Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why Wait for Superman?

At the insistence of a friend, I watched the film Waiting for Superman directed etc. by David Guggenheim. In his voice-over, Guggenheim describes his realization that Superman would not come to save his childhood self. He comes to the realization that a science fiction hero cannot save anyone in the real world. As I watched the “docudrama” I came to the same conclusion about this film fiction.

As I watched, I waited for some reasoned explanation for the failures of America students alluded to by the movie, none was given, I waited for some solution to the problems with American education inferred by the commentator, none came.

I guess one would class the adventures of Superman as Science Fiction; Mr. Guggenheim’s film is Science Fiction too.

Here are fallacies which doom Waiting for Superman to the pile of failed Smallville episodes:

1. False Generalization: The idea that education in Finland or China is better than education in America because of comparisons of some standardized test administered to students in these different countries. This fallacy glosses over the uniqueness of each of the educational systems and concentrates on the measuring tool commonly applied. It is like saying this pile of gold is worth the same as this pile of dung, because it weighs the same, or more aptly, this pile of dung is worth more than this pile of gold because it weighs more. Guggenheim makes no effort to compare the variables which would inevitably skew any assessment of the educational systems he compares. Consider these: what is the racial and socio economic composition of the students tested? What is the language ability, how many Finns were brought up in Spanish speaking homes and taught in a second language at school as many are in America? How many American students were banished from school after the 6th grade to work in the fields and factories, as 90% are in China, before they could take the tests rather than encouraged to continue despite their disables and challenges, as they are in America? Thus contrasting standardized test scores concocts the science fiction commonly referred to as “comparing apples to oranges.”

One other thought on this misleading assessment of the students from different countries: what is the standardized international test which is given to all the students in all the nations to justly and reasonable compare them? I have never seen such an international test. We may well be measuring in inches what others are measuring in centimeters or in cubits.

2. False Cause, (post hoc ergo propter hoc, after that therefore caused by it). The film presents four schools which all have purportedly excellent teachers and which in spite of socio-economic conditions, racial and ethnic mixture produce excellent students who do well on tests and get into college. The conclusion drawn is that if you can have such excellent teachers you can make any students into successes, rescue them from the degraded state of public education. But this is false cause. The schools: Kipp Academy, Summit Prep, Harlem Success Academy, and Seed all seem to have excellent programs, but what they do not have are the same students that the public schools they deride are required to serve. The success of these programs is far more reasonably ascribed to the admissions process. The schools claim that their students are randomly selected by lottery – this is a lie. Only those students whose parents are eagerly seeking better education for their children take the trouble and face the frustrations requisite to get their children into such programs are involved. In Bad Students, Not Bad Schools by Robert Weissberg which I quoted extensively in an earlier post, Professor Weissberg sights as one of the only reliable indicators of student success: parents’ support and the value they place in education. Thus, uniform parental support and family values centered on education are far more reasonable causes for the success of the banner schools Guggenheim touts than the false cause of teacher enthusiasm he pushes. The heart rending understory of the documentary which traces the dreams of four students is ample proof that Guggenheim and Bill Gates, also featured in docudrama, are fixated on the wrong cause. David Leven and Mike Finberg’s Kipp school offers 10 opening to the 135 desperate applicants. The fact that the winners are chosen by lot does not counter the fact that all the students applying are exceptional. It is the same for the 455 students who endure the lottery for the 110 openings at Todd Dickerson’s Summit Prep, or the 767 who vie for a chance at the 35 openings at Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Success Academy, or the 61 who clamored for the 24 openings at Charles Adams’ Seed school in Washington D C. None of these schools has to accept the legitimate cross section of society that is forced on public schools in every community in our country. To pretend, that any comparisons between them and the real trenches of American Education, is science fiction indeed.

I have nothing against super schools or the super parents that move their children into them. I would do the same if my children were forced into classrooms filled with delinquents and dullards. But this migration of the select not only raises the effectiveness of these bastions to learning, it undermines the efforts of those teachers, even the best of them, left in the public schools which are hemorrhaging good students, the only demonstrable foundation of good schools, while being required to “educate” the dross which remains. Deserted by the students which could save them, public schools face declining scores and declining quality of teachers.

Satisfied with their miscalculation, the tale spinners leap to all sorts of unfounded conclusions:

1. American students are falling behind in the competitive world of modern education.

2. Teachers are motivated by money.

3. All students are willing to work hard, given the opportunity to do so.

4. All people value the goals of liberal education and college entrance.

5. The purpose of education is to prepare workers and money earners, hence tax payers.

6. The only obstacle to universal student excellence in America is the lack of good teachers.

7. That tenure is a universal privilege granted to all American teachers.

8. That the purpose of unions is to protect the jobs of bad teachers.

9. Good teahcers can motivate bad students.

These and many other false assumptions are set out without support, critiques, or counter. We are to blithely accept that Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. That if properly inspired, the man of steel can fly so fast that he can reverse the spin of the earth on its axis and turn back time.

On this rotten foundation of pseudo science Guggenheim and Gates then presume to offer a solution to the problem they have totally failed to understand or describe. The only answer to the supposed failure of American Education is to improve teachers by ending tenure and the establishment of merit pay. To hear Bill Gates, who threw millions of dollars down the rabbit hole of Small Learning Communities; a program which damaged the very educational institutions he pretended to repair; speak of this latest cure for all of American’s ills, is a comedy of errors worthy of a comic book.

I know a few things about education. I know that when teachers do better, good students do better. I also know that bad teachers can do little to harm good students.

What I do not know is how to make bad students good, or by what criteria one can measure the quality of every teacher in relation to every student. Real science cannot pretend to deal with these challenges with some blanket cure-all, superhero solution.

After watching Waiting for Superman I asked my friend for a criterion by which to measure teacher excellence. The success of the AMA and the BAR association in improving the quality of teachers was suggested. I wondered by what criteria the AMA judges doctors. When a doctor’s patient dies – that seems like a failure to me – should all doctors who lose patients be fired? Does losing a case in court constitute a failure for a lawyer, and should all lawyers who lose in court be disbarred?

I asked my friend what motivated other professionals to do their best – and it was suggested that money was the answer. I have long maintained that increasing teacher pay would improve teachers, not by motivating the ones already in service to greater excellence but by stimulating more and higher quality people to enter that field. Though admittedly, some of the finest people I know are already teachers. I would like to see the science.

The fact remains, that even if we get better teachers, which would surely benefit good students everywhere and probably inspire some mediocre ones as well, the sea of under- motivated and even antagonistic students, who lack desire from within or support from without, would still drag down scores on standardized tests and leave those who rely on science fiction waiting for Superman.


Dan said...

The only point I would disagree with, is that I think there is a third category of students that you may be overlooking. The student who may have little to no support from home, but with a good teacher, would be a good student, and with a bad teacher, is not.

Most of my secondary education was spending time with honors and AP teachers, and thus also in classes with kids that cared a lot. However, in order to just get a science credit out of the way easily, with no desire to take either physics or chemistry, I took plain physical earth as a senior. I had Mr. Child. He was, by any possible measure, a bad teacher, an incredibly bad teacher. He did not know the subject he was teaching, and because of that ended up teaching things that were not true. He substituted worksheets and unrelated videos for actual teaching, and by the end of the quarter, I sat in there and just read a book.

Problem was, I could gain the info I needed by just reading through the section or chapter, many in that class could not. They needed more.

From your explanation of the movie, I don't agree with the premises given either, however, I do believe there is a problem with bad teachers that does hurt students that need good teachers. I think I would have been fine either way, so will my children as I think any child who has responsible and engaged parents will be. But a student without such, that is paraded through the Mr. Child's of the education system gets short changed and left behind.

I don't know how to fix that.

Lysis said...


I do agree with you – good teachers are important. My question remains, how does one judge a teacher?

I like the criteria you offer – a bad teacher: 1) does not know the subject he teacher, 2) teachers things that are not true, 3) substitutes worksheets and unrelated videos for actual teaching, and 4) expects students to learn their lessons from “just reading the book.”

A principle or administrator would be the best judge of this type of professional misconduct, and given the power to deal with it, improve education by removing such teachers. However, there is no way that such individual failure on the part of a class-room teacher can be measured by the type of standardized tests; which test students, not teachers; that Waiting for Superman pretends to base its solutions on.

The terrifying reality of the fantasy presented in Waiting for Superman is that super, magnet, charter schools will entice all the good students away from public schools. When the good teachers leave these failing schools, they will desert the students that need them the most.

Gates and Guggenheim’s science fiction does far more harm than good. It accelerates a downward spiral for American Education by spreading bogus claims and wrong assumptions based on “false generalizations” and “false causes.”

What Gates’ latest crusade will do is further undermine the public education system, which is the foundation to a self governing people, by promising another science fiction solution to a real world problem.

Tiffany said...


I loathe to disagree with Lysis, because I admit I've no stomach for the conflict, but I would like to offer a different perspective for what it is worth.

I have seen Waiting for Superman, and while I don't think it has everything right, I think it starts the thinking process about the educational system, where it is failing etc. etc. I felt devastated after watching it but also motivated. Trent and I had lunch with a group of teachers (all elementary), all of whom had seen the movie, and we had a great discussion about what we did and didn't agree with in the movie. One of the main points the movie makes that we agree is true is that the teachers unions do end up protecting bad teachers. I don't believe the movie made the point that this is their purpose as Lysis stated as number 8, but in going about their business of equal contracts etc. etc., they have essentially created the situation where bad teachers are protected. You know, I went to Layton High as well, and I got a fabulous education, but I know others who went to the same school and didn't get the same fabulous education, and it wasn't because they were dunderheads as much as it was because they weren't set up going into High School to take the same classes and have access to the same teachers. Even for me transferring from Mr. Lindsay's physics class to Mr. Harris' meant I actually learned something. I don't worry about students like me though, I worry about those out there that if given the opportunity could get a good education and could do well.

Lysis said:
3. All students are willing to work hard, given the opportunity to do so.

4. All people value the goals of liberal education and college entrance.

I don't think the movie said ALL students are willing to work hard if given the opportunity to do so or that ALL people value the goals of liberal education and college. It did, however, point out that there are those stuck in bad schools in bad neighborhoods and in situations where their parents don't necessarily have the education to make up for what their children aren't receiving at school that would work hard given the opporunity and that do value college and have a huge mountain ahead of them to get there, and yes, failing schools and bad teachers as well as being surrounded by those students who are not motivated to do well are a significant cause. The movie made a point of dealing with the argument that these students can't hope to succeed, because their parents don't care. I admit to being guilty of that mindset and to having this movie to thank for my questioning how much of that claim is legitimate and how much is a cop out.

Teaching is HARD. No good teacher goes into it thinking that every student will just respond instantly to good teaching. However, I think there are an unknown number of students who have been thrown into this category and essentially written off by the educational system who could be good students if someone in their life could show them how to learn, study, and be successful.

I agree with Lysis that comparing the US to other countries is problematic at best. However, I do think the number of kids dropping out in some schools is another matter.

The movie is very positive about charter schools, and it is no secret that they don't have to deal with the cross section of population that public schools do. In fact, they can and do make students and parents sign contracts regarding expectations, and if you don't meet those expectations, they can expell your child and give the spot to another. Why can't public schools have programs within them that offer additional study and learning opportunities with similar contractual agreements. We spend millions on after school programs, why not make them worth something?

Tiffany said...

Sorry for multiple comments. It wouldn't let me leave everything as one comments. My continuation follows.

My son and my husband are much of what made me take the good this movie had to offer. You see, of the two of us, my husband is much more intelligent. He is amazing really, but I was by far the better student. I received the better education and access to better teachers (contrary to the experience my daughter just had, but I fear her experience is where we are headed). My husband was a student many teachers had labeled as unwilling to learn. I wouldn't be surprised if some referred to him as one of those dunder heads that Lysis references. However, what he was is one of those students willing to work hard and succeed given the opportunity to do so. He was fortunate. He came across a good teacher who helped him immensely. He is still grateful to this teacher. I wonder though what his education and life would have been like if he hadn't gone to this teacher and asked what he could do when he was failing. I wonder if he would have been written off as another dunder head. I wonder how many students we fail every day, because they weren't fortunate enough to have one of those good teachers and we, therefore, wrote off as unwilling to learn. (Note: his parents did not tell him to go to the teacher. He did it on his own. Some could argue he didn't have parents who would have done anything about it) I see enough of it just listening to talk in teachers' lounges to feel passionately about the need to find a way to evaluate teachers and to have some level of standards that need to be met. As far as I know tenure is handed out equally to all public school teachers as long as they make it through their first couple of years.

I know that we will always have to deal with students who are uninterested in doing well or even in graduating, but I think if we introduced more of a capitalist system, we could improve the situation for those children who need more good teachers. I think given the current situation that we really don't know how many failing kids are fine with failing, and what bothers me is that I think we seem to be fine with that.

I know as a military family that we, and others like us, always look at schools when deciding where to live when we have to move. Good teachers make a difference, and good schools are desireable and attract good families. Perhaps we should just take what we get lest we have the downward spiral Lysis warns against. I think not.

Tiffany said...

For example, my daughter just finished 4th grade. Her teacher is one of those wonderful people who mean well and teach terribly. I could list all of the issues, but I don't think I need to. Let's just say that it is wide spread knowledge that this teacher is not great. However, her class is regularly stacked with good performing students who do not cause trouble and do not struggle with school. In short, they can survive the experience. This is aggravating though, because I can only imagine what my good student could achieve with a good teacher. My son, on the other hand, has learning disabilities. He is practically guaranteed the best teachers. I am grateful for this, but it still seems wrong to me that students who don't struggle are made to pay the price. I am not saying standardized tests are necessarily the way to assess a teacher, but as it stands now, there is no real standard (none that matters anyhow). And if standardized tests tell us nothing, why test at all? Why grade at all if we know that those students who don't care are going to drag averages down? We do it, because it is a means of assessment for the schools and teachers. Teachers do it, because it is a means to assess what students have learned.

We need to be able to get rid of bad teachers. Lysis' suggestion that Principals are a good evaluator of this is something I agree with, but principals have virtually no real ability to get rid of a poor teacher. This is the worst kept secret out there. Furthermore, it is my experience that we deal with this situation by punishing the good teachers AND the good students.

I found Waiting for Superman eye opening and inspiring in many ways. Watch it with your eyes open both for truths and for falisies.

Anonymous said...

Your friends sounds like a jerk.

Lysis said...

Dear Tiffany,

Thank you for your post. I wish the blogspot would let us post all our points together; I can’t even do it, however thank you for going to the extra trouble.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think our opinions on education are far apart. As for the movie, if it got us talking, perhaps it has proved of some value. The thing I have against Waiting for Superman (w for S) is that it pretends to science and offers no real solutions to the problems it reveals but neither properly diagnoses or explains.

I agree that Unions protect bad teachers, they also protect good ones. In a world were science fiction drives the masses to tinker with education without reason or logic, I am glad there are some protections in place. I have not been a union member since the Clinton administration. I don’t feel that the UEA has negotiated the best contracts over the decades of my carrier, but I do live very well, and enjoy the security and opportunities I have. Who would protect me from the mob were the Union gone is a question I am forced to grudgingly consider.

You speak of your experience at Layton, and of your fellows who were not set up, “to take the same classes and have access to the same teachers.” What I fear is a Layton High were all the classes are standardized and uniformly deficient and where all the teachers are the dregs of a public education system gutted by charter schools and vouchers.

I extrapolated my “unfounded conclusion” #3 from the films implication that it was the schools: Kipp, Summit Prep, Harlem Success Academy, and Seed did not credit their success to the skimming of motivated and supported students, but to some unexplained by implied superiority of program and teachers.

I felt that W for S accepted (#4) that all people value the goals of liberal education and college entrance, because there was no mention of the attitude of the majority of American students and their parents who do not value education or college. Rather W for S claimed that putting students in the four afore mentioned wonder schools turned all students in to “all day long studiers” (Bill Gates claimed that students in good schools will fill their lives with education) and all high school students into college graduates as all the program directors bragged.

I agree that bad schools limit the success of good students, but while good students and parents who value education can make bad schools work, there is nothing that can save a school full of bad and unsupported students. W for S offers no alternative to flight from failing schools. Once the failing schools are closed down, where will their students land – in the Success Academies of the world, or on the street?

Lysis said...

We are brought back to the dilemma which the film exploits but does not address. How does one build parent support and student motivation? Some years ago, Bill Gates paid for a very expensive traveling speaker to come to Layton High. For an hour and a half she sang the virtues of “rigger”, the educational buzz word of the time, and demanded that we motivate our students. But she never told us how to do this. At the end of the pep talk, I took the opportunity to point out to the lecturer that a teacher has no more hope of motivating a student to want to work than I had of making a movie star fall in love with me. Instead of spending millions on undercutting our already failing schools, perhaps Mr. Gates and Mr. Obama, whose “Race to the Top” program is a similarly fanciful solution to the problems of education, could come up with a way of getting students to want to work. Once they have done that, I will get them my list of movie stars.

You speak of you brilliant and hard working husband, perhaps his teacher saw that potential in him the day he brought his failing report card in and asked what “HE COULD DO TO FIX IT?” I wish all teachers were willing to seek out the students that, given the chance to learn would do so. But if public schools are decimated by misdirected indicatives driven by government bureaucrats armed with false science, and arbitrary authority, there will be little chance for such students in the future. W for S gives a mock solution: destroy Unions, end tenure, fund super schools with lottery attendance selection from already motivated students, pile up all the failures in bad schools, and then fire the teachers. Then what?

I can not be “fine with this” I am angry that instead of spending money and taking steps to fix real problems with real answers, movie makers whip up the mob to run after science fiction solutions. It is a bitter irony that Gates, Guggenheim, Obama and their minions, will do to education the very things they set out to stop, destroying the very children they seek to save.

Finally, I would suggest there is a difference between a test administered by a teacher to assess and even motivate student mastery of a subject and a government concocted, union influenced, bureaucrat manipulated standardized test.

To the Anonymous poster – please check your post and explain your meaning.

Tiffany said...

I believe that the good the Unions do is real. I would never want to see an excellent teacher near retirement lose their job and benefits simply to be replaced by one that is cheaper. However, I don't think the good they do justifies leaving things how they are. Until something is done to combat what the Unions do through their protection via equal contracting, we will be stuck with bad teachers and a roll the dice approach for so many kids who need good teachers.

Waiting for Superman did an excellent job of busting open the myth that students of a certain socio economic background can't be expected to care about school or do well. I watch eagerly to see how Gov. Christie's fight goes in New Jersey. I've some good friends who have taught there, and the whole thing is potentially monumental.

I don't think the movie meant to have all the answers but meant to shed a light on a subject and maybe get people talking and, even better, acting. This is the same man who made An Inconvenient Truth, and busting open an idea seems to be his MO.

The Layton High you fear is well on its way to fruition if we continue to cut honors and gifted talented programs and head toward one sized fits all education. We don't have the right teaching pool for that to work, but that is a separate discussion.

You can't accurately lump the Obama Administration in with Mr. Guggenheim this time. The movie praised the efforts of Ms. Rhea in Washington DC. The Obama Administration quickly undid all of her suggestions at the behest of the unions.

I will take your word for it on Mr. Gates' program, but I will ask where is anyone with the knowledge and experience to make a difference when it comes to discussing how to fix serious problems in the education system?

You ended with:
"Finally, I would suggest there is a difference between a test administered by a teacher to assess and even motivate student mastery of a subject and a government concocted, union influenced, bureaucrat manipulated standardized test"

The intent is actually the same. Perhaps one of them is better at it than the other though, but they are meant to accomplish the same thing.

Dan said...

I've definitely enjoyed this discussion. I have a few more points.

First, I always balk at taking serious a discussion of education that compares the U.S. to foreign countries as Lysis says W for S does, for many of the reasons already stated. I don't want U.S. schools to run 6 days a week 300 days a year 12 hours a day, only letting those who test well advance in their education.

Second, I agree on so many of the points the two of you make, the idea of education reform is one I have long struggled with, because I believe it is vital, and I've never heard or come up with in my own mind an idea for reform that seems viable and can be successful. I don't necessarily think that politicians and people like Bill Gates start out wanting to push unworkable and counterproductive programs, I think that they, like me, see the problem and have no idea how to really fix it.

I know there are bad teachers, but how do you actually deal with that? I've never heard of a really good method of measuring the quality of the teacher. If its the performance of the student, then what is the point of teaching a class of struggling kids, it will make you look like a bad teacher.

Its possible that raising teaching salaries will bring in more of the best and brightest. But with the sickening amount of wasted at the district level, its hard for me to support increased education spending, especially since, at least at a State level there is so little mandate on how the District must spend. And even with increased salaries, thats not a real guarantee. I look to my profession, lots of money doesn't equal the best and brightest. (Not that I make lots of money, I'm one of those leeches that works for the State unjustly taking peoples tax dollars as a salary).

I do agree with Tiffany that if the movie sparks real discussion that it has real merit. But my final point is that if it encourages the charter school idea, I have to seriously disagree with its premise. I think, as Lysis has said, that when the students who care, and the parents who care, leave the public schools for charter schools it harms the entire public school system.

Lysis said...

Tiffany and Dan,

Thank you both for posting. I have been somewhat distracted by adventures at Loll, but I have also enjoyed our discussion very much. I find myself in need of some distraction just now and this has been a valuable chance for me to think of “something else”.


On unions – For all the good Unions have done in the PAST century, I feel they have become self perpetuating powers, more interested in their influence than in the needs of teachers, let alone students. That, in many cases, very good people make up Unions does not lessen the problem that they are NOT as much directed by a desire to improve teaching as to maintain their own influence.

It is wonderful that there are students at all socio-economic levels who long to learn and take every opportunity to grow. It is the wonder of America Education that, more than anywhere else, students who love learning are found and assisted by teachers who love students; it is a frustration that any are missed. It is also true that at every socio-economic level there are students who hate work, and often at the “upper” end of the social scale, there are parents who accommodate these slackers in to self-destruction and then they blame “American Education.” Such parent do not want to take responsibility for the failure of their child; it is very easy to blame the school, the teacher, anyone but their own child and their own lack of effort.

You say: “I don’t think the movie meant to have all answers but meant to shed a light on a subject and maybe get people talking and, even better acting.” You then reference Guggenheim’s docudrama, An Inconvenient Truth. This film on “Global Warming” (I hear Al Gore has just written an essay on the subject – that should be a laugh.) was also based on a false premise and used pseudo science to generate propaganda and power for its proponents and converts to its false teachings. Such “answers” do more harm than good.

I agree with you entirely on the value of gifted and honors programs. In you previous post you mention the disparity in support offered to students with “learning challenges” contrasted with those who could do far more given support. This “socialist” propensity to lift the bottom but pull down the top is anathema to true education. One only has to consider the way elementary, (and many secondary) teachers are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time dealing with “problem” students while those who come to school ready, willing, and able are left to atrophy.

Lysis said...

Ms. Rhea’s efforts in Washington D C are presented in the film as stimulating teacher excellence by merit pay. She tried to bribe good teachers out of the Union, but could do nothing to get rid of the Union’s protection of “bad” teachers. I think we must look to more aggressive legislative remedies to Union power such as those being attempted in Wisconsin. The dangers of such actions, and the political courage need to face such dangers, are amply evidenced in the Union’s reaction to the efforts of Wisconsin’s governor and legislature. That Obama destroyed Ms. Rhea’s efforts is proof of the administration’s goal – stay in power. They prove that, for all the lip service to “racing for the top”, the only race Obama is interested in is the one that will put him back in the White House.

You ask: “Where is anyone with the knowledge and experience to make a difference when it comes to discussing how to fix serious problems in the education system?” I hope it is in the day-to-day discourse between teachers, parents, and students in the already highly successful, if dolefully distorted, American education system.

Finally, on standardized tests: their intent may be the same as the assessment instruments employed by a teacher, but first – not even all teachers are good testers, and more importantly, the intent of such “standardized” tests is moot. Tests whish are not valid are a waist of time, money, and hope. My problem with the standardized tests concocted by Federal departments seeking to influence voters, States trying to garner federal funds, and schools attempting to avoid censure are that they are not supportive or instructive to students.

Lysis said...


I find it instructive that six day a week 12 hour a day schools do not produce the great creative minds that lead the world. Like you, I do not want them for our students. Thank goodness schools and classes are not the only places where our children can learn.

You are right, we must find an answer, and “W for S” does not offer any more answers to the problems of Education than Al Gore does to the challenges of the weather. Where was Global Warming when I needed it??????

I also agree that there is enormous waist of our resources at District, State, and National levels in education. When management begins to direct and demand rather than facilitate and serve it abrogates its value and soon become a self-perpetuating expense.

All critique that sparks “real discussion” is good. If there is any merit in “W for S” it is that in criticizing its bogus claims one is forced to confront real problems.

Finally, you are right on, on the dangers of Charter Schools. They are the Cap-and-Trade solution to the ills of education. Not only do Charter Schools hurt education, they get paid to do it; with “program facilitators” and state and district level “administrators” creaming off the lions share of the resources. The sad truth is that Charter Schools are the “other side” of the Union coin.

Tiffany said...

You ask: “Where is anyone with the knowledge and experience to make a difference when it comes to discussing how to fix serious problems in the education system?” I hope it is in the day-to-day discourse between teachers, parents, and students in the already highly successful, if dolefully distorted, American education system.

I wish I agreed with that. What I see is that decades go by, nobody in a position to make the necessary hard legislative changes does. The answer is always to throw money at the problem, money that typically ends up covering bureaucratic costs and does little good.

Instead those groups talk and worry amongst themselves and muddle through and hope to find the best within the education system for their child. Those parents who don't have the education or the knowledge to help their children navigate the current educational system worry even more as their children navigate blindly through the education system.

Charter schools aren't a good solution, but I understand why they are increasingly popular and why people are looking toward them. That is where the only real change is going on. In the public education system, there is a lot of "discussion" more often than not just parents, teachers, or students complaining and then a collective throwing of the hands in the air, the asking of the question, "what can we do about it," or the explanations of why this and that won't work.

Waiting for Superman says continuing this way is not a good thing but shows that charter schools are often the only real avenue for results for many parents. That is a shame, and we should care enough to make that not the case.

Lysis said...


I maintain that much of W for S is based on several false claims.

1. That American Education is inferior to education elsewhere in the world.

2. That gimmick schools, such as the four touted in W for S, are the panacea to kid’s dropping out of high school or failing to enter college.

3. That National Programs, such as Bill Gates “Small Learning Communities” program, or Bush and Kennedy’s “No Child Left Behind” or Obama’s “Race to the Top”; can somehow transform every American student into a “Chinese or Finnish” style success.

4. That defunding, even closing, “failing schools” will somehow save students by mystically allowing them to receive wonderful educations from some un-described, but for profit source, because all their inferior teachers have been fired.

W for S presents the fact that good parents and good students seek out good teachers and good schools and, with typical relativist abandon, juggle the formula to read that: good schools will somehow equal good parents and good students. This is science fiction, and does no more to save education in America than writing Superman comic books can do to save people who face real dangers in the world today.

Last week end a crazed murder slaughtered four innocent people in a small pharmacy. No doubt on the shelves of that little store there were comic books full of stories of Superman rushing to the rescue of innocents threatened by evil villains. Those comic book fantasies could not save the men and women from the gunman. Children in America fail to finish high school, fail to enter college, fail to learn how to read and do their times tables. Movies filled with imaginary solutions to these very real problems stir false hope and sap off energy, funds, and support from real live heroes who might otherwise have come to save the day.

Solving the problems of crime, war, disease, famine, and education will be difficult. Waiting for Superman will not be helpful.

Dan Dolan said...


I haven't watched the documentary yet, but much of what I've read about it is consistent with your summary. My wife is a science teacher, and it infuriates me to watch the abuse directed at the profession. There are bad teachers, no doubt, but that is hardly the core problem with the American education system; even if it were, there isn't a huge group of highly qualified, motivated people vying for a job that requires a college degree and starts around $30 K.

Truly universal education, is seems, is largely an American concept. Virtually every other country uses some form of tracking, collecting the top students along one track and diverting everyone else along vocational paths. One can argue the relative merits of either system, but it is inappropriate to compare academic performance between the two. When I entered graduate school, for example, I learned that most of my foreign counterparts already had the equivalent of master's degree because they specialized earlier than one does in this country.

It is difficult not to suspect that much of the talk about school reform, performance testing, and whatnot is a concerted effort to discredit and ultimately dismantle public education. Alternative (charter or private) schools have their merits, but cannot be truly be universal because their successes depend on atypical circumstances. If a student is particularly challenging, they can be asked to leave, whereas the public education must deal with them until they're practically criminal. I saw similar benefits the DOD schools, where the principal could contact your father's commanding officer if you were misbehaving. Public schools do not have that kind of leverage and never will.

One aspect of the education system that troubles me is the education community: those who major in "education" rather than a particular subject. Generally, these people are idiots. A particularly dangerous product of this community is the idea that anyone can teach anything. Administrators obviously love this idea, as it makes for flexible teaching assignments, but it is destructive to the entire system. said...

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