Please go see “Waiting for Superman” – Here’s Why:

Posted on Oct 10, 2010 | 79 comments


Yesterday I went to see the film Waiting for Superman.  It’s the story of what’s broken with the education system in the US.  It’s an important film and the most important topic of our generation if we as a country want to remain competitive in a world that has globalized.

It’s a documentary including personal stories of people caught in the system.  I’ll leave more of the human drama for you to see yourselves but telling you the premise of this film won’t ruin anything.  When I watched the movie I’d like to tell you I was angry (I was) and that it made me verklempt but the truth is that the film brought real tears to my eyes that strolled down my face and I had to wait to wipe them away at the sad parts so my neighbors wouldn’t see me.  I heard many people with the telltale sniffling.

It’s crushing to watch little children in America who have the same dreams as my 5 & 7 year olds and not have the ability to lead a normal life because of where they’re born.  I’m not talking about the overwhelming weight of responsibility of thinking about extreme global poverty.  I’m talking about little African American, Latino & rural Caucasian children in our own backyard and on whom we can have an impact without having to change the world.

I’m talking about children who have done well in k-2nd grades and then get put into a lottery system for charter schools because the drop-out rates for their neighborhood schools are north of 50%.  They are often raised by single moms, grandparents or under-educated immigrant parents who want the same thing for their children that we do for our own.

It profiles one little girl who finished her course work at a private Christian school in her neighborhood but was unable to attend graduation because her mom got behind on payments.  It shows a young boy being raised by his single grandmother because his father overdosed on drugs and his mom abandoned him.  And his stated goal at his young age is to get an education so his kids can grow up in a better neighborhood.

Wasn’t that the American promise?  Work hard, do well in school and you can have a better life?

All of the kids end up in a lottery system to try and get into public charter schools where their odds were between 5-10% of being accepted based solely on numbers.

[update: to be clear about something I've seen in feedback to me. I'm not anti teacher.  If you read the appendix you'll see that.  Teachers have changed my life for the better.  To suggest that I'm "anti teacher" or somehow abdicate parental responsibility because I'm pro "pay-for-performance" including terminating teachers with poor records is to mischaracterize my position.]

The movie basically has the following thesis:

  • 50 years ago the American educations system (k-12) was the best in the world.  The world has globalized and there are now many countries around the world competing for the jobs of the future.
  • We already have a jobs gap.  Workers in middle & low-income America can’t get jobs while Silicon Valley can’t get enough high-quality developers.  This problem will become even more severe in the next 20-30 years if we don’t address it now.
  • We have doubled our national investments per child in education (in real terms i.e. adjusted for inflation) and our scores have remained flat.  Pouring more money into the system isn’t helping because THE SYSTEM is broken.
  • They system produces students in every state that have almost no proficiency in reading and math (let along sciences).  In every state the proficiency rates (people reading and doing math at 12th grade level) hovers between 20-33% and that’s for the graduates.  That’s appalling.
  • The drop out rates in poor areas (both urban and rural) is so severe that we’re producing generations of unemployable people who have one of the world’s highest rates of incarceration.  He gave a simple graph that showed that 4 years of incarceration costs tax payers approximately $130,000 per inmate, which is more than it would cost to educate that same person in a basic private school for the entirety of k-12.
  • This problem seems like it’s just for some random people that you don’t know because you don’t live there.  It is actually a problem for us all because
    • we’re paying for it in tax payer dollars down the line
    • it leads to higher crime rates which is a societal bad
    • we’re creating our own skills gap, which is leading to more job creation overseas
    • we’re doing an injustice to our fellow human beings, many of whom never have a chance based on where they’re born

So what is the problem and proposed solutions from the film maker?

  • It has long been believed that people from lower-income neighborhoods can’t learn as well as middle & upper class ones due to environment issues such as problems at home and trouble in the neighborhood.  The film highlights a nationwide school system called KIPP Schools (knowledge is power program) that teach only in lower-income neighborhoods.  They have been around for 16 years now and have graduation rates above 90%.  They have produced the only measurable increase in test schools for lower-income areas in the past 40 years on a sustainable basis.  They are non-union charter schools that reward teachers based on performance.
  • KIPP improvements are better than those even in wealthy suburban areas including that of Woodside, California.  While affluent areas produce “on average” better scores than other programs they do this by having really high calibre students at the top who bring the averages up significantly.  They don’t do enough for masses of students.  They put students on “tracks” where the better performing students end up getting the better teachers and more resources so the young students who don’t score well out of the gate get left behind.
  • The real issue according to the film maker is not with the students but with the teachers and specifically with the teachers unions.  This hugely resonated with me.  Having teachers unions in 2010 is so archaic and leads us to have public school systems where the best teachers are paid the same as the worst ones.  How is that American?  How can we let this happen to our children?  The picture on the right is Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, the second largest teachers union in the country (with 1-1.5 million members) and villan of the film.
  • Teachers unions have created  a system by which it is nearly impossible to fire poorly performing teachers.  He cites a statistic that about 1/100 medical doctors lose their licence, 1/200 layers lose their license to practice law but only 1/2,500 teachers ever loses their ability to teach our children
  • The teachers union guarantees two things: average pay for teachers where they’re all treated equally and tenure.  The first means that a teacher who goes way beyond the call of duty earns the same as one who sits reading the newspaper all day (they showed some of these on hidden camera and the principals were unable to fire them due to tenure).

In fairness to Ms. Weingarten I’d like to include a quote from a NY times positive review of the film that was more balanced on her role:

“Many of his scenes are already out of date. New York’s rubber rooms were closed in June. The same month Washington teachers accepted a breakthrough contract, which Ms. Weingarten helped negotiate, linking teachers’ pay to their performance and making it easier to fire them for incompetence.”

  • The film also profile the superintendent of the Washington D.C. school system, Michelle Rhee who was profiled in Time Magazine.  She tries to shake up the system in one of the most poorly run regions in the country based on proficiency of students.  She proposes to increase the pay of teachers to nearly 2x their existing pay and well above the national average.  She says she wants to have “the best paid teachers in the country.”  In return she asks the teachers unions to give up tenure so that they can fire those teachers that have significantly underperformed over time to create room for new teachers paid by merit.  The national teachers union blocked her initiative and didn’t even allow a vote
  • And the teachers unions are one of the biggest lobbyist groups in America.  They give heavily to the Democratic party on national elections and heavily to the Republican party on state and local elections.  They buy the kind of protectionism that we wouldn’t accept in any other part of our workforce.

I’m sure it’s not as simple as all that.  But it seems to be the foundation of what’s wrong.  This is a country that believes that you get ahead on the basis of merit-based achievements.  We tell our kids this.  It is a country that by foundation believes in capitalism as the best model of producing an equal society.  It’s a sham and a shame that we don’t enforce the system on the education system.  As the filmmaker says in his voiceover is because “we’re making this all about the adults (e.g. pay, career protection) and not about the children.”  Shame on us.

I want to see America’s best and brightest become teachers because they will produce our whole next generation of leaders and innovators.  But you can’t expect to attract as many of our young talented people without a system that can over reward those who perform the best.

I’m obviously not talking about the private school system in the US where teachers, facilities and students are still cranking out the top tier of society.  I’m talking about the egalitarian public school system that will determine whether America remains a competitive player in the global economy when your grand children or their children are adults.

Please go see the film.  And better yet if you do as Fred Wilson recommends and book your tickets via Fandango or MovieTickets and get the $15 DonorsChoose.org gift card.

*** Appendix (personal note only for those interested)

This movie has a particular appeal to me.  I grew up in Sacramento, CA where nobody that I knew sent their kids to private schools.  I grew up in public schools and so did my wife.  Those were different times and it was a different city.  We were lucky.

I had a high IQ and tested into the “rapid learner” program starting in the 3rd grade.  I never even thought about it back then that there were kids who were on the “normal learner” program and how that must have felt.  Looking back on it it’s clear to me that this “track system” that the movie talked about was in place and I was a beneficiary.

The obvious point of the film is that teachers make a difference and have the highest level of influence over our future success as students and as human beings.  Incentivize teachers to perform at their best (through merit-based pay & training) and incentivize the best people to come into education (through merit-based pay) and you’ll improve the quality of our country’s teachers.

Our imperfect system produced some teachers that changed my life.  And honestly others that completely let me down.  My economics teacher, Mr. Thorn, ran computer simulations of lemonade stands in which each student had to build a local business and decide: how much supplies to order, how much to sell the lemonade for, how to respond to competition and how to change plans based on the weather.  To say I found this engaging was an understatement.  I poured myself into planning and I won the class-wide competition.  I graduated this class and at all of 16 years old wanted to be an entrepreneur.  He is the reason I majored in economics in college.

My English teachers in middle school (Mrs. Wolters) and high school (Mr. Lawrence) both helped me master the rules of writing and tap into my creativity. I know that I make grammar and spelling errors in this blog but I promise it’s through speed of writing, typing and publishing and not through a lack of knowledge.  Mr. Lawrence’s high school project was to write our college essays early in the year so that we’d be done early and have written with passion and creativity.  I’m forever grateful for this.  From a young age I loved writing, which fueled my interests in reading, in politics and one day in blogging.

My spanish teacher, Mr. Gonzales, failed to get me interested in Spanish.  But he was a geek and loved computers.  So he & I would spend time after class building macros in … wait … VisiCalc! and then in Lotus 1-2-3 to help him automat the reporting of grades and attendance.  As a result of this our high school typing teacher asked me to teach a course in ‘advanced computers’ to other high school students (she didn’t know enough herself) and he also helped me get a job at 17 in a computer store called Software Centre.  I know that 17 year olds these days seem to all program computers but this was 1985.  I was talking with adults about the differences between PC-DOS and MS-DOS about Word vs. WordPerfect about Harvard Graphics and about PeachTree accounting software.  I was fast tracked.  By a teacher.  Yes, these are incomplete sentences.  It’s for effect ;-)

And in other areas I was failed.  To this day I really know nearly nothing about chemistry.  Nothing! I know that sounds crazy but my teacher, Mr. LaDue, was literally as bad as the worst examples of the undercover footage in the movie.  He would start the class, give us an assignment and then disappear into a side room for most of the hour.  We goofed off.  He gave tests that were the same as those he had always given.  Everybody knew the questions in advance.  It was pathetic.  If all of my classes had been like that and if I didn’t grow up with active parents, I can’t imagine where I’d be today.  I had the same experience with Mr. Linde in World History where every lesson was “read 30 pages” and then he’d leave the room.  He cheated us and we cheated him back.  But it was we who lost.

In college I stayed an extra year to get a second degree in political science (first degree was economics).  I was so intrigued to read about the history of China, of the conflict in Vietnam, Soviet / US relations, the Middle East conflict, etc.  These were all foundations I should have had in high school but though interest I eventually spent much time immersing myself in world affairs.

My parents … well, my mom in particular, encouraged me to get involved with extra-curricular activities.  I took acting classes, music, dance and went to the theater.  We weren’t “posh” but she made sure we went to gourmet restaurants & bakeries to experience new things (she eventually opened up a few bakeries and a French/Californian restaurant herself) and encouraged us to travel the world.  So in addition to economics, writing & computers I had great exposure to the arts and to music.

I’m socially liberal, fiscally moderate person.  I believe in merit based pay.  I believe in capitalism but I also believe in a safety net.  I believe the safety net is in all of our best interest in addition to being the morally right thing to do.  I don’t believe in long-term welfare because they destroy incentives.  I saw this first hand working in Germany and France where talented young people stayed at home in stead of working due to protectionist, archaic BS, that one day will go away.  And I certainly don’t believe in teachers’ unions.  I’m sorry if I offend anybody in saying this.  I’m not anti teacher – to the contrary.  I want our best public teachers to make a lot of money.  And our worst should be fired.  Public school tenure for k-12 is archaic and should be abandoned.  Can you imagine if we ran our tech industry this way?

For the record, my second grade son is currently in a public school.  We’re lucky that it’s one of the best in LA.  We have the resources to send him to a private school.  Every year we have the debate.  Eventually he will go private – probably in middle school.  Maybe earlier.  We’re trying to work within the system. I have the same emotions as those discussed by Guggeneheim in the film.

  • Joules

    AMEN! THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS!

  • Dave McClintock

    Ok, ok, I will definitely see the film now – well done Mark.
    The local public grade school, Montecito Union, where two of my kids attend is an “excess revenue” school (they get to keep the excess revenue generated by local property taxes, which of course are huge given property values here) and thus has about three times the budget of most other public schools. As glad as I am that my kids are getting a great education, I'm not sure this is really very “American” either. It's built a fantastic school for a relative few. All that said, its astounding to realize that I still think they could do better on teacher selection. Also, we have an extremely active board and PTA that watches everything like a hawk, so clearly there must be something constraining those teacher hiring and firing decisions. Maybe this movie will shed some light on that issue…
    By contrast, when I was growing up here my mom decided not to send my sister and I to Montecito Union and instead to private school for 3rd through 9th grades. After all these years (that was back in the 70's), I realize I don't know why she made that decision. I have to imagine the school was nearly as well funded back then, but I guess she didn't like what she saw there (teachers? families?), didn't have time to change it and could afford an alternative. I realize most people don't have that kind of choice. To say the community here is hyper-activist on schooling is an understatement. The challenge I see here is how to take that some of that energy and resources and direct it toward improving education across the country, not just the local (very privileged) school.

  • Greg Mand

    Great post Mark…my wife saw a screening of the film a few months ago and similar reactions in the theater. The one part of your post that made me laugh was programming macros in 1-2-3. Spent a summer doing the same for the DuPont Co. and my handiwork is now sitting on 15 floppy disks in my parents' attic. :)

  • http://twitter.com/thealzel Thealzel Lee

    As a single mom, private education was not an option for my 3 sons; food, clothing and shelter took higher priorities instead (go figure!). I was very active in working with the teachers and administrators in the public school system to ensure an education for my sons. My sons are now young men – one is working as a game designer, another is newly graduated with a degree in engineering, and the youngest is a 3rd year student in university. What I learned from those years is that there are dedicated teaches, administrators and parents who work incredibly hard but they are stymied by a calcified education system that does not motivate all of our young learners to learn. There are clearly systemic problems: lack of use of tools for early identification and timely intervention to make the most of different learning styles; lack of proper training of the professionals (e.g. teachers) who work with children of varying backgrounds and learning profiles; and lack of equitable access to appropriate education for all children no matter their particular situations. I'd like to see more parents, teachers and administrators band together to change our public education system for the better. Mark, good luck and kudos to you and your wife for working within the system.

  • JDelage

    Maybe one thing that could be done that wouldn't require a huge political or societal shift would be the creation of a US-wide *Parents & Students* Union, staffed with professionals. There are more parents and students than unionized teachers, and they are pretty motivated. What they need is organizing.

  • Scott Morrow

    I was a founding team member of the Edison Project, a precursor to the charter school movement back in 1993. The mission of Edison was simple–deliver a world class education for every child. The strategy was to take best-in-class education principles from around the world, plus basic business management fundamentals, and deliver a superior *public* education within a for-profit enterprise. The details of the Edison program involved a longer school day and school year (since we have the shortest among industrialized nations), innovative Montessori-type teaching methods, and a heavy does of technology (each teacher and student was provided a home computer which was networked to the school). Teachers were also hired and fired based on merit and rewarded based on performance (shocking concept); plus the Principal was paid an attractive above market salary, given most education research shows that the quality of administration and teaching at the top of the ladder trickles down to the classroom. To me, as a free-market, fiscal conservative (and social moderate), the concept of rewarding success and penalizing mediocrity and failure makes sense. However, back in 1993 and still today the teacher unions–AFT and NEA–fight tooth and nail to prevent merit-based teacher compensation. The unions embrace teacher tenure as it was was a birth right and they rebel against innovative approaches to education. This is why education spending has increased dramatically while performance has declined. How bad are things going to get before we dismantle the monopolistic choke hold the teacher unions have over education? Charter schools are a start but we need to be bolder and move faster. It may be cliche and read as hyperbole (although I'd disagree) to say that our nation's status as a world economic power depends solely on our ability to solve the education dilemma.

    On a positive note, while I was working at Edison, I spent the bulk of my time pitching school boards, community forums, and parent/teacher groups. As a non-parent, it was inspiring to see how passionate parents are about the education of their kids. The sentiment of creating a better life and more opportunity for your child is a central thesis of the American Dream and that ambition is alive and kicking. I want to see a politician with that same passion for education and run on a single-issue platform which is education. I want someone to take a stand and say that I am TRULY the education President. As a nation, we need to focus on the education issue as progress on this front will ameliorate many of our social problems.

  • Ed

    Disclaimer: I have not seen the movie. I am not a teacher, never was and probably never will be. I am not a doctor either, never will be sure.

    I've heard that there is a lot Teacher's Union bashing in the movie. I am really tired of union bashing. I am sorry Mark, but in the 21st centiry we need MORE unions, not less if we have ant prayer of rebuilding the middle class.

    When people bash teacher's unions, i always compare to the professional organization of other group of people that is vital: AMA, american Medical Association. Both of these groups have the same goal: zealosly guarding the interests of their members. Both of them have huge lobby arms that give large sums of money to both parties based on issues involved. The similarities are mazaing. Just like teachers, there are absolutely brilliant physicians out there who save many a life. And they are absolute butchers, whose malpractice is carefully hidden, in no small part by the rules lobbied by AMA. No physician gets “merit” pay. Both good and bad OB/GYN clears 250 – 350K a year.

    The difference, of course, is that doctors are wealthy and it is “unfashionable” to bash a lobby group that represents wealthy.

    But for poor, overworked, underpaid teachers, let's just pile on, and vilify the organization that represents their interests.

  • http://twitter.com/vincethompson vincethompson

    Great post Mark and great conversation. Big thanks to Jeff Skoll and the team at Participant who put their money and time behind filmmakers willing to explore our big social issues. I've recently become involved with City Year, http://www.cityyear.org/default_ektid13307.aspx , an amazing organization that is having success turning around the schools deamed drop-out factories. I'll invite you to an event soon.

  • Scott Morrow

    Ed,

    I don't know you and I'm sure your post and thoughts above are well conceived and have the best of intentions. However, I honestly don't understand your position or where you are coming from.

    You suggest that physicians don't get merit pay? Perhaps the physicians who work at HMOs where participants don't get a choice (hence, no free market at work) have equal pay. However, top physicians where supply and demand is at work make more money than than their less acclaimed colleagues. I would hope that we can agree that is a good thing in a capitalistic, free-market country (although I suspect this is root of our philosophical differences ).

    Further, you seem to suggest that the ills and bad practices of teacher unions are somehow acceptable given that other industry unions perform in the same way. Huh?! Two wrongs don't make a right. I agree with you on one point which is the purpose of the teacher unions–and probably that of the AMA and the Trial Lawywers Associaions, etc– is to viciously protect the entrenched interests of their constituency. The “union bashing” that you deplore is happening because the unions and the entrenched interests of their constituents are counter to the interests of the public and the needs of education.

  • Ed

    Scott,

    My position is that teachers are vastly underpaid. I have no idea how much of our annual GDP is spent on teachers, but whatever it is, is not enought.

    Just re-distributing the same measly pool of crumbs that teachers are getting today is not going to fix it.

    We need to pour more money in, much more. Start paying your average teacher the same amount that you pay your average developer, and you would be surprised how many more talented people will enter the profession. Then supply and demand will kick in automagically (agree with you on that one): since there will be some much more gifted people entering profession, the “bad apples” will be flushed out of it. No union bashing required.

    As far as merit pay for physicians, there is none, in my experience. Since all the rates are standardtized by Medicare/insurance companies, and AMA does a great job of protecting its members, their pay fluctuates within a narrow band.

  • http://formerlyaprildawn.blogspot.com April

    Please see Race to Nowhere, too!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I wish it were that easy. It clearly starts with the parents / family – no doubt. But what do you do when the family unit is broken? Do we fail those kids because their parents are not as responsible as yours were? Is that also the right answer for society to pass along the buck down the road and create a cycle of poverty and crime? I think society has to take a more active role.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ed, I'm afraid that in a global world collective bargaining of unions has many unintended consequences. What starts off as a necessary protection of “labor” ends up blighting an entire system to non-competitive practices and rewarding the lowest common denominators. Look at the auto industry. Years of excess labor requirements have given us a generation of uncompetitive cars. It seems clear that the education system is not different. Look at California – despite huge job losses in the private sector the public sector has had relatively modest cuts. Labor force flexibility is the key to a vibrant economy. I know this first hand having lived in France which has NO flexibility. And, of course, we do need some government oversight to make sure we have well treated employees.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, but due to collective bargaining of the unions there is less flexibility to over-compensate the best teachers as you would in a business. That's the point.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Vince. Love to come.

  • Gorilla44

    My point is that you can throw more money at schools, but it won't work. It's too late by then.

    I think more attention needs to be on how to help parents. Let's prevent the family unit from getting broken. I'm not talking about anything religious or pro-marriage or anything like that. Just intensive programs that teach people how to be parents. I'd bet that spending $1 Billion on programs to help parents before the kid is even born will do more than spending $1 Billion on kids that are already in school.

    My brother teaches in Paterson, NJ. It is a low-income, rough city – I don't know how he does it to be frank. He told me that many kids come into kindergarten with no clue about anything – colors, numbers, alphabet. I'm sure your kids knew all of their colors, could count to 20 (or even 100+), and probably knew most of their alphabet before starting kindergarten. I know mine did. What are these kids doing that they don't know these things? I talk with my kids all the time about things and quiz them and explain things to them. This summer my son had to learn his multiplication tables. That wasn't a school mandate, but my wife and I making him do it. Good parents do things like that. These attitudes about learning have to come from the family.

  • Rhatta

    Mark, you're a good guy. I share many of your personal values and like that you share them in this forum alongside startup and VC related topics. It makes a lot more sense than getting one's social cues from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

    I recently found a great personal “manifesto” on personal and management principles written by Ray Dalio – Bridgewater Associates founder and CEO. Check it out at http://www.bwater.com/Uploads/FileManager/Principles/Bridgewater-Associates-Ray-Dalio-Principles.pdf. I really like when strong, positive personal values are ingrained into a business culture. I can't see how you can separate the two and call yourself an entrepreneur…

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for your comments. Yeah, it sure is expensive. Most private schools in LA are around $25k / year so if you've got 3 kids that's about $125,000 in pre-tax earnings PER YEAR going just to education or about $1.5 million and that's not even including college. It's a real problem for most.

    And I see the active parents & teachers and have the utmost respect for them. Watching the film I had the sense of frustration for the bureaucracy.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks for the comments, Scott. Exactly what you said. Pay for performance would go a long way towards creating in incentive-based system and attract our best and brightest to the profession. My son is now at a charter school so we have more control / involvement with the school. Problem is – so few have that.

  • http://avc.com fredwilson

    great post Mark

    i saw it a while back, because of my involvement with DonorsChoose, and i felt similarly and blogged this

    http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/09/waiting-for-superman.html

  • Ac

    Thanks for the post. In the bay area, it is the same teachers unions are the biggest negative factor affecting schools.

  • Lughnasaluna

    Unfortunately this is a numbers game. The charter schools do not take students with learnibg disabilities. Or who don't do well on standardized test. The testing industry is a huge money maker . Teachers all over the country are being forced to teach to the test.School spend thousand on test prep ( thats not instruction) I am a parent of three children in the NYC system. ages 18- 7yrs. So I've had the oportunity to watch what goes on very closely over a long period of time. I was a PTA president for years. Sat on the leadership comittee too. Was on the steering comittee of an 853 school. So lets be very clear the parents and the public are being sold a bill of goods. Our children are being turned into products. I DO NOT what my childs performance to be the basis of anyones bonus. If they are not doing well or as well as the school would like( which is more likely) is the teacher going to try a different approach? suggest extra help? or get furious as their job hangs in the balance. Don't be fooled teachers are not encouraged to try anything differnt or creative most school require an across the board homogenious approach. If you are talking about rural areas and tough neighborhoods where poverty is the norm these schools never produced large graduation rates. We shopuldn't give up them but we need to be clear about what really ails these schools.Test scores and testing are regularly tweaked. Subran schools press the limits of fair testing and no one cares .

    The greatest problem facing City schools is the quaility of behavior that is displayed by students.I can state from personal experience that students in a 90% african american school repeatedly derided African American teachers because getting an education and being educated was white. Students can curse ,tanturm, use bigotted hate langauge, carry weapons ,throw chairs and NOTHING is done. Why? because school are given poor ratings for suspension and disciplinary actions! So if you are a strict principle who will not tolerant Bullying,fighting or disrespecttful behavior and you take action you are penalized.

    Busting the teachers union is a cost cutting tactic.With poor pay ,no job security and no recourse if you are verally or physically abused why would anyone spend well over $100,00o.00, for the degrees ,tests and professional development credits ( NONE OF WHICH IS PAYED FOR by the Dept of Ed.)- You can get a job doing something anything else!

    Waiting for Superman is more like waiting for a savy business person to hand pick the best compotents for their educational dog and pony show.

    Oh and why are other nations apparently doing better then the USA- THEY DO NOT EDUCATE THE ENTIRE POPULATION- only those who can pay and pass and have No differences in langauge or learning styles. Its alot eaiser to run an education program in a homogenious culture.

    I am sorry but any one who swallows this kool aid is anti teacher but more importantly anti student.

  • HistoryInAction

    Mark,

    Michelle Rhee just announced her resignation, effective the end of the month. http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/news/2010/10/dc_public_schools_head_rhee_announces_resignation.php?ref=fpa

    Her boss was targeted heavily by DC's teachers unions. Rhee's tenure was one of the major issues of the campaign, as Mayor Fenty's opponent, Gray, hit Fenty hard for losing his 'connection' with the city's poor black population. Rhee's counter-argument that the greatest progress was in these regions apparently fell on deaf ears.

    -Craig

    PS – Hope you enjoyed Caltech and thanks again for coming!

  • http://www.twitter.com/biggiesu Mike Su

    haven't seen the film, but season 4 of the wire is easily the best season of television ever. the depth and complexity at which they cover the motivations and complications of politics in our school system is unmatched. heart breaking.

  • http://www.katie-kay.com Katie Kirby

    I am so looking forward to seeing this documentary! It hasn't arrived in the UK yet but it looks so interesting!

  • http://www.aaronklein.com/ Aaron Klein

    Mark, you're absolutely right. And you're not anti-teacher. When I read that comment, I just tweeted “The only people who think it is anti-teacher to fire bad teachers are…bad teachers. Good ones want to make their profession better.”

    Great post.

  • Vasco M. de Campos

    Wow, this was a really touching post. I have not seen this movie, but after reading your words i am compelled to do so. I am European(Portuguese), and the perception I had, as a European, on American Education was allot different. You made me rethink a lot of wrong preconceptions. I had no idea.

    I live in a country with very rich Education history, our first university was founded in 1290 ( this must sound funny for Americans). In my country most of the best schools are State run. Every child has equal opportunities to study regardless of financial need, as defined per our constitution. All educational costs are covered by the state.

    Still, we share some of the problems you described concerning teachers – they are all paid the same regardless of results, performance, drive, or quality of classes. My mother, recently retired, was a Math teacher all her life, the kind of teacher who cares about students, and their future. She organized activities to bring a greater interest and awareness to Math, she help students in trouble out of her free time. All of this for ZERO compensation, while some of her colleagues did not even care. After a lifetime career of dedication, she gets the same as the mediocre teacher who whistles while reading newspapers in class.It is sad but it is a really here too.

    2 years ago, our government tried to implement a performance tracking policy, that would affect teacher's career progression and pay. It resulted in massive objection by teachers, that lead to a National Strike. Sadly, It seems that protectionism and lobbyist groups are getting there way globally.

  • Josh Webb

    WSJ had a good article on the events that took place in DC:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303362404575580221511231074.html

    The school debate is a heated one to be sure. The union scenario reminds me the prisoner's dilemma. There was a time when unions were needed, I am not sure they add a lot of value in the modern era.

    Education and the automotive industry are two examples of where unions were fighting and fighting hard to “protect” themselves all to the detriment of the entire system. It is tough to justify trying to save jobs when the whole factory has to shut down as a result…