Waiting for Superman

Images-1 Donor's Choose had a screening last night of Waiting for Superman.  The tag line of the movie is "the fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom."  That sums it up right there.  It should be mandatory for every American to see this film. 

The movie follows the lives of five children and their parents on their quest to get a better education in one of the charter schools vs the local school that they are attending.  It is an incredibly powerful film.  The filmmaker Davis Guggenheim does a brilliant job of defining the issues of why the system is a mess. 

There is no doubt that we can educate anyone from any background.  It takes good teachers and a curriculum that works for the students in the classroom.  If the students in inner cities can memorize rap songs but have a hard time with arithmetic tables then teach them in rap.  Be creative.  Unfortunately with the unions we have tenured teachers who are terrible and we can't get rid of them.  One good teacher can change the lives of many.  We spend a significant amount of each states education budget on administrators (fat) instead of spending the majority of the cash on teachers and students.  Unions have forced the system to be focused on adults keeping their jobs regardless of their ability to teach the curriculum.  If you are a lawyer or a sales person or a manager and you aren't doing your job, you are fired.  In the school system, you can't be fired.  That is one of the biggest problems.  Statistically if we got rid of the bottom 10% of all our teachers, that would be the one's not teaching to the level that they should be, our educational ratings as compared to other countries around the world would put us on top.  That statistic alone blew me away.

Michelle Rhee, who is currently running the DC public school system, is someone I have been following since she became chancellor.  She is absolutely hellbent on disrupting the entire system in DC.  Get rid of all the layers of employees in the school board and fire the bad teachers.  She attempted to negotiate with the union in DC.  She proposed that if they got rid of tenure that they could then pay teachers bonuses based on accomplishments.  Some teachers could see their salaries double.  The union would not even present it to the teachers.  Perhaps she should do what the unions did from the very onset.  Stand in front of every school and talk to the teachers directly.  Get them to force the union to make the changes that would benefit their pocket books.  Teachers don't want to work with other teachers that aren't pulling their weight either.  It affects the entire school.

Why can't we pay teachers bonuses based on kids getting to the next grade and being able to read, write and do math at the level they are supposed to.  If they get to the next grade and are up to par, the teacher who taught them gets rewarded.  Reward teachers for making an impact on the kids.  Don't we reward people in other industries for affecting the bottom line? 

Charter schools are not the only solution.  We have public schools through out this country in urban areas as well as suburban areas that are still teaching the same way we did 50 years ago.  We have to get rid of the unions, support creativity for new curriculums with cash incentives.  Make cash and creative work places be an incentive for more people to think about being teachers. 

I could talk about this until I am blue in the face.  Our kids school, although a private school, has a union.  I have seen first hand how it works.  It doesn't.  There are some seriously terrible teachers at our kids school.  The kids are not learning at the level they could be if the teacher in front of the classroom sucks.  You can't get rid of these teachers because they are tenured.  You can write them up for years but the process to get rid of the teacher is completely stacked against the administration.  Who wins, not the kids.  Who should always win when it comes to education?  The kids. 

Go see the movie.  It is powerful, disturbing, astonishing, frustrating and depressing.  Read John Heilemann's article in New York Magazine.  He does a great job writing about the movie and why our system is failing. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Yule Heibel

    I *just* finished reading Heilemann’s article, then saw your tweet that your blog post today is about the movie! Talk about a topic that’s close to my heart… Loved Heilemann’s article, and am envious that you got to see the movie already (who knows how long it’ll take to get to my colonial outpost of an island in the Pacific Northwest!). I really liked the discussion around innovation (that it’s built on failure, and if we want to innovate in education, we should expect to see models fail – but then also to support and cultivate the successes). Since I might make this article the topic of my blog post later tonight, I won’t go on here. But I found another (unsaid) aspect interesting when the discussion turned to attracting the top talent to teaching. This used to be a profession that was acceptable to women – many of whom were top-tier and as smart as any male contemporary, but who found that they couldn’t “acceptably” enter other professions. Now that women can go elsewhere, we’re perhaps seeing the consequence of (unintended?) sexism as an erasure of solid excellence in teaching – particularly at the elementary school level, which is where it all starts. As Davis et al. point out, it’s no longer the brightest (women) who become teachers…

    1. Gotham Gal

      If women (and men) had a passion for teaching and were paid accordingly for the products they in essence churned out perhaps more people would make teaching an option.I wanted to be a teacher and my mother said that I could do anything I wanted but become a teacher because you didn’t make any money. She was a teacher early in her career. Neither right nor wrong but an interesting observation on her part.

      1. aarondelcohen

        me2. It’s tragic.

    2. Mike Hart

      The payment system for teachers is all wrong. Salaries are rock bottom, but in return teachers (unions) are provided benefits for life through tenure. Historically, women were attracted to teaching, in part, to gain a second family income (plus long term benefits) and the timing worked out to be home for the summer when school was out. That has all changed too.

  2. Mike Hart

    Revamping our education system should be of the highest priority (as opposed to health care) in our country. We are investing in our future as a society when we talk about educating our children. Not to minimize the importance of health care, but a majority of health care dollars are spent in the last 25% of life. We have it backwards. We need to be investing wisely up front in education that, in theory, would provide returns for many years to come. To be number 25 amongst developed countries should be entirely unacceptable to everyone, including our government.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I couldn’t agree with you more

  3. andyswan

    I love this post, and I agree with most of it. In the end, schools and teachers are powerless against parents who are uncaring, uninvolved, or worse—involved in destructive ways.We’ve destroyed the nobility of the family, and we are reaping the rewards of that labor.Privatize education!

    1. Gotham Gal

      If privatizing schools would be guaranteed to make the change needed, then bravo.We have a huge structure of public schools in place. It would be utterly depressing that our country doesn’t have the bandwidth to change the way those schools educate our kids. Its about getting rid of the layers and the unions and getting back to the core of why schools exist….to educate each future generation.

      1. Satish Mummareddy

        I agree that teachers have to be held accountable but the real problem is that people who are not in a stage in life to have kids are having a bunch of them. And that is the real problem in this country and no one is talking about it.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Satish, you have hit on a very interesting phenomena.Education starts at home and parents should absolutely be partners andsupport systems in their kids education yet a bad teacher is probably one ofthe worst possible things ever. You wouldn’t if only 50% of the curriculumwas being taught or 100%. That can make an impact the following year or foryears to come.As for people having kids much later in life…that is a totally differentvery touchy subject.

          1. Satish Mummareddy

            I am with you 100% on the teachers issue.

          2. Satish Mummareddy

            I agree that having kids later is a touchy topic.

          3. Gotham Gal

            Unfortunately many in the Mexican community are Catholic and don’t believein birth control. Not sure how that cycle is broken. You should read thebook Random Family by Nicole LeBlanc. She follows random families in theBronx for 10 years. It is a very insightful book as to why the cyclecontinues but unfortunately is at a loss to figure out how to stop it.

          4. Satish Mummareddy

            Thanks for the suggesting the book. Will read it.

          5. Gotham Gal

            You are spot on. That is an American mentality. I deserve it. By the way,the other part for many people these days is I deserve it but I don’t wantto pay taxes. Crazy!

  4. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    Education is such a conundrum. It is a no-brainer that our “system” is broken as it relates to teachers, but I think the entire structure is broken. What children learn, when they learn it, and how that information is applied to the concept of “work”. Not just getting a job work, but as in “doing the work” or how the concept of work correlates to becoming self sufficient (intellectually, emotionally and financially) is the crux. This is such an important topic for the next stage of our country, both socially and financially, though aggghhh, it is so frustrating. Truly, eating an elephant.

    1. Gotham Gal

      We are teaching in a system that is the same system as 50 years ago. You are so right. The whole system needs to ne retooled to educate kids to become working citizens of the society that exists today.

  5. TraceyJackson

    Though many have said this on the site, there is so little incentive for teachers these days, especially in the public school system. While they may get tenure, the good ones or the ones who strive to be good know much of the time they won’t have enough books, art supplies, forget supplies many of the schools have eliminated art, music, sports and many of the things that spark interest in kids and often times attract the more unusual teachers. They are also often forced to follow set rules that are antiquated.Teaching like many other jobs is not held in the high esteem it once was. And the passionate ones often times get shot down by the broken system and not to make matters more incendiary in many states the religious right starts yelling and screaming when things start going against what they think should be taught.This attracts a certain type of teacher and repels another, the ones who think outside the box which I have always found is the best way to get kids interested in learning. GREAT POST JOANNE!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Tracey. Your comment is right on the money.

  6. r_y_feig

    I think theoretically paying teachers based on accomplishment is a good idea, but I’m not sure about the execution. Is this based on end of the year testing to see what students have learned? With standardized testing, there’s the criticism that teachers are only teaching to what will be tested so students pass.I don’t really remember if my teachers were ‘good’ or not, but no matter what, my parents (thankfully!) were very strict and uncompromising when it came to my education. I had to have homework done by a certain time every night (my parents would check to make sure it was completed), no tv on weeknights, and there were always weekend trips to the library to get books to read.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Very good question. One of the issues is that good teachers actually get alot accomplished in a year and the student goes on to the following yearprepared. Other teachers don’t get much accomplished and the student goeson to the next year not prepared. Certainly some students might struggleregardless of having the teacher that got a lot accomplished. I would hateto see yearly standardized testing be the measure on how to give a bonus.Maybe their peers decide based on what they see the following year? Perhapsthe principal is capable of making those decisions.There is the online site that allows college students to post their thoughtson teachers where they are basically judged by their students. This helpsmake incoming students think about which teacher they’d rather be taught by.As long as that is monitored it is a very powerful tool.

      1. Ryan Drew

        Would peer review be too subjective a measure? Could/would it be gamed?Hire a group of independent auditors to appraise and rate the progress of the students (through testing, interviews, peer review, etc.). Retired teachers who are interested in part time employment could perform the role.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Retired teachers who care to be the auditors is super smart. The system has too many layers already. It should be simple and clean.

  7. Juliet Blake

    I saw the movie in DC on Wednesday night, very powerful and a frightening indictment of our school system… Went to work the next day and called our kids publishing division to find out what happens to unsold books?? Do they return them, to the warehouse …NO TOO COSTLY TO DO THAT……within a few hours my office was full of great National Geographic kids books which are now being sent to public schools. I read in a previous post of yours you are looking at putting together a tech conference for young people, can we talk about that? I’m working on something similar a Pop Tech/Pup Tech idea for 16-25 year olds…

    1. Gotham Gal

      That’s awesome what you did. Let’s talk off line. I will send u an email.

  8. Hoepfluy

    This movie is awful. It is powerful. It had me on the verge of tears with those poor kids who had to wait for the lottery draw. But it places blame on the wrong people. It didn’t even mention funding inequity as a cause of school failure, yet it praises charter schools, which are heavily subsidized and have great funding. I don’t buy its union bashing claims for a minute. I don’t like that it implies measuring students with standardized tests is fair and accurate.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You bring up many good points. The lottery is a terrible thing to putstudents through. The unions are terrible too because of their inability toget rid of bad teachers but the worst part is the layers and layers ofadministrative costs that suck up a huge portion of the schools budget. Ifthey just got rid of 25% of the administrative costs and let the money flowdown to the students that would be a huge improvement.