education policy in the net states. she discusses her book with author and new yorker staff writer malcolm gladwell at the new york public library in new york city. this is about an hour and a half. >> thank you all for joining us. for what i hope will be a fun hour. windy, i had a tendency to be a lovefest because you're a great hero of mine. ..
>> people, you have this enormous following and you're kind of a cult figure and i was trying to figure out, is there any recent historical figure that you think you are analogous to. people tend to throw off the mistakes of modesty. >> it's clear the 10,000 people are coming together because they're drawn to the same vision as each other. and they want to spend a day thinking about and reflecting on the incredible progress we've made in the last 20 years against what is the true crisis in our country, this issue of educational inequity and what more each of us needs to do individual and collectively. >> but you will be treated kind of a rock star. [laughter] >> maybe we would all wish but there will be my critics and my friends, and it will be fun but,
you know, it's not all a love if he is nest >> the closest analogy i could come up with was the marine corps. tough to get in and then they send you to really nasty places, right. [laughter] >> and i was wondering, you know, how in the movies there's always that moment in that kind of movie where the one tough guy meets the other tough guy and they're staring each other down and the guy goes were you in the nam, were you in the marine corps yeah i was in 29th infantry and they go siempre officials i and are there two teach for america go where did you teach, south bronx. and they show their teach for america tattoos. you are creating a kind of movement.
the marine corps alumni represents a kind of movement represent ago certain attitude towards the world, you know -- >> this is exactly the idea. this is the big idea, you know? and teach for america isn't really about -- we are about teachers are critical but teach for america is about building a movement among our country's future leaders to say, we got to change the way our education system is, fundamentally. and i think your article in the new yorker about the formation of movements just captured the whole theory of teach for america and this is about the foundational experience about teaching successfully in ways that, you know, i think we're creating a corps of people who are absolutely determined to expand the opportunities facing kids in the most absolutely, you know, economically disadvantaged communities. you know, who are pouring themselves into their work and
trying to put their kids on a different trajectory and, you know, having varying levels of success and taking from that experience incredible lessons, you know, they realize through their firsthand experience the challenges their kids face, the potential they have. they realize that it's ultimately possible to solve the problem. and that experience is not only important for their kids but it's completely transformational for them and i think, of course, they're all going through this together. and i think leave with a common set of convictions and insights and just a common level of commitment to ultimately go out and effect the fundamental changes we need to see to really solve the problem >> so you've got how many alumni now? >> we have 20,000 alums. so you consider your alumni to be as important as your active teachers if you're thinking of it in movement terms. >> yep. >> how many alumni do you need before you think you have kind of a critical mass?
you will never know what will lead us to the tipping point. [laughter] >> you just bought yourself a good five more nice softball questions. [laughter] >> i don't know. this is growing large at this point. five years ago we had 88,000 and today we have 20,000 and if we can continue the growth trajectory we'll have 40,000 five years from now and i guess i'm looking at some critical communities where we have teach for america alums. communities where we've been placing people for, in some cases 20 years, in new orleans, in washington, d.c., and oakland, california, in houston, texas, in any other number of places, in newark, new jersey. where very different things are happening today for many reasons but if you took all the teach for america alums out of the picture, i think you'd take away
of the energy and the leadership in those pictures. >> does the teach for america movement have an ideological personality? >> i think that people come out of this -- and you know we probably have a bunch -- we have a diversion community and people come into it viewing the issue that we're taking on in different ways and from different sides of the political spectrum. i think people come out of it sharing largely sharing a few views. one, i think people come out of it knowing we can solve the problem it's not that the kids don't of the potential and the parents don't care. if you look at gallup polls and i would be interested in seeing another one and i think the prevailing ideology is starting to shift a bit. but as of about three or four ago most people in our country thought that the reason we have low educational outcomes was because kids weren't motivated
in low-incomed communities and parents don't care. i know for a fact that's not true. they see their kids working harder than any kids work and they see their parents do care when they're, you know, brought into the process. so they come out of it thinking -- when the kids are met with high expectations, given extra supports they do well and they also come out realizing there's no silver bullet in this. >> we're going to get to it but i still want you to answer the question. i only ask it because -- whatever i see teach for america spoken of in a derogatory manner. it's invariably by someone on the right which confuses me because i would have thought -- i would almost thought it was the other way around. do you have a sense of this? am i wrong in thinking this? >> i doubt it you're saying our folks are largely from the left.
we have a diversion group of people. >> what did the last teach for america alum vote republican in the last election? [laughter] >> it's probably not that high of a percentage but i'm not sure. >> but quite apart from the comic value of that observation, isn't that weird to you? why would have it an ideological dimension. why wouldn't you expect as many kids to be signing up for this who were diehard right wingers as -- everything is consistent, surely, with -- i mean, with all? >> i mean, what is the profile out there of graduating college seniors today in terms of their ideological perspective? i mean, what is the -- what percentage of them vote republican? i don't know. and it would be interesting to look. i don't want to say -- i mean, we get republican folks, too. i wonder what college students -- i mean, i'm not sure -- i don't know if ear out of line with that or not.
>> okay. >> i may be living in sort of a bubble. college -- i don't know. i think we're drawing people -- it would be interesting to look at that idea. >> let's go back -- this is your 20th anniversary. >> yep. >> so when you reflect on the differences between -- let's reflect on the differences between 1990 and now. when we were chatting earlier you mentioned how how the movie "lean on me" could never be made today. "lean on me," that was -- >> that was one of the hit movies my senior year or '89 or so. >> what is it about "lean on me" that would be unmakable today? >> we put that school -- the school in "lean on me" -- i mean, as a success story. and the principal, you know, was kind of a superhero and that was
the culture of the school. but that school is still number 317 out of 326 in terms of educational outcomes in the state of new jersey. its kids are on a path -- i mean, we're not giving the kids in that school real life options. and we couldn't make that movie today. we certainly hold that school up as a success because today we know what's possible. we know it's possible to give kids who face all the challenges who are facing that kids in that school in patterson, new jersey, a school that actually sets them up to graduate from college, you know, not just a few kids to beat the odds but a whole building of kids, you know, to actually get on the same trajectory in kids in much more privileged communities. today we know that's possible. we have hundreds of schools that do that. and i just think it shows -- i mean, >> it was about simply someone who imposed order on a school. it was a movie about discipline,
right. >> yeah, but it was also holding up that school as a success story and i just think we would never do that today. i mean, hollywood would never hear the end of it. we would say that's not a success. this is a success. and so i just think it's an image that tells me how far -- how far we've come. >> the bar was low enough in 1990 that you could describe it as a success a school where kids were not getting killed. >> yeah. >> is essentially -- so in that sense we've made progress, right. [laughter] >> it's huge and dramatic. not to underestimate how significant that is. i mean, i don't think -- we didn't know that it was possible to provide kids with a truly transformational education. kids growing up in poverty, the assumption was and all the research, you know, backed up the fact that socioeconomic background determine educational outcomes and we knew a few kids who were beating the odds and a few charismatic teachers,
another movie my senior year "stand and deliver" who could do extraordinary measures. we could describe them as outliers. >> go on. i just had a -- >> but today we know -- we don't just have a few -- first of all, i think it's fascinating to think about, you know, not only "lien on me" but "stand and deliver" and i thought a lot about the fact that, you know, why didn't i think, find out how jaime escalante to do what he did so we could teach our teach for america to teach that way. it took us many time with our outliers. it turned out the same thing jaime was doing differently. we know what teachers who
teacher in otherwise not very successful teachers in low-incomed communities do to produce incredible results with their kids. so we know so much at the classroom level but, you know, at the school level, too, i think one thing you realize it takes a total superhero to do that. classroom by classroom. but it's possible to create whole schools that foster good teaching and enable, you know, teachers to sustain that kind of work. and to think that we now have hundreds of those schools. i mean, it is dramatic progress. and the question is different, you know, it used to be can we -- can education overcome poverty? and today we know that it can. the question is, how do we do it at school? how do we create whole systems full of transformational schools? >> you're implying something really interesting which is that you think that the task of providing a quality education can be decoupled from the broader kind of macroconditions
of the society. in other words, in 20 years ago we would have said, oh, you've got poverty and dysfunction and pathology than the educational task is impossible. what you're saying is actually, no. >> right. i think what we've learned is that it's not. we can -- i mean, we should solve poverty. it's just that while we try to do that, we don't need to wait. in the meantime, we can provide kids with the kind of education that breaks the cycle of poverty. and maybe we'll realize that's the answer to poverty, actually. >> yeah. it's interesting 'cause this is exactly the same transformation that took place in our thinking about crime. 25 years ago if you asked people what would it take to bring down the crime rate in new york, they would have said well, you'd have to solve poverty, drug abuse, discrimination. we solved none of those problems but the crime rate came down 35%
which is both very good news and also kind of disturbing, you know, in a weird -- not weird but disturbing in a little sense. that you can break off these pieces of the pathological puzzle and solve them without ever getting at the core problem. do you ever think about that paradox? >> i wonder -- i guess i believe that education is different. >> yeah. >> i mean, how many people -- i mean, i feel like i meet in my work every day people who -- and honest i meet them because some of them are joining teach for america today. you know, people who were not on a path to graduating out of school, let alone college who end up going to college and graduating from college and be able to choose, what do they want to do? did they want to teach? did they want to go teach a big company and go into law? and that's how you break the cycle of poverty. >> let's just for a moment dwell
on this point just, i think, it's an important one. that for the longest time, a central tenet in liberal ideology is that the reason we need to solve fundamental questions of social and economic injustice without doing that problems like educational inequity and crime will be beyond our reach. the experience of the cause that you've been a part of and the experience of crime fighting over the last 15 years has been that that ideology -- that fundamental tenet is totally false, right? economic and social inequality in this country have soared in the last 15 years. and simultaneously we have made extraordinary inroads against crime and the beginning of extraordinary inroads against education. what does that mean for the liberal ideology?
was it wrong? should we throw it out? is there no reason -- >> i would hate to conclude there's no reason to solve the fundamental challenges of poverty. i mean, one of the quickest ways to make the job of our -- i mean, as we will discover as we get into this discussion, it is possible. it is an enormous amount of hard work and we can make it easier by taking the pressure off of schools. and absolutely, we should take on the fundamentals. let's improve economies in rural areas and social services and do all of that. we don't to have wait and maybe we'll discover, you know, breaking the cycle of poverty for kids -- some of them will come back and improve their own communities, you know, is one of the answers. >> yeah. let's pretend that you were the
education czar, and i gave you more powers than we normally give czars. we give a lot of people czars. they're not real czars, not real czars. it's just someone in washington with a large office. [laughter] >> suppose you're a real czar and you got to start over, can you describe your perfect educational system? the wendy kopp czar could fill? >> i think we would first of all be very clear about the standards we're trying to reach. like we would, you know, start with a very clear understanding of, here's what we think at any given level. kids should be able to master. and we'd have to develop great assessments so that we understand whether or not kids
have mastered it. and then we would put an enormous amount into attracting, developing tremendous teachers, tremendous school leaders, educators, in general and then we would free them up to attain those results. >> would you have a union? >> i think if you had really well managed school systems and schools, you might not need them, right? isn't that what they found in organizations and sectors where management does its job? >> i don't know. are you asking me? [laughter] >> i thought maybe you would bring a crime analogy in or something. it's a different sector. >> so you wouldn't have unions in a perfect world? >> you wouldn't need them because you'd have school principals and school district superintendents and everyone else who would know that their most valuable asset are their
teachers and their people and they'd be making them happy. and they'd be listened to and et cetera. >> we sort of had an example of this. and you talk about this in your book. in new orleans, right. new orleans was kind of, after katrina, they sort of blow up the school system and start over. >> uh-huh >> can you talk about what happened there and what we learned from that example? i thought that was one of the most fascinating parts of the book. >> so teach for america started placing teachers in new orleans 20 years ago. and, you know, i personally spent a lot of time walking around the new orleans public schools and you could call it a crime scene at some level pre-hurricane katrina. it was just -- it was tragic what was tragic what was happening to the kids. after the hurricane you remember many of the kids were displaced in houston. they were living in the
astrodome with their parents and some of the folks ended up recruiting the kids and basically running a school for them in houston. they did the diagnostics and discovered that the eighth graders were basically on the second grade level and that was pretty much what we knew to be the case in new orleans. and, you know, so -- and, of course, post-hurricane katrina, talk about a place where we can see the incredible burdens of poverty. but the storm, you know, basically created a window of opportunity for some people who had been working for a long time to try to improve the schools without gaining much traction. to actually just blow up the system. you know, i think after the school board announced they weren't going to open schools for a year, they decided, no more. and they basically created a new system where -- >> when you say "they," who do you mean in this instance? >> well, when i'm saying "they"
i'm thinking of a real advocate sort of from the business community named leslie jacobs, paul pastarak who ended up being the school superintendent at the state level. and essentially they created a school of charters and where they slowly shut down the schools that was still under the management of the central ed department and anyone could apply to run a charter school. they created a very rigorous accountably system so that very few of those applications to run charter schools were approved. and if they didn't work, they would be shut down. but the people in that puzzle knew that it wasn't as easy as that. they knew that, you know, charter laws don't create transformational schools that put kids who are starting way behind and facing lots of different challenges on a different trajectory in order to
do that we would need extraordinary leadership. and they went about finding it, you know? they went outside of new orleans and they looked inside of new orleans. they hugely scaled up the teach for america and the -- >> how many teach for america did they bring in post-katrina, do you remember? >> we scaled up to -- you know, we have about 600 people there now. we were placing about 120 at any given time. >> is that as many as you have in any city? >> it's new orleans, one our biggest sites. our corps members are reaching 1 every 3 students in new orleans right now. >> and -- >> sorry. and they started looking -- when you say looking for leaders, are you looking for principals? looking for -- >> they did everything. they went about all the various people pipelines. so they scaled up teach for america. they brought in a group that
sets up local teacher recruitment initiatives. so they went out and tried to recruit people -- you know who didn't have teaching backgrounds like the new orleans fellows. new orleans -- teach new orleans or whatever it's called and then they brought in new leaders to recruit nontraditional folks to become school principals and they went out and they recruited the operators of many of the high performing charter schools and said come to new orleans. like we're going to create the model urban school district. they set up a support organization for the purpose of recruiting people to run charter schools and making it easier to find buildings, et cetera et cetera. i spent two days in new orleans last spring and i was just -- i was shocked by what i saw. i heard what i was going to see and had been talking to everyone and assumed it would be create but it was shocking given the comparison that i had from all the previous years.
>> what do we know -- what kind of statistical measures of improved performance do we have? how big is the jump? >> jumps are completely dramatic. i mean, they are making in some cases depending on the grade levels between 6 and 10 times the kind of improvement over one or two years that the other schools are making. you know, i think about -- so what was so shocking when i was there was that i didn't go visit just one school that was making great things happen. i spent two days going from school to school to school. and meeting these very entrepreneurial school leaders who were on a mission to put their kids on a trajectory to graduate from college. who had -- who were obsessing the teams they were building. who, you know -- you walk into these schools and i just kept thinking i would send my kid to this school. that was a shocking thought, you know, from a mere three or four
years ago. one of these schools is run by a guy named todd pervis. when he recruited his fifth graders, about 8% of the kids were proficient in reading and 8% were proficient in math. 8%. now his kids last year, his seventh graders were three-quarters of a year above grade level. so he has his kids on a trajectory, you know, by the time they're finished eighth grade he wants them to be able to get into any good high school anywhere in new orleans or otherwise. >> so katrina is the best thing that ever happened -- [laughter] >> that's not a joke. i want to pursue this idea. >> do you know what's fascinating and i have this conversation all the time. people say, you know what? this could never happen anywhere because of new orleans because of the hurricane and i think you know what? we had a crisis in new orleans that was as bad before the hurricane. we have a crisis in detroit and in philadelphia and in
anticipate number of places right now that should merit the kind of action that was taken when that school board decided not to open the schools. and we're not -- we're not acting, but we could. >> yeah. but it really -- i mean, you could make the case -- let's just say given the single most important measure of a city's health, long-term health, for its ability to properly educate its children, if new orleans was utterly failing before and now has some signs of succeeding beyond other schools in the state of louisiana, the city is better off for having hurricane katrina? >> it's sort of to your point before, though. i mean, you know, i'm not going to say -- it's not. there's so many people who are in the worst condition because of the hurricane. you know what? here's the other interesting thing about this, it's not quite -- you know, it's convenient to look at it -- >> wait, wait, wait -- >> but here's the thing. >> you can't get away with saying that. >> yes, i can.
>> no, you're wrong. >> it might have happened without the hurricane. it might have. that was the interesting thing. >> u.n. said it's not happening in detroit and all these other places. >> but it could? and do you know what's different. and here i swear this is the difference and this is the whole point, right? actually in new orleans there was a group of leaders who were absolutely pound and determined to fix this problem for kids. they existed and were working before the hurricane. in fact, i remember when the hurricane happened my first thought was, oh, no, like all the progress that these people had made, which we thought was going to be revolutionary went down the trains because everyone was dealing with a huge natural disaster. but those -- they revived and made dramatic change happen anyway. who knows? i don't know what would happen before the hurricane but i think what's interesting in most communities, you know -- in most communities, we would have had a hurricane and we wouldn't have
taken advantage of it of the circumstances of the day to actually revolutionize the schools. we probably would not have thought, you know what? let's actually create a system of charters. and most certainly, because this is the problem and why we haven't moved the needle in this issue in an aggregate sense, and we wouldn't have realized, you know, that's not enough. changing those laws is not going to do it. we better go out and find the leadership necessary and cultivate over time the leadership necessary to actually run transformational schools. >> but lesson of new orleans is surely that the -- one of the best strategies, turning this around, is blowing it up. >> you could take that. [laughter] >> that's one strategy. >> why are you so reluctant to kind of -- why won't you -- >> i'm thinking and making sure -- >> why can't you be a little of a revolutionary here?
it distresses me that our revolutionaries have lost their revolutionariness, right? >> you know what? i have not lost my revolutionariness. >> i wasn't accusing you. i'm in the in malcolm mode not in paul mode. >> do you know what concerns me is when -- honestly, in order to create true, sustained, dramatic change, we need -- the reason i'm so careful is, it isn't about one simple thing, right. it's about doing a lot of different things right. and i fear -- i really believe that a lot of the problem right now is that we like to play like the blame game and the silver bullet lurching and honestly, when you say, so the answer is to blow up the system, right. i have to think, am i sure? because i think -- i think the solution -- i think -- i guess i think it depends, but i think the real key in new orleans
actually wasn't the hurricane. the real key was leslie jacobs, paul pastarak and a whole generation of other people in new orleans, most of whom -- many of whom were teach for america alums who were deeply determined to address what they viewed as the single most unconscionable crisis in our country. and who understood what you understand especially after you taught successfully in this context, which is there isn't a silver bullet. you change a governance and that's going to fix the problem for our kids. >> so you had a nucleus poised to take an opportunity and the opportunity was katrina and that allowed an all of lot of change to happen in a short period of time. >> yes. >> i don't have an argue with that version of events. do you have an argue with that version of events?
[laughter] >> we have these nucleus in place and we could put them in place in lots of different cities but it doesn't change the fact that you have an awful good by blowing it up. >> you know, if we had real leadership right now in a lot of other places determined to solve this problem -- if we viewed it as the crisis that it is, and we had the right leadership in place, we would -- we would blow it up, to use your terminology, in lots of other context. >> uh-huh. >> i'm reminded, whether i'm going to come back and ask you what you mean in other context, 'cause it's intriguing. [laughter] >> absolutely. >> we're in a situation, in a number of different areas, in our society, where objectively what we look at the institutional structures we have, we realize that if we were starting from scratch, we would never, ever have anything even remotely resembling what we have right now. health care, everyone in the health system would agree if we were starting with scratch we would build a system for zero
resemblance to what we have now. [laughter] >> but yet somehow we sail along year after year tweaking it at the edges. >> yep. >> even though -- you know, if we had a katrina that just systematically wiped out the culture of health care in this country and allowed us to start over again, we'd be better off? >> you know what? i think -- let me say one other thing in reaction to this, which is really the thought that occurs. i think what you're saying is absolutely basically what needs to happen? right? we have a very systemic problem right now. most people, i think, misunderstand what's going. why do we have low outcomes, low educational outcomes in our lowest-incomed communities? why do you think? teachers are pathetic? i mean, that's probably what you'd think if you read all the headlines right now, you know? lots of people aren't very committed to kids. you know, what? the real reason we have this issue, we've got kids who face absolutely unimaginable challenges that kids in other
communities don't face. they show up at schools that don't have the extra capacity to meet their extra needs. and it becomes one big vicious cycle. so, you know, we can blame the kids, the parents, the teachers, the school principals -- we could blame anyone in the picture but what we've seen over time we could also just change the picture. we could decide -- i mean, so right now, our public schools -- i grew up in dallas, texas in a very privileged community and went to one of those public schools that's always on the top ten list of public schools in america. that was not a transformational school, right? we all showed up at that school on a trajectory to graduate from college. we came out four years later on the same trajectory. we had nice teachers and some made a great impact. it did not change our trajectories. if you put that school and put it in the bronx it would crash and burn. it would take two years. its results would be no better than most of our schools unless
it completely changed the way operated and i think what we discovered over the last 20 years we can change the way we operate. we can embrace a completely different mandate for schools in low-incomed communities and when we do, it actually works. and so -- and in that sense i think we completely do need to start over. >> yeah. >> i want to make one last point new orleans before we move on, and that is that in the -- in your book, you talk about the amount of autonomy that's given to these scoops as long as they do their job they get maximum freedom and when they fall down they lose their freedom. >> yes. >> and i have, you know, but that struck me as being incredibly convincing as a philosophy but my first thought was, are we prepared for the kind of social and institutional
anxiety that that kind of process creates? in other words, a system where you have that kind of -- as long as you perform, you're on your own. when you don't, we're going to step in, a system with a lot of turmoil. in a good way it's messy. some schools are going to do great and others are going to be crash and burning. do we need to prepare if you're going to institute that kind of culture which i think is totally the way to go, do we also have to have a kind of a conversation with parents and the public about what it means? >> i think that parents want a great education for their kids. and i think what their doing in new orleans is exposing parents to what is possible. i mean, truly there are more and more schools in new orleans that are actually -- the parents are thrilled -- like they see the potential. they see this is going to change
my kids' trajectory. and if you're in a school not like that and your neighbor is in a school like that, you know, i think ultimately this is how to kind of, you know, i think, create the context that will be conducive. >> i want to move on to your silver bullet and scapegoats. it's one of the most interesting parts of the book where you run down the list of the usual suspects and kind of go, you know -- you're not crazy about the argument that this is about funding and you tell this wonderful story -- not wonderful, depressing story about the school of the future in philadelphia. can you -- can you -- >> yeah.
so there's a very big corporation -- maybe these people remember this about six or seven years ago, there was a lot of talk about this big technology company that was going to design the school of the future. and, you know, they spent $62 million designing this school in philadelphia. it's a poof building. i remember meeting an executive at this company and asking him do you think the people who are designing the school -- have spent time in this still small number but growing number of very high performing schools in low-incomed communities so that they know what accounts for success? and i just remember sitting there thinking, i can tell that they haven't so chances are not good. i went to visit that school a year ago. >> briefly describe -- it is this big gleaming -- >> it is a big beautiful facility. this school has managed to
underperform the average philadelphia public school. some of their proficiency rates considering the subject is in the single digits. this is a school parents fought to get their kids in. okay. i went and visited the only classroom that they will open to the public. there is one. it's led by a teacher who's been there since the beginning. and i stood in the back of the room, and i made sure i had my facts right 'cause i was in the process of writing this book, but i watched every single kid in that class engage in one of the following three activities. they all had laptops. that's one of the key features of the school. they were either trying to fix the computer, taking the battery out, sticking it back in. some of their friends were surfing the internet while the teacher talked as loudly as he could in the front of the room to try to get them to listen to his lecture. and honestly it would have been -- it might have been funny if you didn't stop to realize that literally this school is shutting off these kids'
prospects. like they will have no prospects. and if you know anything about philadelphia and the communities where these kids are living in -- i mean, this is -- this is like life-threatening. and honestly, it's right down the street and i couldn't have said there today but today there's a growing number of schools in philadelphia that are serving the exact student population three or four blocks away and putting them on a trajectory to graduate from college at much the same pace as kids in more privileged communities. and you know what? they don't have any technology. they might -- maybe they've don't some whiteboards. but it's definitely not the core of that school. the core of that school is the school leader who is absolutely determined to put, you know, the kids on a different trajectory. is obsessed with everything a great teacher is obsessed with, right? building an incredible team. they obsessed over attracting and developing teachers. they built this incredibly powerful culture where they get the kids, the teachers and the
parents aligned on the same mission. and they manage well and then they do whatever it takes which is a big thing, right. like they know their kids face extra challenges. they know they are coming in way behind. they lengthen the extra school day they bring in social services, et cetera, et cetera. they are completely redefining school and they're getting very different outcomes. >> but are you suggesting that having constant unimpeded access to the internet is not going to solve every social problem? [laughter] >> that's so wild. that's an eye-opener given everything that's happening in the world in egypt and tunisia is a function of social media. [laughter] >> 8% of the kids in this school are proficient in reading. so access to the internet doesn't help them that much. >> not necessarily. charters? >> you know, i think one thing that's -- [laughter] >> one thing on the side of
charters and then i'll go after them as a silver bullet. this growing number of schools i keep talking about, many, many more of them are charters than traditional schools. there are traditional public schools in the regular system that are getting these kind of results but they are few and far between. and i think that's for a reason. i think the charter laws provide talented, committed carters with an incredible opportunity to say, okay, i'm going to excuse me responsibility for complete freedom over my input, who i hire, how i spend my budget so it's an incredible enabler. but, unfortunately -- i mean, if you look on average at the charter school results and the public school results, they're no better. in fact, i've seen charter schools -- because teach for america places in some of them where you really wonder if we should be putting some of these people in jail. i mean, they're so much worse than the dysfunction that we see in the regular system. and i think it's just another
example of we thought -- you know what? it is the best of intentions. it's people wanting to solve the problem tomorrow. change the laws. hopefully everything will be better, you know, very soon. but, unfortunately, it's not that easy. like we still need to then cultivate the leadership necessary to take advantage of the charter laws. and that is the most precious resource in all this. because it's hard to find those school leaders who have the kind of foundational experience necessary to actually run a transformational school. >> is the experience of new york city with charters different different from the rest of the done and if so, why? >> well, i think because there are such -- there are probably many reasons why. yes, it's definitely different from -- i mean, i'm not the charter expert but, you know, we have lots of very high performing charters here and i think it's because first of all there's a charter cap. you can only open so many.
not necessarily a good thing. but they have very rigorous standards who opens them sort of like new orleans and necessity shut them down when they don't work and probably even more so, you know, joel klein and others made an extraordinary effort to recruit people in to run charter so we've done a lot to recruit good folks in. >> is it possible those things are -- good experience with charters and that kind of selectivity and high standards for them is in in part of the function of the existence of the charter cap? isn't the cap -- isn't the restriction on the resource make you use it for wisely? >> you could argue that. but -- i mean, i -- >> would you argue that? >> no. i think that it's a very -- i think it's a fact that it is very hard to find and develop the leadership necessary to run a high performing school of any sort and including a charter school. but i think that we could find a lot more than the cap. >> oh, i see. what's the cap now?
do you know, offhand what the cap is in new york state? >> who knows? they raised the cap last year, so -- >> 460. you don't have a -- 200? do you have a figure -- do you have a kind of optimal -- would the czar kopp have an optimal figure? >> i would be the principals of charters into the system. so i think -- but i would -- i would do that and i would also do something else. so, you know -- and joel klein has really worked very hard to do exactly this and this is exactly what they've done in new orleans. but, you know, the bottom line is, wherever you see one of these transformational schools i'm talking about, always, always, always they're run by someone who feels such deep passionate commitment and full
ownership over ensuring that their kids get up a different path. and if they don't have the freedom, they take the freedom to do whatever it takes to get to that end result. and i think we really need to ground our policies in an understanding of that dynamic and i think the implication is that our central system should spend an immense amount of energy attracting and developing real leadership, which is a process, right. we can't snap our fingers like we need great leaders. we need to ensure they're highly successful, keep some of them into the classroom and put other in leadership roles and whatnot. we need to obsess in talent development in order any high performing organization does. but at the same time we then need to empower our leaders to get results. and so i think that kind of restructuring is probably the answer overall. >> yeah. unions.
>> i think that unions need to change just like districts need change. and lots of other things need to change. but i think the idea that we fbi the unions or just wipe them off the faith of the earth -- >> you were the one earlier who said you wouldn't have them in your present universe. >> right. we don't live in a perfect universe. i think it's not totally -- i think the assumption that if we lifted -- let's assume we removed them all tomorrow. anyone who works in and around schools -- just imagine what do you think will be different the next day? like, we have so much further to go. in states where there is very low unionization and collective bargaining sort of a nonissue, we have 1% teacher dismissal rates. we have 1% teacher dismissal rates. whether they are strong unions or not. why is that? that's because there is no culture of discipline in our
school districts. i mean, literally when you think about how a high performing organization operates or how these very high performing schools operate and compare that to how most of our public schools and school districts -- and even probably private schools for that matter operate, there's no -- you know, we don't do what we know it takes to run a high performing organizations and so i think we need to -- you know, unions to change but we need our districts and our school to change as well. >> does all of this become -- does dealing with -- does making -- what you're saying in all of these cases, funding charters, unionization, these are all variables that can make a difference, provided you have in place first an organization and culture that makes effective learning possible? it's cart and horse here?
>> right, exactly. i mean, i think anything short of that gets us incremental progress in a world where incremental progress is not affordable, you know? we haven't really grounded ourselves in the magnitude of the issue here and it's so easy not to recognize what's going on in our country but we live in a country where the 15 million kids who grow up below the poverty line, half of them will not graduate from high school. if you don't graduate from high school today, you know, your options -- i mean, lots of, you know -- i mean, we have communities that are putting more kids into the prison system than into college. the kids who do graduate from high school, who we applaud for walking across the stage, have on average an eighth skill level. a few percentage points on standardized tests doesn't meaningful change the kids' lives in that context. and that's what any of these interventions at their best will get you.
and what we've learned in the last 20 years is, we could have something different. we could have meaningful change for kids. we could actually put whole buildings of kids on a different trajectory and to me that creates the moral imperative. now that we know that and we know how to replicate that, it's on us to figure out, okay, so we need to treat this like the crisis that it is. given that now we know we can solve it. and go after it and any time any of us have a true crisis in our lives or in our midst, you know, and truly view it as that, we view it in all of its complexity and go at it with an equally complex solution, like it is no one thing. and there's no way around the hard work of building high performing organizations essentially. >> yeah. let's talk about the practical impact of importing what teach for america does essentially is import large numbers of
motivated, college graduates into the teaching profession, okay? so let's talk about what that means on a practical level. first of all, do teach for america teachers -- are they -- how do they compare on average to the kind of median teacher. are they better than the regular teacher. what do we know? >> the growing body of research out there would show they're more effective than other beginning teachers. and in some subjects and grade levels they're more effective than the experienced teachers. but not by the impact levels that i just described that we meet, you know? like if you look at the studies, researchers think statistically significant positive results and we think this isn't changing kids' lives. some of our people are changing kids' lives but on average. and honestly, this experience is kind of part -- i think teach for america is an enormously good thing and you're better off as a kid in school if you have a
teach for america corps member than not, you're -- and you know, our people are obviously are going off and, you know, staying and teaching for an average of eight years but also moving into other positions and taking that experience with them and affecting broader changes and whatnot. but this experience is why i say that, you know, teaching is the latest silver bullet because i think we somehow think that we can re-engineer the way 3.7 million teachers are recruited and trained and whatnot. and i think our own experience where we've poured immense amounts of energy in the smartest people i could possibly find and millions and millions of dollars into literally -- i mean, we've got a continuous learning loop in our organization that is kind of mind-boggling. we have to do tons of studies what are the most effective of our people. what difference ren chaise stage. how does that influence our training and our professional development?
every year, you know, and still, you know, we're where we are and i guess all of that has led me to think, you know what? we need to take this on on a school level. this is an organization problem. it's like if you run that a big organization or company, you don't fix your problems by, you know, sending brain waves directly to all of the people in your organization. you think, okay, who are my managers? let me work with them. they need to manage their teams effectively. and when you go up to tip infinity and you see their incredible, incredible results and ask them what's the key. it's like the teachers but he has gone out and attracted and developed and retained and, you know, you talk to the teachers, why have they stayed? because of the culture of the school. it's a team i want to be part of. i feel so supported, et cetera. so i think ultimately we just need to come at the teaching question differently. >> does this represent an evolution in your thinking? you would not have said what you just said 20 years ago, am i right? >> i probably didn't know what i -- you know, 20 years ago i
was saying, why aren't we being recruited as aggressively to commit two years to teach in two years in poverty as to work on wall street? >> yeah. >> once i get into this -- i don't know when i started -- i thought this way i have to admit. >> i sort of see it is my one mild -- it's not a criticism. it's an observation about your book. >> yeah. >> which is there are these two strands that are in some sense complementary and some sense contradictory that run through the book and that i suspect legitimately run through your thinking. >> yeah. >> but one is this notion we have to find new sources of talent and bring them into the system. and the other is, that well, that's not really what it's about. what it's about is building a system that allows people to flourish. they overlap, you know, in the diagram like this.
but they're kind of -- you know, the same -- there's the same kind of -- you also run into not entirely fair observation when one reads your book that you're saying that virtually all students can thrive given the appropriate culture and environment, right? but then is the same true of teachers? can virtually all teachers thrive given the appropriate culture and environment? i mean, if we can -- if we can help virtually any kind why can't we help virtually any -- or is this apples and oranges? >> yeah, i mean, this is a very complex set of thoughts. but i do -- so first of all, we can't understand teach for america as a teaching organization. and i think this is the biggest thing we fight in the world. we are a leadership development organization. there's no other way to look at it. we're going out and saying, we need our future leaders to
channel their energy against our country's most fundamental injustice. and we're going to get them to commit two years to teach in high poverty communities. we're going to make sure they have the leadership characteristics that we've seen to differentiate the most effective teachers. we're going to invest massive amounts in their training and support in pursuit of ensuring that they're highly successful with their kids and we hope that experience is going to be important for kids and important for them in every single decision they make thereafter. and it proves out to be. and we need them to go out and engineer the changes. we need them to go start great schools and, in fact, they have. we wouldn't have the school model that we have that everyone is out there trying to replicate if there weren't for a few teach for america alums. we wouldn't have the energy we have and the effort to replicate it without a bunch of teach for america alums. we wouldn't have the revolution we have in new orleans and dc and whatnot without a bunch of these people. and i think we need -- some of them to go take on the challenges of poverty to make the whole thing easier. so i think we need that. at the same time, what many, many of our people come out of
this thinking is, wait, we need to change the way these systems attract and develop talent. and there's no doubt. i mean, i concluded the same thing, right? so what are the systemic changes that we need? that is one big central issue. and i think what we've seen is, we can do that, too. i mean, it's -- you know, you go to new orleans and i think, you know, one of the most interesting things about my time there was talking with some of our teachers who we placed there over time who said, you know, i came here for two years and i wasn't -- i was just going to teach for two years and then leave. and i just bought a house seven years later. why did you buy a house because i'm the hot commodity. they even pay me a lot because they can control what they pay their teachers in new orleans. and because, to get at your other part of the question, this whole conversation then went on in new orleans and they said, don't think it's just the outsiders coming in.
the good people came out of the system. and, you know, that will take us down a whole other path. but i think most people who come in to education are coming into it because they want to do good things for kids. but they come in to a system -- think about the people we hire, the best of the best will take 4500 or 47,000 applicants this year. if we brought them into a completely nonrigorous undisciplined culture and just let them go, no management, honestly, lots of good things would not happen. some good things would happen. lots of not good things would happen. and over time -- i mean, people have to operate in strong rigorous cultures. and so i do think that there are tons of people out there who would operate in a very different way if the culture and the overall structure was different. >> but to go back to my point, this does represent an evolution in your -- >> it may well. it's hard to track all my
various evolutions, but which part? we've always viewed ourselves as a leadership program. >> but the program -- but imagine we had this conversation 20 years ago. >> uh-huh. >> i would never have known what i was doing. >> you wouldn't have spent as much time talking about the importance of culture, i'm guessing? >> no i'm sure i would not. i mean, we placed our first 489 teachers 20 years ago. and they went in with the same level of commitment and idealism as the corps members we're placing today and i think they would say -- it would be fair to say they hit the wall. you know, they went and started teaching and they saw these kids bring all their social challenges into their classrooms. and, you know, it became a downward spiral, right. like it's down right impossible. what happened a few of our people rose above it all. like