Wendy Kopp made a mistake with her list of “The World’s 7 Most Powerful Educators”— and I’m not referring to the fact that she actually names eight people. The Teach for America founder and leader should have included herself (given the broad definition of “educator” that she uses) because only someone pretty powerful could have persuaded Forbes to publish such a misleading list on its Web site.

Who did Kopp deem to be the most powerful?

Tops on her list is Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. public schools. (As my colleague Bill Turque explained on his D.C. Schools Insider blog, Henderson this month also won an Aspen Institute Public Leadership Award.)

What is it that Kopp thinks makes her so powerful, given that she runs a relatively small school system that remains at or near the bottom in terms of student achievement?

“Kaya stepped up to the chancellorship in a rancorous environment and brought the whole community’s teachers, principals, parents, and civic leaders together in the process,” Kopp wrote.

Henderson certainly is less contentious than her predecessor, Michelle A. Rhee (who did not make Kopp’s list), but it is something of an exaggeration to say she has pulled the entire community together.

The rest of Kopp’s list:

2) Harriett Ball, a veteran teacher and mentor who died a few months ago. She was an inspiration for the KIPP charter school network.

3) Ana F. Ponce, chief executive of the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in California.

4) Scott Shirey, executive director of KIPP Delta Public Schools.

5) Leslie Jacobs, an insurance executive who founded Educate Now!, a nonprofit organization in New Orleans that has led the “accountability” school reform movement there.

6) Ariela Rozman, president, and Tim Daly, chief executive, of the New Teacher Project.

7) Howard Fuller, who is labeled “parent advocate.” He is a former superintendent of Milwaukee public schools and a strong advocate for school choice.

The list, of course, is a way for Forbes to get eyeballs to its Web site and wouldn’t be worth writing about except that it actually tells us something about the state of education reform today.

The only teacher on the list is Ball, who died in February.

Everybody else on it is connected in some way to either Kopp’s own Teach for America organization (four of the people on the list, including Henderson); the KIPP charter school network, whose chief executive is her husband, Richard Barth; or the pro-school choice movement, of which Kopp is a leader.

Teach for America recruits young college graduates, trains them for five weeks in the summer and then sends them to teach the nation’s neediest children.

It’s not the way to improve the nation’s public teaching corps — especially since most of these young people leave the classroom at higher rates than conventionally trained teachers — but Kopp has helped convince policymakers that it is.

And her reach is not only across the United States but around the globe; her Teach for America is part of a global organization called Teach for All, which Kopp co-founded and for which she serves as chief executive. Teach for All includes organizations in 19 countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East, according to the Web site, with programs in 10 to 20 more countries expected to join the network within a few years.

It is Kopp who is powerful, not so much the people on her list.


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