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Fixing public schools: Davis Guggenheim on “Waiting for Superman”

This week, Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee resigned amidst political pressures. Her decision came as no surprise to many in Washington, where her take-no-prisoners approach to improving the D.C. school system made her villain to some, hero to others. Rhee’s reform efforts are featured prominently in “Waiting for Superman,” which may be the hottest documentary since director Davis Guggenheim’s last film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

As you likely know by now, “Waiting for Superman” is about the decline of the American public education system. It follows five elementary school students trying to get a better education by winning lottery spots at high performing public charter schools.

The film offers solutions that have proven unpopular, to say the least, with the teachers’ unions. But it has captured the nation’s attention. And just this week at the White House, President Obama met with Guggenheim and the children featured in the film. Need to Know’s Alison Stewart spoke with Davis Guggenheim to discuss his film, the controversies and potential solutions for fixing our public school system.

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  • Judy Bernstein

    The movie ‘Waiting for Superman’ doesn’t tell the whole story-it leaves out information such as:

    +teachers CAN be fired even if they have tenure-tenure is not a life-time guarantee
    +the teachers’ unions do not grant tenure-incompetent principals do
    +the teachers’ unions do not hire teachers
    +the great schools in Finland-all unionized
    +the great schools in the film-unionized

    What would have made a great film is one that looks at what the great schools are actually doing so the public can request the same for the failing schools
    There is NO research that links student achievement to teachers’ salaries-as a matter of fact according to a three year study cited in the NYTimes-there is NO link.
    The research says 75% of charter schools are not doing the job either.

    The answer to this question is not simply longer school days – that’s a ridiculous premise-more of the same gets more of the same. Excellent Teacher training and commitment of real resources are two suggestions.Time during the school day for teachers to work together to and learn from one another is a powerful factor in academic achievement. One-size-fits-all programs DO NOT WORK (NYC tried several-scores did not significantly improve). Good teaching is done and known by many teachers all over this country. Resources are needed for students who come from impoverished backgrounds-perhaps that’s what is going on in the Harlem charter school-I’d guess that’s a large part of the success. There has never been a real commitment of resources in this country for education of all children.
    What about appointing real educators to run schools-not business executives or lawyers or teachers who taught for two or three years. Take a look at the professional program for teachers in New York State sponsored by New York State United Teachers-a union.They are providing meaningful professional development. Teachers often have to pay for this out of their own pockets.

    I and many of my former colleagues have studied our craft for many years and know a great deal about how children learn and what works-ask us!!!

    Some other suggestions:

    Read Diane Ravitch’s book:”The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” I wish every superintendent and so-callled education reformer would actually read books about how children learn. These people should also read books about how the brain works and how our knowledge of the brain should influence how and what we teach.

  • Vwheetzle

    You *completely* ignore Schwartzenegger’s (sp?) comment that the big thing that would change the educational system is for PARENTS to shoulder the burden of improving their children’s educations. That’s the most important element of any educational system, and one that you politically correct folks always ignore. But then PC always ignores the possibility of the individual taking responsibility for his or her own welfare.

    Then you have this greasy-haired guy who’s obviously extremely impressed with his own cleverness, who assures us he’s a Democrat. Well, there’s a stunner. And, predictably, you show only his opinions as the Gospel to the Enlightened. You know, it’s just possible that as wonderful as he, and apparently you, are convinced he is, that he’s not right?

    You could of course have included some people who didn’t swoon at the greasy-haired guy’s proclamations of The Answer. You could have included somebody who was not a Democrat. Oh, what am I saying? That’s just crazy talk when it comes to PBS.

    Could you have made this show any more biased? I don’t think so. Could you have ignored any more effectively the responsibility of the individual, the parents, to take care of their own affairs? I don’t think so.

    This kind of biased, unilateral crap is why I get so incredibly irritated that my tax dollars go to support PBS.

  • Courtney M Cobbs

    Where are the report cards for parents?
    It’s very easy to talk about what reforms need to be made in the educational system while ignoring the structural issues that lead many students to perform less than their best in school: poverty.
    Most of the inequalities in our educational system boil down to poor vs middle class vs rich.
    I like the Harlem Children’s zone because it’s a coordinated effort to try to help low income kids.
    Sure some schools in poor areas might have good teachers but what good are good teachers when the kids can’t concentrate because they are hungry, need to see a dentist or a doctor?

    I’m sick of the anti-union rhetoric by people who are totally clueless.

  • jan

    Outrage propelled me out of bed while watching this.

    Longer days and longer school years? You end up with kids who have lost interest earlier in the day and are now just taking up space in the classroom. Consolidation? That’s a big part of why kids are having problems. Mom and Dad can’t supervise them as well when they’re going to school over on the other side of town. The other problem with more consolidation is that the schools get bigger, classrooms get larger, more children slip through the cracks because they needed individual attention for maybe 5 minutes that the teacher was unable to give because they’ve been given too many students per classroom. If you really want to see students do better, unconsolidate the schools, return the students to schools in their neighborhood with smaller class sizes and allow the kids who need a few extra minutes of explanation to get it.

    One more thing. Obama is wrong as he can be with his attempt to privatize the school system and if teacher’s unions were really the big bad boogie man that they’re being portrayed as being, teachers would not have to go to school over the summer every few years to retain their teacher credentials, teachers would not grade homework on their own time, and teachers wouldn’t be called to volunteer to supervise student clubs, parties, sports activities and other functions without being paid for the extra work and effort they put out.

    Guggenheim doesn’t know much about the subject he wrote about. I’m not impressed.

  • Song4mozart

    Mr. Guggenheim:
    Instead of spending time and effort making a documentary, why don’t you and your followers volunteer in the classroom and schools to help all of the children who are in so much danger.

  • Publius

    First, thank you for the informative post above – the first post in this string.

    It is nice to have so many people concerned about education in America. It took long enough. Yes, a conversation is warranted, however not once have I seen a veteran teacher at a successful school interviewed or asked for suggestions. Unfortunately, there are plenty of one or two year teachers that escape (it seems they are trying to escape) the classroom for higher paying principal or administrative jobs. How many years have these so called super administrators spent in the classroom? Yes, they may have good ideas but nothing replaces classroom experience.

    Gimmicks will not work. Most teachers, the majority, are teaching because they care… many collegues regularly drive many miles to attend professional development seminars – more time away from their family. It is not uncommon to see many teachers at my school putting in 60 hour weeks at school, and then more grading at home. It would be nice to be paid at a level commensurate with other professionals, but incentive or merit pay is a mere distractor. As is the union bashing: distractor. And no, I am not a union member.

    Society must value education or nothing will change!!! Parents must value an education and have time to follow through with their children at home. It has to be a partnership, not a place to dump children so you can go to work or have a day off. I truly don’t expect change in this nation – 30 miles south of Edmond a college football coach makes (not earns) 400 times my salary. My resume: four years in the Navy and then completing my bachelors degree, eighteen hours of graduate work in history – all A’s. Baseball players earning 10 million for a game. Football players. Corporate CEOs. Of course, some parents have to work two jobs to make ends meet and don’t get that extra time for homework with their children (many competitive nations adding five hours of homework a night and I struggle to get 20 solid minutes from my students – except the foreign exchange students that finish my class with high A’s – two this year beating the pants off of my American students). Values.

    Proper training and ongoing professional development of teachers is vital to improve education in this nation. However, the teacher in the classroom cannot do it alone,and driving teachers to burn out because some (many) parents will not or cannot follow through at home does not help the situation. A teacher can make a huge difference, and many miracles do occur in the classroom ( I have a stack of letters from former students that attest to this fact), however it is a societal problem and will not be solved with panaceas or phd ideas not grounded in experience, empirical experience. Quick solutions will not solve a societal problem: it takes a paradigm shift.

    When it get right down to the nuts and bolts, what do you value more, an excellent educational experience and opportunity for your children or a boat, three car garage, season tickets to some game, the latest electronic gadgets that you don’t NEED??? Values and priorities. Values… and priorities.

  • James Castiglione

    Bernstein’s comments deserve to be highlighted for a couple reasons, the first of which is the extent to which the teachers themselves – the ones actually interacting with the students, the ones with the expertise – have been systematically excised from the conversation so that they can be blamed for everything. No one is asking the teachers. Once you’ve blamed the teachers it is a very short, and easy, step to take to demonize the teacher’s unions. And now we have arrived at the real agenda behind many (not all) of the prominent voices and organizations pushing public education reform: union busting as a necessary step in the corporatization of public education and its ultimate conversion into a for-profit business.

    Exhibit # 1: Michelle Rhee. Much of the money and “intellectual muscle” behind Rhee and her colleagues comes out of Wall Street and conservative “think tanks” like the American Enterprise Institute. The agenda here is pretty obvious and pretty obviously runs counter to the economic and other interests of the mostly poor Americans they purport to be helping by pushing reform of public education. Rhee’s decision making was all top-down, just like a corporate CEO. Mass layoffs, the demoralization of the workforce, the de-professionalization of the teacher corp, an emphasis on wasteful competition rather than collaboration, a focus on managerial rather than pedagogical initiatives, in short, many of the hallmarks of American-style corporatism.

    Mark my words: just as this corporatism has undermined the American economy, so will it undermine American public education, both to the detriment of the many and the benefit of the elite few.

    The final nail in the coffin as that Rhee’s reforms failed: standardized assessment scores dropped and NAEP scores increased because of demographic shifts, not because of actual improvement. In this latter example is a skewing of the numbers similarly to what happens in many charter schools: enrollment of low-scoring groups dropped and those of higher-scoring groups increased. Looking within a given demographic group there were no statistically significant improvements; that is to say, teaching and learning was not improving, at least as measured by the single metric of the standardized tests.

    In charter schools the dynamic is two-fold. One, the students are self-selected, i.e. highly motivated and with better support structures (family, etc.), and two, even where enrollment is by lottery (again, from a self-selected pool), they force the attrition of the low-performing students. Voila! Improving test scores the old-fashioned way: by improving the quality of the students being tested.

    Let me reiterate Bernstein’s citing of Diane Ravitch’s book with this note on its significance. Ravitch was for years a strong supporter of the charter school movement. But in the book, she documents how her studies have now led her to the opposite conclusion, namely, that charters are not the answer and that the answer lies in strengthening the district schools embedded in our communities. When the most prominent advocate of the charter movement has abandoned it, that should be a signal for more reflection, not a rush to judgement.

  • DavyXO

    The latter portion of this story (all I was able to see) was very disappointing. Michelle Rhee is not a hero (she was not entirely right in her critique, and senselessly warlike). The teachers’ unions, no matter how intransigent, have relatively little to do with the problem.

    Remember Americans yahooing off to war in Iraq? Recognize the delusional notion that we Americans are number 1, and therefore assured a good outcome? Does this not resonate at all with the movie’s observation that our students are number one in confidence while being number twenty-three in competence? There is the problem in a nutshell, and it is one which pervades the culture. Something is amiss with self-appraisal. Those teachers (and other responsible citizens) who try to address it are perceived as unpleasantly negativistic, and are tuned out.

    Many students and parents have the uneasy feeling that something is wrong, but engaging in denial is the only publicly acceptable behavior. Denial. Unrealistic appraisal. Cognitive deficit. Insistence on magical thinking. Rejection of corrective instruction. Cultural characteristics.

    This has very little to do with teachers’ unions or the fact that inevitably some teachers will be below average. (You can’t average anything without something like half being below average.)

    It has to do with severe economic inequality (beyond that of any of the other leading advanced economies). It has to do with nameless dread and uncertain futures. It has to do with entrenched impoverished communities with no view of any real (as opposed to over-confidant) way out. It has to do with an over-stressed middle class, running to keep up yet falling behind.

    It has to do with schools which operate without (realistic) parental investment. It has to do with students who live in over-stressed families, with ambiguous futures, without a social safety net, with inadequate preparation for whatever grade level they are trying to pretend to be in.

    Forget all that. This show was disappointing. I like both hosts (if that’s the term), but this has fallen short of Moyers’s work. But forget that too. I am neither a teacher nor a union member (nor their knee-jerk defender), although I have known a good many students and parents.

    But forget all that, too. All of your yammering about how the schools are defective and have failed is piling on more of the same, higher and deeper. That is not where the real, primary problem is. As long as you and all the Michelle Rhees keep up this drumbeat, the problems will remain. You betray unrealistic over-confidence in your diagnosis of the problem. You contribute nothing when you go on reinforcing the same old ideas, and you come in approximately 23rd in the world in accurately pointing toward solutions.

  • DavyXO

    The guest purports to have sympathies for the “left.” The program suggests a so-to-speak (if one can avoid its use as a slur) liberal-minded openness to enlightened thought. However, the “Conservative” revolution has left everybody bending over backwards to respect the politically correct distortions imposed by decades of “Conservative” nonsense.

    You can’t even spell out your own enlightened ideas any more, apparently because you’ve been irrationally influenced (or scared) by right-wing propaganda. You don’t have to respond by being “Liberal.” Just break loose from the conventions and tell it like it is. Stop giving credence where none is due. Tell the truth about reality as well as it is now understood, not as some of your interviewees or viewers may over-confidently believe it to be.

  • George Potratz

    Well, are you going to going to give teachers equal time? I say ‘teachers’ and not ‘teachers’ unions’ because it is teachers and not just our unions that Guggenheim, Duncan, Obama, et al., are bashing, and teachers and not just our unions who know that scapegoating us will not improve public education in our country.

    Guggenheim is a smug know-it-all who knows very little. For him to say that he is a “lefty” who supports unions and at the same time hold up Michelle Rhee as a hero should by itself be enough to exclude him from being taken seriously.

    Since when in this country does being pro-education mean being anti-teacher? In representing the interests of its members the NEA and the AFT are also representing the interests of students. I know very few teachers for whom their job is just a job. We put ourselves out for our students every day of the week . . . and most evenings . . . and on most weekends. We judge our own success by our students’ success, and not only their success on standardized tests.

    We will know that the politicians and the pundits are serious about improving education when they are interested in working WITH teachers toward that end, not against us. And we will believe that change is possible when they fight for the resources the effort will require.

    James Castiglione, Judy Bernstein, or any of those who have commented before me here would clearly have more of substance to say about where educational progress is to come from than I heard on your program tonight. I commend you for raising the issue in a serious way, but your coverage is in serious need of balance.

    George Potratz
    Snoqualmie, WA

  • Escotitoanderson

    I am SO disappointed in this show, and hope that the people who are producing it don’t think they are following in the footsteps of Bill Moyers, either in terms of quality or in perspective… I could’ve seen this sort of pap on most any other network. This piece on “Waiting for Superman” was truly unimaginative and did not interrogate the premises or the conclusions, implied or articulated, in the film. I could have been watching John Stoessel… Why lionize Michelle Rhee? What did she do, exactly, other than do battle with the union and fire people? Who compelled her to resign and why did people want her out? What were the results of her actions? The editorial taint of the report was implicitly that she must have been doing something right to be such an enemy of the teachers’ union…. And why demonize the union without specifically describing how it is responsible for or contributing to the problem? Did someone at your show just love the movie and want to give it a plug? Rather than allowing Guggenheim to frame the discourse around his film, you could have given alternate viewpoints an equally sympathetic airing, allowing people who take issue with him to make their specific critique of his arguments, maybe have him respond to a well-reasoned critique, and thereby allowing the viewer to cogitate a little… (The minimal clip from the head of the teachers’ union hardly qualifies as a thoughtful, pointed response to the points Guggenheim makes in his film, and his response did not respond to the points she made). I would have to say that, in the larger media, Guggenheim gets a very sympathetic airing, and the union-bashing and simplistic soundbytes characteristic of Michelle Rhee’s public statements also find their way to network forums. People tune in on Friday nights to PBS to get something more, something more probing, more problematic, something less hyped and simplistic. I will say this; after seeing Guggenheim plug his own movie, I certainly won’t pay any money to see it…

  • John D Goodman

    I volunteer with SCORE (formerly Service Corp of Retired Executives), a resource partner of the SBA. We provide free one on one counseling to people either in starting a small business or wanting assistance with their existing business. We also provide low cost seminars on writing business plans, financial plans, marketing plans etc. Maybe it’s time for the Department of Education to have a similar program that would attract volunteers to tutor and/or teach subjects not currently taught to supplement school faculties. They would also bring a real world perspective to the classroom.

  • Duffey Brenda

    I watched your video until you started to speak for a generation of women that you don’t represent. I am a female teacher from the generation you spoke about and fought against unions from their inception. I knew they would lead to a path of destruction. I actually lost my job and went into early retirement after becoming a whistleblower against practices of union protection of unethical teachers and teaching practices. I also wrote a proposal for a charter school in my district after I left my job and got nowhere because the school district didn’t want to lose its funding money. You need to start bringing these things to light in my opinion. We all know the children are being robbed. Go after those who are robbing them.

  • Anonymous

    “This has very little to do with teachers’ unions or the fact that inevitably some teachers will be below average. (You can’t average anything without something like half being below average.)

    It has to do with severe economic inequality (beyond that of any of the other leading advanced economies). It has to do with nameless dread and uncertain futures. It has to do with entrenched impoverished communities with no view of any real (as opposed to over-confidant) way out. It has to do with an over-stressed middle class, running to keep up yet falling behind.”

    You are SO right. All I can add is, “Amen.”

  • Anonymous

    It’s inarguable that many parents could and should take more responsibility for their children’s educations; however, many low-income parents are so stressed-out working multiple low-paying jobs that they have neither the time nor the energy to devote to the matter. If parents are really so much of the problem, why have experiments in “Community Schooling” – a system in which schools partner with nonprofits and local agencies to provide students and their families with health care, daycare, academic enrichment, mental and behavioral health services, and youth development activities in a centralized location – been so successful?

    Why the personal attack on Mr. Guggenheim’s hair? What does the abundance or lack of grease in his hair have to do with anything?

    Personally, I have reservations about this piece (too uncritical) and about Mr. G’s film (blaming teachers and unions too much, ignoring inconvenient facts such as how much apparent academic improvement has been the result of “dumbing down” tests and eliminating marginal students from the test pool), but I don’t think it’s helpful to engage in childish personal attacks.

    Also, why should PBS have to take the same position on the political spectrum (right-center, in my view) as the bulk of the mainstream media? Isn’t part of the point of public media to air viewpoints than are ignored elsewhere?

    I don’t mean to pick a fight, but it seems to me that many conservatives are incredibly insecure, flying off the handle (and engaging in pathetic personal attacks) at any ideas that challenge their worldview. If you can’t handle the kind of diverse debate that drives democracy, maybe you should stick to right-wing websites.

  • Bobbaillie

    It is unrealistic to expect that a mere teacher would be able to teach a child who doesn’t want to learn; a child whose parents are absent; or a child whose parents don’t read to them or care about learning.

    This film, like so many critiques of our public schools, scapegoats teachers and expects them to solve problems of poverty, and uninterested parents.

  • Anonymous

    The left-leaning magazine, The Nation, has done some excellent journalism on this topic.

    Their June 14, 2010 issue is devoted to education and includes contributions from:
    Pedro Noguera (editor of the issue, a professor of sociology and the author of “City Schools and the American Dream”);
    Linda Darling-Hammer (author of “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future”);
    Susan Eaton (a researcher at Harvard Law school and the author of “The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial”);
    Diane Ravitch (a research professor of education at NYU, and author of the lightning-rod book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education”);
    Philissa Cramer (editor of; and
    David L. Kirp (professor of public policy at UC/Berkeley and author of “The Sandbox: …”).

    I found all of the articles to be interesting and thought-provoking. They are available on-line at

    The Nation also published a review of “Waiting for Superman” in its October 11 issue, by Dana Goldstein (a Spencer Fellow in education journalism at Columbia University and former editor of The Daily Beast and The American Prospect). She points out that the film is generally accurate in what it shows, but suffers from errors of omission, leaving out: that 4-out-5 charter schools are no better (and many are worse) than traditional public schools (Alison, to her credit, pointed this out in her interview with Mr. G.); teachers at high-performing charter schools who are unionized and like it that way; noncharter neighborhood public schools (like PS 83 in East Harlem and George Hall Elem. In Mobile, Alabama) that are nationally recognized for doing a good job educating children in poor communities; the millions of dysfunctional poor families in which children never have a shot at charter schools “because adults simply aren’t engaged in their education”; the fact that the Finnish eduction system, so highly lauded in the film (“best in the world”), has unionized, tenured teachers and benefits from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system for the public it serves.

    Perhaps a counterpoint interview is in order, of Ms. Goldstein, Mr. Noguera or Ms. Ravitch, for example.

  • Bill

    I am profoundly disappointed with your coverage of this issue… and the movie. The softball questions posed to Gugenheim and the framing of the article are something I would expect on CNN or even Fox.

    Point number one: you totally bought into the premise of the movie (why, I’m not sure) by attempting to seperate teachers and teacher’s unions as was is implicit in your saying it is the “teacher’s unions” who object to the move and what it recommends.

    Let’s get this straight right up front: Teacher’s unions are not some evil, entrenched, institution with it’s own selfish interests seperate from teachers. Teacher’s unions are made up of teachers and the reason they object to all this insulting nonsense is that teachers themselves object to it, rightly so, and unions are their collective voice.

    if you took the text of the interview or the movie itself and substitited the word “teachers” everywhere the two word prhase “teacher’s union” appears, the narrative would not fly with most of the general public … blame in on the unions and you can get away with a lot. But that’s really the point, isnt it?

  • Sue

    It all started with Ronald Reagan’s attempted elimination of the Department of Education in the 1980′s. He didn’t suceed in getting rid of it but he severely gutted it. The following administrations
    including Clinton’s continued to cut back funding for public education. If charter schools can get all this nice money from wealthy individuals who do not pay their taxes like the rest of us, foundations (mostly conservative) together with taxpayers’ money why is it so hard to get increased funding for public schools? What is the problem? Perhaps it is public sector institution that corporations want to bleed to death. They didn’t suceed in making social security into a privatized cash cow, now they are going after the public schools with charters.

    Or perhaps in some regions, like the south you should not dare to improve the public schools because those children of white trash and poor blacks could get too smart.

  • Leon Luap

    One thing left out of the discussion so far… what is the best way to measure the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom? I haven’t heard the nuts and bolts of a truly equitable plan to do this yet. Equitable to the students who need access to a good education as well as equitable to the teachers who work with them. Will it simply be based on the results of standardized testing in reading and math? If so, we as a society are not looking close enough at the failures of “No Child Left Behind”, we’ll be adding to them. The fact that we’ve essentially already reconfigured the focus of our public schools to achieve higher scores on these assessments is bad enough. To measure the effectiveness of teachers based on these scores alone will not be serving the needs of our children.

    And, in terms of money… have there been studies done tracking the amount of waste and inefficiency within the federal Department of Education, and the various state Departments of Education? While teachers teach, and principals try to keep schools functioning, how many bureaucrats sit in federal, state or county offices and conference rooms pushing paper and collecting a salary? Why when we are faced with budget cuts in education are always talking about cuts that will directly affect students, and their teachers? Why don’t these cuts aim higher up the food chain? Hmm…

  • Rosserz

    Under your conditions a teacher could only teach a child that wants to learn, a child who has 2 “parents” present, or a child whose parents read to them and care about learning. What a perfect situation for the teacher, ALL students are equally important. Despite what you may thing, it is the teachers responsibility to teach, thats their “job”. Im sure there is not one school district in the nation that has a majority of students that fit your standards. Wake up, get real, Please!

  • guest

    Can you be pro-public education and pro-public school teacher and yet deeply skeptical that teachers’ union are as beneficial to students as they are to teachers? I think you can. I come from a family of public school teachers, but some of the rote defense of the indefensible and excuse making makes me want to scream.

    The basic point of the movie is that a system made by adults absolutely fails a large number of children. Is it hyperbolic? Yes. So what? Was Michelle Rhee arrogant and dictatorial? Maybe. She showed a sense of outrage over a situation where outrage is the only appropriate response.

    Public education has real enemies out there and Davis Guggenheim, Michelle Rhee, and Arne Duncan are not those enemies. They all want public education to succeed, whereas there are many who do not. If you can’t take their criticism to heart, as disagreeable as you find those criticisms and their authors to be, public education stands the chance of loosing the support of the majority of the American people who want it to succeed but are beginning to fear that it is reform is unachievable.

  • Anonymous

    I have travelled the globe because of my employment and my kids got either dragged all over the place or spent time in Boarding schools. Now all that sounds bad but they do have a much wider and realistic view of life in general, and despite all that one has a Phd., one is in a respected profession and doing well??? and the last was never quite going to make intellectually, but is probably the happiest of the three!?!?
    Why is all that relevant is simple? It is because each child has some limitations, and it is a reality that educators cannot achieve the same results with all kids.
    Then you add in the educators ability/skill to debate to death very cleverly anything that ” measures thier capability” like tests, or tests are too stressfull for kids. I have some sympathy because the tests or whatever are attacked as well by the educators when they are attacked for being measured by the tests results not being good, QED teachers failed.
    Based on my international and personal experience there has to be a common set of tests in any school,Not just one type, the best structure seems to be:
    a) One that individually checks a childs IQ ( every 2/3years) not in a group but separately. Take the stress out, you just say its part of our internal educational review process, no pass /fail on this.
    b) Term and Annual in class standard tests in curriculum subjects especially reading writing and arithmetic, followed by guidance to students and parents:
    i) As to issues the student has in the basic 3 r’s and what to do. Even if that means a specialist education type school.
    ii) When it gets to elective time for national exams say SAT, Baccalaureate, or in UK as one example GCSE “O” or “A” levels latter University entrance need, they have to be nationally created monitored.
    c) There have to be optional routes at key ages i.e at the time of transfer from Junior school to mid school,or high school and college and the measurement levels have to be appropriate to each level and each institution but nationally common.
    The real key was shown to me in UK; not my family but a friends. His son was top 3 throughout Junior school but failed what was called the 11 plus exam.. The Principal got him a place in the so called top grade secondary school. Again at 16 he flunks the national exams but is in the top 3 in class exams consistently. Daddy fortunately has some cash and pays for his extended education for the A levels at a UK type private school. Again he is top 3 in his classes and what changes no one really knows except one observation he makes himself when he passes the A level exams for the first time outside class in his life, and he says it was because he knew more than 70 % of the guys in the room. It was just like being in class!!
    He also said in 6 exams in 3 three he knew from other sources the “invigilators”.
    Come on teachers face the real world we know all students cannot be educated or have the same intellectual achievement but stop running away from from test standards rigously enforced and common throughout the nation, that enable a sensible decision about an individual teachers skills to teach graded kids, or the options.
    Parents have to face the facts as I did that we might all be created equal but some of us are brighter than others… this comes about because one of my kids is far brighter than I will ever be… and I also learned so is my wife!!
    Means the facts of life are we have very good teachers , average teachers, and bad teachers and various shades in between and Unions or not automatic tenureship is not an answer, you have to work for and earn by your performance just as my Phd son did for 12 years after getting it.
    Grow up be judged like the rest of us in whatever Job and face it as an educator you will rise as I did to your or my level of incomptence and be rewarded accordingly.
    Results count sorry,if measured by one national standard irrespective of how bad the system or teachers are in a particular school.Thatlatter is a debating point not the real issue.
    Guest 5.

  • Publius

    I made a typo on the salary comparison: it is not 400 to one, it is over 100 to 1. Apologies.


  • Freedog70

    The main concern that was not corrected or addressed was that “charter schools” are a for profit institution – yes, they get money from the government and the individuals that control them, make a profit from the schools – this where the main delema lies! When everyone rushes to the charter school for the so callled “better education” the same bottle neck that is happening in the public schools will also happen in these charter schools – fix the public school system and stop giving tax payer money to for profit institutions – this is why most teachers are not behind this movie! i cannot believe this guy!

  • Anonymous

    I’m beginning to be a bit of a comment junkie here, but not having read any of the previous ones I would like to say that I don’t believe this atmosphere of competition is beneficial to any student. As much as possible, they should be learning, and encouraged to learn, in a stress-free environment. They should be encouraged to pursue their own interests in the areas in which they are most interested. This is especially true in their earlier years. Kids (or humans for that matter) are not computers who can merely be programmed to perform the functions expected of them. Standardized tests are not the answer. The “Race To The Top” will fail in the end because of this emphasis. Where is the logic in taking away all the funds in “under performing” schools? I would like to see Arnie Duncan try to teach a class in one of these schools (or try to teach ANY class for that matter). There is more to the equation.

  • jan

    I disagree completely and totally. I can’t speak to large city schools but the smaller schools still work fine if the parent encourages interest in learning in the child, supervises homework when they’re little to make sure it gets done, understands that the teacher is their partner in their child’s educational years, has personal contact with the teachers on parent-teacher day and any other time if the child starts to lose their way. I also sent them out the door with the knowledge in advance that I would take the teacher’s side if they got in trouble. The end result was a pair of gifted children who became college graduates.

    As far as tests? I’ve always found them easy to take primarily because they don’t usually stress me out. That’s not true for everyone and its another reason why the NCLB test is wrong. My grandchild has completely stressed out over them since they started doing them. Doing that to a child in their first few school years is unconscionable and flat out wrong.

  • Wilsonsj

    I really like Need to Know, but this was a poor interview. It was a one-sided puff piece that failed to ask the tough questions. Sure teachers are part of the solution, but many are doing an excellent job. To completely fail to mention the role of parents – their need to step it up – and the children’s job to take personal responsibility is irresponsible.

  • Sam

    Your comment was the first I saw that mentioned what must be a ‘taboo’ in the news media when covering ‘Waiting on Superman (WOS)’….My wife is a teacher and I have worked as a volunteer in our public school system. We both feel parental involvement is more a factor is declining public schools than teacher ability. “WOS” and reports on “WOS” don’t seem brave enough to even mention the increasing lack of parental involvement.

  • Wilsonsj

    That is not true. Yes, it is a teacher’s job to teach, but it is also a parent’s job to stand up and be a parent and a student’s job to learn. Until we include everyone as part of the solution and hold everyone accountable, your equation falls short. Just like we hold teachers accountable and hold them to a high standard, parents and students need to be held to a high standard. Sure, not everyone will meet that standard and for some the barriers are greater than for others, but we need to recognize where some of the failures are and strive to overcome them as well as we can.

  • Guest

    Not all charter schools are for profit, in fact most are not. I would prefer that none were, but to quote the California Department of Education website:

    “A charter school is a public school, and it may provide instruction in any of grades K-12. A charter school is usually created or organized by a group of teachers, parents and community leaders or a community-based organization, and it is usually sponsored by an existing local public school board or county board of education.”

    Charter schools should be strictly regulated. Some will fail and some will be mediocre. The world would be a worse place without Harlem Success or KIPP.

  • mc

    Fixing Public Schools? Only in Washington DC? What about LAUSD? Is it any better?
    We have Hollywood and Disneyland. Will the Entertainment Industry send a Superman to fix this problem? Education and the Health Care are the only areas where people can talk for hours about changing or improving but I don’t see anything positive happening

  • Putchildrenfirst

    The enemies of public education are teachers who adopt the same language as the propagandists. The “deforms” are what is messing up our public schools. There are bad teachers, just like there are bad employees in every profession like lawyers, doctors, your mechanic…. There is due process to get rid of these people. Making a movie highlighting only those employees is an insult to ALL educators.

    Students are suffering because of these “deforms” Just because a student has a tough time picking out the “BEST” answer out of a question that has three right answers– does not mean they are not reading on grade level.

    What is happening is not right, and teachers are discounting themselves in this equation. We have a right to speak up…

    The only thing I fear is for my children’s education, because of these ridiculous standardized tests.

    There are NO standard children. That’s why I love them.

  • Putchildrenfirst

    Yes, it did feel like a Fox interview. Very poor….

  • Putchildrenfirst

    Yes, I agree those other professionals would have rounded out this interview.

  • Putchildrenfirst

    The only one robbing our students are the CEO’s paying politicians to legislate to privatize the school system at their expense.

  • Jim8808

    The latest issue of the New York Review of Books (NYRB) includes an absolutely devastating review of the movie by Diane Ravitch, called the “The Myth of Charter Schools.”

    What I take away from the piece, among many other things, is that Guggenheim with this movie is (wittingly or unwittingly) aiding the Wall Street sharks that want to privatize education (and pretty much everything else). This is why the corporate press is lavishing the film with so much praise.

    Check it out for yourself and see what you think:

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