experience.
In 1989, Wendy Kopp proposed the creation of Teach For America in her 177-page senior thesis titled “An Argument and Plan for the Creation of the Teachers Corps.” She envisioned a revolutionary organization dedicated to fighting educational inequity in the United States. A system that would allow more children to achieve their full potential.
Within four months of its inception, 2,500 people had applied to take up the charge, and Teach For America’s first corps in 1990 was 500 teachers strong. Quickly, Wendy realized the monumental influence those two years had. The alums of her Teach For America program were transformed by the kids and communities they served. Continuing their journey in education, assuming significant leadership roles in education and social innovation, and heading school systems at the state level and in some of the nation’s biggest cities.
The success of Teach For America was outstanding, expanding the number of areas served by the organization rapidly and establishing summer teaching institutes in Los Angeles, Houston, New York City, and later Philadelphia. In 2005, Teach For America received a record number of 17,000 applications and was the number one employer of new graduates on many college campuses.
People from around the world came to Wendy Kopp, seeking to partner with her in developing similar programs in their countries. After visiting India and talking with community members advocating to ensure all children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, Wendy saw the possibility of achieving something greater together. In partnership with her counterpart at Teach First in the UK, they decided to take the leap and apply the learnings and insights they’d gained globally. Alongside leaders from across the globe who deeply understand their local needs, they created a network of independent organizations addressing their community’s education needs. In 2007, Teach For All was born.
Wendy led the development of Teach For All to be responsive to the initiative of inspiring social entrepreneurs worldwide who were determined to adapt this approach in their own countries. Expanding the Teach For All network to partner organizations in 60 countries on six continents, including its founding partners Teach For America and the UK’s Teach First.
The data speaks to the work Teach For All does for the students, teachers, and communities they serve.
Students randomly assigned to TFA corps members’ middle & high school math classrooms advanced an additional 2.6 months per year compared to those assigned to other classrooms. Additionally, research demonstrated that in years two and three after a Teach First teacher’s introduction into a school, there were school-wide gains of approximately 5% of a standard deviation, or a boost of one grade in one of a pupil’s eight best subjects.
A 2018 study found that Teach For America alums gain a greater understanding of how societal injustices like educational inequity harm disadvantaged communities, displaying less class- and race-based resentment than peers who did not join the corps. While a forthcoming study on the career trajectories of Teach For India alumni found that they are 55 percentage points more likely to be working in the field of education than those who applied to join the program but narrowly missed the entry requirements.
A 2011 study by researchers from Harvard Graduate School of Education and the American Enterprise Institute concluded that more founders and top leaders of entrepreneurial education organizations started their careers with Teach For America than anywhere else. In the last five years alone, 42 TFA alumni have been named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list. 600+ network alumni have launched their own social enterprises.
Today, four out of five alumni work full-time in education or careers that impact low-income communities. Among them are 601 school systems leaders, leading districts, state departments, and state boards of education, working together and alongside many others to create better outcomes for more children. While still, other TFA alumni have gone on to become superintendents of education in the District of Columbia, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and, formerly, Tennessee.
Wendy has created an acclaimed network of independent organizations that cultivate their nations’ promising future leaders and ensure their most marginalized children have the chance to fulfill their true potential. She has driven systems-level change in collaboration with those who have experienced what is possible and what is needed within their communities.
In 2008 Wendy Kopp was awarded the second-highest civilian award in America, the Presidential Citizens Medal. In 2021 Wendy was awarded the WISE Prize for Education for creating Teach For All and her dedication to creating meaningful, sustainable education change and developing leaders who are rooted in their communities, transforming them to foster the opportunities all children deserve.
While Wendy Kopp’s vision may have started in the classroom, it has inspired and changed the path for millions of people—improving outcomes, expanding opportunities for students, and catalyzing leaders to effect change in their communities to shape a better future for ALL.
Please join us at ASU+GSV Summit Wednesday, April 19, at the San Diego Shell to honor and celebrate Wendy Kopp’s distinguished legacy during the closing program!