“Superman” on KQED Forum

Last night I had the privilege of attending a screening of “Waiting for Superman”  (my second time seeing the movie) sponsored by Educate Our State and the San Francisco Education Fund.  Michael Krasny, host of KQED’s highly-rated “Forum” program, also attended, and this morning he devoted the first hour of his radio program to the movie.

Before I pick out specific things from the Forum broadcast, I’d like to say that my initial reaction to the movie remains unchanged.  I think it is a huge missed opportunity — so much marketing muscle and lucre going to promote what? Texting the word “Possible” to a number that puts you in a marketing database that prompts you to  . . . tell friends to pay to see the movie? To promote the idea that charter schools are the answer and teachers are the enemy? As I said to Mr. Krasny last night — how simplistic. I also noticed that since July, the movie had been edited to drastically tone down the assertion that “we’ve tried more money” in education. Well, the assertion is still there — but the data that originally supported the assertion has been edited out. Interesting.

It is NOT being an apologist for the current system to say that the solutions are so much bigger than the movie; and that the movie hones in on “problems” that are really  symptoms of our current educational dysfunction.

OK — here goes:

2:00- 3:30 – Students graduating from high school without college requirements. Daisy is a very sympathetic character and the idea that she would have to “run the gauntlet” of a failing middle and high school seems criminal. I only want the best for Daisy, but I must point out that SFUSD recently made sure that ALL of our students will graduate with the courses required for four-year colleges by adopting the University’s A-G required course sequence as our graduation requirements. Starting with the class of 2014 (today’s 9th graders), any student graduating from SFUSD will have satisfied college-entry requirements.

4:00 to 6:00 – Michael Kirst, Stanford scholar and former President of the State Board of Education says that the juxtaposition of public vs. charter schools might be somewhat cherrypicked.

6:00 – 9:30 Dennis Kelly, President of United Educators of SF, notes that charters were actually created by teachers’ unions and says that unions are demonized by this movie. “Tenure” doesn’t exist in the CA Education Code, but “due process” does.

Bill Lucia from EdVoice says (10:00 – 12:00) says some districts have a very hard time firing teachers and refers to hidden camera footage from the movie showing teachers reading newspapers, etc. — the movie features a statement from the former Superintendent of their school district saying he tried to fire them but was ordered not to.  Then he says (12:30 – 13:45) that DC teachers eventually have agreed to a contract pushed by Supt. Michelle Rhee that advances the interests of poor students. I should mention that SFUSD’s Prop. A (passed in 2008 by a healthy margin) has demonstrably increased the supports and standards for struggling teachers.

Mr. Kirst on salaries (13:45 – 15:30) Teachers aren’t paid enough but some of the schools profiled in the film definitely require more hours; and should we pay effective teachers more? Diane Ravitch has convincingly argued that “performance pay” doesn’t work.

Are teachers more concerned with wages than students? Dennis Kelly says (15:30 – 17:30) teachers know all students can learn if we can provide them with the right conditions. Performance-based pay might discourage teachers from taking on more challenging assignments.

Mr. Lucia says resistance to performance-based pay is a major impediment to reform (17:30 – 20:15) . The key issue is the professionalism of teaching, rather than looking at it as a conveyor belt where everybody teaches the same.

Has NCLB/testing failed? Mr. Kirst says yes and no (20:15 – 22:45) — based on CA standards and tests, we’ve done well; it’s an overstatement to say we haven’t made any progress in CA but it’s true we haven’t made enough progress.

David Reilly of Woodside High (24:50 – 27:30) says the film misrepresented his public school–criticized in the movie for tracking students–and that the filmmaker declined the opportunity to learn more about it.

Dennis Kelly on points that were misrepresented in the film (28:00 – 30:00) – that schools in low-income areas are failing. Moscone Elementary is a great example of a school that is high-achieving and serving low-income students.

Are lotteries like those depicted in the film all that common? (30:00 - 31:15 ) Mr. Lucia says yes. How sad. I can’t imagine bringing my child to a raw event like that.

Caller asks – has enough been done to address the issue of parent involvement?  Teachers are being unfairly blamed; Dennis Kelly agrees and says teachers are frustrated with their lack of involvement in policymaking for the schools.  (31:00 – 34:00).

Are we entering a national dialogue on education reform? Caller and former school board member says we need to continue to talk honestly and openly about the achievement gap. Unions can’t be the only voice for teachers. Mr. Kelly points out that budget cuts have led to the loss of many enthusiastic young teachers in California (34:00 - 37:30).

Commenter says her blood is boiling to see the inequities in education and wants to support EdVoice. Another commenter asks whether trauma passed on by parents or lack of parents affects schooling. Mr. Kirst mentions the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides all manner of social supports for children — it’s an important innovation but is hard to replicate. What will the impact of this film be? (37:30-41:15)  I would also like to point out that the Harlem Children’s Zone gets hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars in private funding above what it gets from the state of New York. Geoffrey Canada is inspiring and has achieved wonderful things for the children in his schools, but let’s not forget that he has WAY MORE MONEY than any other education reformer.

School food research has been ignored; school lunches are too unhealthy and affect children’s brains (41: 15 – 42:00) — In San Francisco they’re not!

Mr. Lucia thankfully (FINALLY) brings up the issue of money. Some school districts in CA are getting twice the amount of money than others. (43:00 – 44:20).  Mr. Lucia says Sacramento is not applauding the success of charter schools and the school system is not learning from these successes (44:30 – 46:20).

Head of KIPP Bay Area calls in to say that the belief that all children can succeed is what makes KIPP charter school successful (46:30 – 47:00).  Other commenters disagree on whether charters are more or less successful than traditional public schools and whether teachers are to blame. Mr. Kelly notes statistics on financial support of schools — Californians get what they pay for and the state has refused to put enough resources into the schools. (46:30-51:00).

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