Book Review

A Chance to Make History

What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All

by Wendy Kopp with Steven Farr, Public Affairs, New York, N.Y., 2011, 240 pp., $25.95 hardcover


Twenty years ago, few questioned the traditional path of teacher preparation by way of undergraduate study in a college of education. Cracks have since appeared in that paradigm due primarily to Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, an ambitious idea enabling liberal arts graduates to take on some of the most difficult teaching jobs in the country.


A Chance to Make History

A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All is a celebratory anniversary piece for Kopp’s organization. As such, it is filled with inspirational stories of success achieved by individual teachers and students based on passionate beliefs about what is possible.

A particularly impressive legacy of Teach for America is the transformational leadership generated by the group’s 25,000 alumni. Many continued their teaching commitment beyond the initial two-year agreement. Some have gone on to become principals or assume other roles in education. Charter schools have been a natural transition stage for many.

A central theme of this volume is the spirit of optimism necessary to transform education in a classroom, school or school district. Altering the “academic and life trajectories predicted by children’s socioeconomic backgrounds,” as Kopp puts it, is possible with a corps of zealots waiting to do whatever it takes.

A Chance to Make History has a feel-good message that questions the status quo without tearing it down. Some specific educational techniques described are worthy of replication, although the practical value is more one of marketing strategy. Education idealists will gravitate toward this philosophy of transformation if they desire to “make history.”

Reviewed by Arthur Stellar, superintendent, Burke County Public Schools, Morganton, N.C.