64

Oprah, Aspire and Waiting for Superman

At 4 p.m. (Pacific Time) today, James Willcox, CEO of the Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools, appears on the Oprah Winfrey Show along with Bill Gates and Director Davis Guggenheim to promote the much-hyped “Waiting for Superman” documentary by Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Oprah is giving $1 million awards to six organizations, including Aspire, which operates about 30 publicly funded, privately run charter schools in California, including seven in Oakland and Berkeley. Kids and teachers at Lionel Wilson College Prep, a middle and high school in East Oakland run by the charter management organization (API 797), are watching the pre-taped show at the school this afternoon. Here’s a quote from an Aspire news release:

“It’s an honor to be recognized by Oprah’s Angel Network as part of her call to the country to make sure every student has a chance to attend a high-quality public school,” said Aspire Public Schools CEO James Willcox. “The upcoming movie “Waiting for ‘Superman’” will challenge our country to do just that. Our success with the nearly 10,000 students Aspire serves across California is a tribute to our teachers and our team—and a reason to be incredibly optimistic about what we can achieve in every public school across the state and across the country.”

“Waiting for Superman” is about the failures of America’s public education system and why it should matter to the average American. Guggenheim makes the argument that those failures perpetuate societal ills, from national security and crime to poverty, and that it’s essential to “change the odds” for families who can’t afford a private education. He said the idea for the film stemmed from the guilt he felt while driving by his neighborhood school in Los Angeles while dropping his kids off to private schools.

It comes out on Friday.

From the clips I saw at the Education Writers Association conference in May, it promises to be compelling, provocative and heart-wrenching, if a bit simplistic. I don’t know how you produce a mainstream film about public education in America that captures the complexities of the system in less than two hours (and without putting people to sleep). But the central metaphor — the charter school admissions lottery — seems to imply that charter schools are the only ticket out for poor and working-class kids, as though neighborhood schools were something of a lost cause.

At the EWA conference, Guggenheim said the film is actually the product of two movies woven together. One strand followed a number of public school kids through the system; the other featured animated graphics and interviews with today’s most prominent education reformers and underwriters, including D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

This film will certainly get more people talking about public education, teachers unions, graduation rates and global competitiveness. Do you plan to see it? Have you caught an early screening? If and when you go, give us your review.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • OaklandEdSupporter

    For too many children, their local neighborhood schools have treated them like lost causes.

    Good on them and their families for finding schools that hold them to high expectations: charter or not.

  • CarolineSF

    There’s some pretty major backlash going on against the teacher-bashing, charter-puffing viewpoint of “Waiting for Superman,” and one piece is in the New Yorker, where veteran writer Nicholas Lemann (also dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism last I heard) takes the movie apart.

    “It should raise questions when an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama. In the current school-reform story, there is a reliable villain, in the form of the teachers’ unions, and a familiar set of heroes, including Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children’s Zone; Wendy Kopp, of Teach for America, the Knowledge Is Power Program; and Michele Rhee, the superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. And there is a clear answer to the problem — charter schools. The details of this story are accurate, but they are fitted together too neatly and are made to imply too much. For example, although most of the specific charter schools one encounters in this narrative are very good, the data do not show that charter schools in general are better than district schools.”

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/09/27/100927taco_talk_lemann#ixzz106t7gDkx

  • CarolineSF

    Also, the respected organization Rethinking Schools is putting up a resistance website, NOTwaitingforsuperman.org — they have a Facebook page up now.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    http://www.facebook.com/MiseducationNation

    And then there is the opposition website to Education Nation, which I have named Miseducation Nation–Education Nation keeps banning people from their Facebook page for questioning NBC’s motivation.

    Please join us and help bring teacher/parent voices to the discussion.

  • crockermom

    watching the clips from that lottery are just heart wrenching.

  • AlgebraTeacher

    There are always two sides to every story. This one, however, only seems to portray one of them.

  • oaklandteacher

    Does this movie highlight the fact that charter schools PUSH out English language learners, and students with learning disabilities?

    As a teacher in Oakland, I have seen this first hand. It is not right and although I have not seen the movie, I have seen clips and read reviews. I don’t think it is telling the whole story when it comes to urban education and the work that people are doing within the schools.

    There can and always will be a critic. But, in my opinion, charter schools aren’t the answer.

  • J.R.

    Charter schools are not the “cure all”, but plenty of their ideas are worthwhile. The “status quo” that we have had for decades, has not worked in decades(except in cetain districts). The system is no longer about educating kids, it is about about a self perpetuating jobs bank and money machine(with some real teachers,and teaching) thrown in for good measure.

  • FactsTell

    “2010 DCPS Test Scores DECLINE”

    under “crappy” unaccountable
    ‘chancellor’
    Michelle Rhee (note: she’s not
    qualified & she doesn’t have
    the certification to legally be
    a district superintendent)

    see news article,
    DCist website: =>
    http://dcist.com/2010/07/2010_dcps_test_scores_decline.php

    Look at the data, rather than the
    24-7 mega-media hype manipulated,
    funded & produced by the Hedge Fund boyz,
    Kaplan Testing corporation,
    the edu-profiteers/financiers clique
    & their incompetent spokesmodel rabid Rhee
    – with her ludicrous lack of proven
    teaching or administrative experience,
    her lack of academic certification to be a superintendent,
    her lack of reasonable supervisory procedures,
    her lack of basic managerial skills,
    her lack of teambuilding to implement goals,
    her lack of community development
    to facilitate progress,
    her lack of professional tact, her lack of essential
    communication insight,
    and her abysmal lack of common sense.

    —————

  • oakey

    Oh, this canard again:
    —————
    oaklandteacher Says:
    Does this movie highlight the fact that charter schools PUSH out English language learners, and students with learning disabilities?
    =============
    This one’s always pulled out of the hat. Somehow charters are secretly cleansing themselves of unwanted kids. But I never ever seen one iota of proof. Because if it were, it would be documented and it certainly would be acted upon.

    Either show us the proof or stop making false accusations. It reflects badly on your side of the issue.

  • oakey

    I notice you characterize WFS as “much-hyped.” Hm. Would you describe “An Inconvenient Truth” as much-hyped? I certainly know it would in The Weekly Standard or some other right-wing publication that denies global warming. Hm.

    Although I haven’t seen the movie yet, I wonder about this judgment that WFS is intended to make the claim that it “seems to imply that charter schools are the only ticket out.” Actually, I don’t know anyone who supports school reform who thinks that. Yet again, a straw man argument.

    I find Nicholas Lemann’s comments contributed by CarolineSF a bit smug and bitchy. As to comments about school reform and the opposition of the teacher’s union to it, I will point out comments on the Washington DC teacher’s union success at ousting Fenty and therefore Michelle Rhee, by Joe Klein (journalist, not Joel Klein): “I have been covering this issue for 30 years and it never changes: the teachers unions are a force for ignorance and stagnation. I’m in favor of industrial unions: I understand who they’re organized against–the power of capital. But I wonder whom the teachers and other public employees unions are organized against–the public? I’m not in favor of busting the teachers union, though I wouldn’t blame any parents in Washington, DC, who were. It’s good that the teachers union fights for minimum salary and benefits. They should be all about building floors, minimum standards–but the unions are mostly about building ceilings (opposed to merit pay) and walls (against longer school days and years, against accountability). They should be ashamed of themselves for this latest, disgraceful ploy.”

  • Katy Murphy

    I see your point about the use of the “much-hyped” phrase. I was trying to convey that the film was receiving a lot of attention and buzz.

    I don’t know what message Guggenheim intended to send about charter schools. From his interview and Q and A at the conference I attended, it sounded as though he genuinely wanted to shine light on the inequities of the American educational system. My point was that the metaphor of the lottery (which is almost exclusively used by charter schools, as opposed to neighborhood schools) seems to imply that the success of a child from a poor or working-class neighborhood hinges on their luck getting into a successful charter school. Even if that wasn’t the director’s intent, a reasonable person could walk away with that conclusion.

  • J.R.

    Factstell,
    Do you know what else qualifies as profiteering? Getting paid and not producing results, while simultaneously fighting all attempts at measuring effectiveness(accountability). I applaud Michelle Rhee for cleaning out the overstuffed district office and closing schools that were low enrollment,that is common sense! She could have collected her money and done nothing(kept the status quo), and that would have been so much easier, right? Tax payers are learning that for all the noise you make about being qualified with academic experience, certification and so forth hasn’t kept our schools from sliding down into the abyss. Show us results and we’ll give you the pay and respect you have earned. The political machinations and ploys to kill AB 955 and 1285 will not be forgotten.

  • On the Fence

    Here are two things that come to my mind when I read this article. First, if “he said the idea for the film stemmed from the guilt he felt while driving by his neighborhood school in Los Angeles while dropping his kids off to private schools”, then why isn’t the answer to encourage motivated (likely more affluent and more educated) parents like himself to stay in their local public schools? I usually never make this point as, in general, I support parents ability to choose. But really now, let’s recognize how flight from our public school weakens the community. Oh yeah, I forgot that wasn’t the point. The point was that charters could save the poor and downtrodden from the horrors of public education, while other folks could self-segregate into the privates. How convenient.

    My second thought is a bit more cynical, yet. I think that we are mistaken in thinking that schools can provide all the answers to our societal ills. The way I see it, charters largely have an advantage by siphoning off the highly motivated families of ‘fewer means’. All that does is reduce the pool of students that is left for our public schools to educate. Lottery, smchottery, your parents still have to have the interest, wherewithal and motivation to seek out a supposedly ‘better’ school and that makes you DIFFERENT and constitutes a selection bias. I think that the kids in the privates, and the kids who self-select into the charters are already primed for success. In my opinion, it is the kids who are left behind who are the most vulnerable. These are the kids the the public schools are left to educate and then we point the finger of blame at the public teachers for not doing enough!

    Examples abound in Oakland of public schools that begin to enjoy the retention of the more affluent and/or more movitated neighborhood students (families) and suddenly they improve in myriad ways and are touted as sucesses.

  • Ms. J.

    I was going to make a point similar to that made by On The Fence.

    As a parent myself, I understand the desire of parents to have good choices for their kids. In fact, I am quite happy to be living in Berkeley now, because I understand that all of the school options in Berkeley are pretty good. But the reason that these schools are as decent as they are, in my opinion, is that each school has a minimum number of parents who are committed and involved, and who demand more of the school, the teachers, and each other than they might otherwise get. As On The Fence notes, parents can make a big difference. In some areas, motivated, educated parents are the majority, and the schools and their students benefit. In other areas, parents are less educated, or have too much else on their plates, or don’t care, or can’t speak English enough to advocate or support their kids, and in these areas I see the attraction of charter schools.

    But then, as noted, the children whose families are not savvy or pushy or caring enough are the ones who will be left behind.

    I am committed to teach in public schools, but my job is a lot easier when I have at least a few kids coming from supportive and even demanding homes. If all of those kids leave, in order to go to lottery charter schools, my job and that of the other committed and idealistic people I teach with will be much, much harder–and at some point it will become impossible.

    I wonder how many KIPP and SEED and HCZ supermen and women will be willing to teach in the schools which are left behind? That is where the real superheroes will be needed.

  • Donna

    Exactly, On The Fence @ 14. It is not only neighborhood hills kids who are in our hills schools or at Tech. Motivated parents do everything they can to get their kids into these schools which are perceived to be *better*. And their kids are fortunate to have families who can manage the transportation issues of not attending a neighborhood school. Not all families can do this.

    Some publics, just as some charters, are better than others. And some charters, like some public, can be pretty bad. Parents seem to get this and are not necessarily rushing to enroll their kids in any charter that rolls their way. I guess this parallel in quality isn’t as sexy a story as *Down with the Publics, In with the Charters*?

  • Katy Murphy

    Just to clarify, SEED isn’t a charter (unless you were referring to another SEED). It’s one of Oakland Unified’s new, small schools, and it’s operating under its enrollment capacity, so there’s no lottery in place.

  • J.R.

    Public school teachers are not the sole blame here, but they are not blameless. Not all teachers are worried about doing their jobs, which is to teach. Too many are pre-occupied with tenure, pay,politics,pensions benefits,and putting in time(paying their dues). There are too many that coast(this is not a training or support issue this is an attitudinal issue)some people do not have the temperament to be teachers, and the kids pay the price for that. The biggest problem is the size and scope of the educational system itself, full of middle managers with questionable value towards the goal of teaching our youth. All this wasted money should go to the classroom so that a “proven” good teacher and the students can directly benefit(pay,books, supplies).

  • Cranky Teacher

    Regarding Joe Klein’s harsh anti-teacher union comments, quoted by Oakey: They seem fairly ignorant.

    Teachers unions received “ceilings” and “walls” as he put it, rather than decent “floors” because THAT’S WHAT THE DISTRICTS OFFERED. For the cash-strapped districts, job security, hour restrictions, etc., are all they could offer, rather than a solid middle-class living.

    I’d be glad to see vacation time slashed, hours extended and tenure ended if it meant I could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment for my children and I in a safe neighborhood — which I have been finding is nigh impossible on 40K a year in the East Bay.

    Say, raise my pay 50% to 60K in exchange for 75% shorter Summer, 10-hour-days (but extra hours have to be prep/tutorial/PD/collob) and streamlined/limited job security safeguards.

    Then I’d be working 50 hours a week for 60K as something close to an “at will” employee.

    Except in districts which get the one-time BIG corporate money, etc. (see: NY, D.C.), such pay raises are just not possible.

    I can’t say our unions are always cutting edge or brilliant, but they are only one player in this mess. If the unions were really so powerful in protecting our interests, teacher turnover wouldn’t be such a problem!

  • Ms. J.

    I was not referring to Manzanita SEED (I used to teach there actually) but to the SEED school which is featured in the film (a public charter boarding school in D.C.).

  • Katy Murphy

    Ah. Thanks for clarifying, Ms. J.

  • Sara

    This is from the 2010 OUSD parent guide “If the number of applicants exceeds the number of available
    spaces, a lottery process from the eligible applicant pool shall determine enrollment in a school of choice. The lottery will prioritize neighborhood and non neighborhood siblings first, neighborhood students without siblings second, students residing within the elementary school’s mega boundary as defined by Board policy who have been re-directed from their overcrowded neighborhood school,PI status of the student’s neighborhood school and random lottery for remaining applicants.”
    There is a lottery for Oakland schools, not just charter schools. If a child from the Flats wants to go to a Hills school, they can apply but they do go through a lottery if there isn’t enough room to accommodate them all, which there never is these days.

  • Katy Murphy

    Right, but the lottery typically affects just a fraction of the children who apply to those high-demand neighborhood schools, as opposed to all potential students at high-demand charters. The lottery metaphor in the film was about charter school lotteries — though I’m sure you could interpret “the odds” in a broader sense, too, such as what neighborhood you’re born into, or the resources your family has to devote to your education.

  • http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2009/02/one_urban_district_with_a_bad_1.html Anthony Cody

    I have not seen Superman yet, but I watched Oprah yesterday and got a big dose. I wrote the following for my blog on EdWeek: OprahPaganda: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/09/oprahpaganda.html

  • CarolineSF

    Just in case it’s not clear that Waiting for Superman is promoting charters as the solution: If you click on “Take Action” and “Get Local” on the “Waiting for Superman” website, and click on a California city, you get redirected to an organization (or a pseudo-organization) called Families that Can, which is run by the California Charter Schools Association and exists specifically to represent charter schools. There’s no indication as to what Families that Can actually does. I’m hoping to find out for a blog post on Perimeter Primate.

    African-American leaders are understandably taking strong offense at the notion promoted by white journalists that the (overwhelmingly African-American) D.C. voters are too stupid to think for themselves and were just doing the bidding of the teachers’ union.

  • oaklandteacher

    Oakey,

    I am a special education teacher in East Oakland and have received students who have been moved out of the charter system because they told them they could not serve them.

    It is sad and not right. And it is happening in Oakland.

  • Catherine

    OaklandTeacher: I don’t doubt that charters push out students to improve the teaching in their classrooms. Basically I think it is wrong.

    I volunteer to help legally immigrated refugees integrated into the community. I sat in a classroom in Oakland helping a parent understand the education process. We observed the class from 8:30 to 10:30 including recess. During that two hour block of time the teacher stopped 54 times to tell students to follow along, put their pencils down, put their head up, get started writing, stop digging through the backpack and on and on. It two hours there was only one time when 6 minutes of actual teaching happened without interruption from ill-behaved students.

    I don’t know what the answer is. There were at least 10 students who used a whiteboard and knew every answer and still had to review the material again and again until roughly 3/4 of the students understood the lesson. Six or seven students never attempted the work or paid attention long enough to learn even a portion of the lesson.

    Curiously, the father of the new student asked why the teacher did not call home to the parents and make them come in the class and sit with their child to make them behave.

    Today, I was embarrassed for the school, principal, teacher and classroom students. If I were a teacher, I would have been tempted to call the parents or videotape the classroom to demonstrate to parents how disruptive their children were.

  • rumbler

    J.R.

    I completely agree with pretty much everything that you write, ever.

    Your point that the status quo is a “jobsbank” is 110% true. You should see what I see on a daily basis.

    Your next point that getting paid for not producing results is as bad as corporations making profit on education is also true.

    Ravitch says that charter schools are the next iteration of the voucher system but they’re not. They’re better, at least the design is.

    J.R. – KEEP IT UP,

    Rumbler

  • Public School Teacher

    As a public school teacher, I need to stand up for myself. I would like all critics to know that I teach in an urban high school and prep for three different subjects, two from different academic disciplines. In one class of 35 students, 27 are boys, 21 of whom have a GPA of 1.3 or below. Toss in 5 students with high special needs-ADHD who were “pushed” in with no support. Two of the five students can not complete the work, even with modifications and did I forget to mention there is no aide available to assist them. Calling home yields mixed results for most, but rarely improves the situation. To pass all of my students, I have to stay and tutor during my lunch period and after school, followed by intense micro-managing of students with no or minimal success in their academic career and extremely low motivation. Where does this time come from? My free time, which I give up to help my students pass the class. You know who else suffers in the mix? Students who come to class, complete their work, ask for help when necessary and meet deadlines. They have to wait for the others in the class to catch up to them. Yes we can differentiate instruction, but in reality, it’s triage.

    Enough with the teacher bashing… and give thanks for those who teach the kids who are left behind.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    I’m wondering how JR seems to know that so many teachers coast, are obsessed with getting tenure, their pension, and the other claims he makes.

    In all my years as a teacher I have never had a discussion about my pension or tenure with anyone, much less other teachers in the school. You see, we are stuck inside classrooms without any adult contact.

    JR, you are wrong.

  • J.R.

    TFT,
    If I were you, I would probably be defensive as well(you aren’t really stuck you have a choice to be there or not), but in all the schools I have ever been involved with and all the teachers I have known,they all can cite examples of people whom they know who should not be in the profession(for one reason or another). The majority of teachers are good and some are even great, but poor teachers are real as well and kids should never be subjected to them. This is not about you, and its not bashing because the good teachers know who they are, and whats more, the education system is for the benefit of kids, not adults.

  • AlgebraTeacher

    Now the question is… Can we have charter schools without the public school system? After all, students kicked out of charter schools are sent to the public schools. Happens at KIPP in West Oakland all the time.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Anthony Cody’s response: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/09/oprahpaganda.html
    is excellent and I recommend it to everyone. Thank you Anthony for your insightful comments.

  • Katy Murphy

    Speaking of responses: Rick Hess, from the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in an Ed Week blog post published this morning that “…Monday’s Oprah spectacle, Guggenheim’s declarations, and the continuing barrage from would-be reformers hawking Waiting for Superman and promoting a goopy groupthink symbiosis with the Paramount marketing operation leave me thinking that large doses of cynicism are in order.”

    http://bit.ly/bSGELG

  • Ms. J.

    And read this:
    http://www.ed421.com/?p=1438&cpage=1#comment-49767
    A viewer of Oprah and public school teacher puts it brilliantly.

  • The real issue

    Algebra Teacher –
    Public schools send the kids they kick out to charter schools as well. The traffic goes in both directions. Stop trying to make excuses for the failure of large public schools.

  • Nextset

    Algebra teacher – the public schools have the problems they do because they are designed and operated to fail. They are not “schools” in the traditional sense, they (in the urban areas at least) are holding pens for the underclass and proletariat.

    We once had urban schools, real schools. They actually functioned. Bright students from poor families could go there, have a safe and productive adolescence and go on to college and grad schools and have upward social mobility into the professions. This was clearly demonstrated as the US absorbed European Immigrants (peasants) who came with only what they could carry and not speaking english.

    It’s only in the post “civil rights” era that we used the public schools to feed sweet tasting poison to the largely black and brown minorities – taking them from first grade to unemployability and claiming we don’t know what went wrong. What we are doing is teaching indiscipline and permissiveness knowing that prevents social mobility.

    If the charters, at least the popular ones, kick out failing students who return to the publics knowing they can continue their failing ways, that’s the fault of the publics. Failures should not be made comfortable or accomodated in any way.

  • Cranky Teacher

    J.R.: You are right, of course, there are some crummy teachers in high-poverty schools just hanging on, and they enjoy union protection as a blockade from having to change their practice or get a new job. We could could quibble about the percentages, but as former student in such schools I know they’re there.

    However, what you will never convince me of is that there is an army of qualified people ready and waiting to fill their jobs in those schools at current salaries — the numbers of applicants and the rate of turnover, even in a recession, just do not bear that out.

    Hell, the big high schools in Oakland can’t even find qualified applicants for PRINCIPAL, because the job is so demanding and the pay is not seen as commensurate with the stress and sacrifice. And the science departments depend on TFA and OTF rookies for some 50% of their teachers, who are only committed to 2-3 years.

    I was once offered a job two days before school started at an OUSD middle school where the ONLY returning administrator or teacher was a part-time music teacher. The desperate rookie principal didn’t even interview me — just started telling me what I’d be doing come Monday and showing me my classroom! Needless to say, as a newbie that hardly seemed the most supportive environment for my professional development…

  • J.R.

    “Simply being a former student of the public school system does not make one an educational expert”.

    Reply #1 Simply having a liberal arts degree, or even a BA or Masters does not make an educational expert(as if they really exist) either, as a matter of fact if you really want to know what makes a child “wonder, learn and grow”, and how to teach them, become a parent. If you want to learn to develop patience , understanding and love, all things that a great teacher needs, become a parent. Pedagogy is no big mystery in itself(any decently educated person can understand and carry out the nuts and bolts of it, but what is difficult is finding the right “type” of individual to teach, because not everyone should be a teacher and some of those rejects are in classrooms right now.

    “Public schools are charged with serving ALL of these students and do not have the luxury of demanding that families sign “contracts” stipulating the expectations of the students and their parents”.

    Reply #2 Just as we do not have the luxury of stipulating expectations for educators, and we have to provide the tax money anyway.

    “I also continue to believe strongly in the value and promise of a free public education system that serves all students, and I strongly support innovative and creative efforts to reinvent our public education system so that it meets and exceeds the needs of ALL students”.

    Reply #3 You have not re-invented anything for decades and our education system has been on a downward spiral, and the educational system has resisted any and all “real” change.

    “As I have high expectations for myself as an educator and a parent, I also have high expectations for other educators AND for all parents”.

    Reply #4 If you have high expectations for educators why in GOD’s name is the procedure for teacher dismissal(which is union mandated) so time consuming, complex and expensive(see links)

    http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/03/local/me-teachers3

    http://learningmatters.tv/blog/podcasts/podcast-a-principals-perspective/980/

    Unfortunately, these days due to liberal backed programs(welfare,AFDC,section 8 etc) we now have(and have had for decades) irresponsible people having kids that they do not need to be responsible for, and worse yet they have even more kids.

    The bed has been made and we have all been laying down on it.

  • J.R.

    The above are replies to post #35, and no she was not brilliant at all, she was dim.

  • J.R.

    Cranky,
    I don’t know about that, there were an awful lot young teachers who were RIF’ed that might disagree with you. As for your contention about young teachers leaving the teaching profession in 3-5 years, wouldn’t you if they gave you the worst kids, in the worst classes, in the worst grades, in the worst schools? A big part of this failure is the “seniority” based preferences that dominate our education system.

    One of my favorite anecdotes on this topic follows:

    MICHELLE RHEE: I was at a school the other day. I met the assistant principal.
    Basically, she told me that there was a situation at the school where they had a teacher
    who’d been working there for years, had been just a great employee, and he got his
    administrator license, and they had an assistant principal vacancy, and they wanted to put
    that person in the vacancy. And I thought, that sounds like an ideal situation. What more
    could you want? And they called me and they said, well, the HR department says we can’t do this.
    MICHELLE RHEE: And so I thought, okay, this is strange, and so I called down to HR
    and said, “I’m talking about Watkins Elementary, they want to put this person, let’s make
    it happen. And they said, “We can’t.”
    JOHN MERROW: Seniority rules.
    MICHELLE RHEE: Seniority rules. So we are not allowed to hire this person.
    JOHN MERROW: What’d you say?
    MICHELLE RHEE: And I said, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You can’t tell
    me, and no one can tell me, that bringing in a random assistant principal from another
    place, in this job, as opposed to somebody who has relationships with the kids, who
    already has an established persona in the community and is well-respected—you can’t
    tell me that that is not the right placement to make. So I said, “We are going to do this,
    and this is the last time I want you to tell me that we can’t, because it is the right thing for
    kids and I will deal with whatever grievance issues I have to. And I’m happy to fight that
    fight.
    JOHN MERROW: So the guy is in the job?
    MICHELLE RHEE: Yes, the guy is in the job.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Is all the recent buzz in LA, DC and now WFS just another round of teacher-bashing?
    Hmmm. Let’s assume this movie and its backers are rabid charterists that want to takeover America and care nothing about children. Let’s assume they KNOW NOTHING about how to educate children. Let’s assume they hate teachers, but choose to spend most of their money on teacher salaries (as does any charter).

    Even if true, most of the responses here are missing the point and I’ll even argue have their heads in the sand.

    We have a democratic president. One who “the mainstream” says is a left-leaning president.
    Oprah is far, far from a tea-party’r herself.
    Michelle Rhee was appointed and given broad powers
    L.A. is in a uproar over test scores and accountability

    Why is this happening? Why are these traditional union-loving folks the “safer” alternative to the GOP? Why now?
    These people and the ENTIRE COUNTRY with them are very close to FED UP and close to done dealing with America’s back-sliden schools and the structural GENOCIDE being perpetrated on Black and Brown children/families. Notice the modifier “structural.” We have created and allowed the conditions that reproduce 50% drop-outs, incarceration and crime. Is it all the fault of “bad teachers?” That’s not the question they are asking. The question (rightfully asked by Superintendent Smith) – “are changing our structural practices part of the solution?” The answer of course is SUPER YES!

    Why is the chorus so loud now?

    We have a black president – which gives voice to MANY who see what has happened in Black communities as simply another manifestation of institutionalized racism.
    We have growing models of success. Not cherrypicking – Success! Soon all this undercurrent of “the kids can’t do it” or “the parents don’t do their part” will be SQUASHED! People are learning with FACTS that all kids can and actually DO learn. No, for REAL. No, Nextset, for REAL.
    Teachers Unions are EASY targets now that charters exist. Most of what effective schools change (charter or not) is tightly controlled by union contracts. Hiring/Firing, Evaluation, Work hours, required Professional Development. Charters are free to find what works in ways regular schools seldom can. Who to blame? – UNIONS. Is it right? The country will decide.

    What’s the mantra of this new uproar?
    Support teachers, give them resources (not just salary), BUT HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE!

    Radical? Incredible? Shocking?

    Not really. I’d argue this is a necessary way to grab the “low-hanging fruit” of poor education. We are so quick to believe the “bad apple” adage when applied to students, but it is the same with teachers – or worse. We all know that there are teachers who can’t, won’t or no longer can be effective. We all know there are teachers who might work out fine in Piedmont, but wouldn’t last a week in Oakland. Let’s just be honest. What’s the union response I heard from CTA on TV?

    Administrative failure.

    Administrators fail to appropriately “evaluate out” bad teachers. Really!?!? And this just happens to be a NATIONWIDE EPIDEMIC of 4 decades of Principals (former teachers) who somehow can’t get it done for kids. Yeah, and I have a bridge for sale in the Mohave too.

    This low hanging fruit must be captured to restore morale and respect to the system. It is unfortunate that it’s coming when other legitimate gripes of teachers are going unaddressed because of low funding. Regardless, we won’t have solved anything just by removing bad apples. There is much more to be done.

    So what’s the alternative folks? What has the CTA/NEA offered instead of these teacher-bashing, charterizing, capitalists?
    Class sizes below 15:1 (i.e. MORE TEACHERS)

    Anything else? I’m sure yes, but I haven’t found it. Someone here will enlighten us I’m sure.

    I hope whatever it is isn’t more expensive than a well run charter school in the same neighborhood. Folks are voting with their wallets these days.


    Curious thing happens when your head is in the sand – you’re “other parts” are very exposed.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Nextset on post 37. Other than your simplistic resolution in your last paragraph, I agree 1000% with that post.

  • Ms. J.

    J.R.–
    In number 18, when you put “proven” in quotation marks, what is your point?

  • Cranky Teacher

    J.R., when those young TFA and OTF kids sign up they are doing it with the EXPRESS INTEREST AND AWARENESS they are going to the toughest schools to deal with the most at-risk kids. That is the basis of those programs.

    Look, you need to be straight about what you’re talking about, because we have two different public school systems, often in the same district and even the same school, and they both have problems, but they are not of the same magnitude or kind. You and many others blur the two together.

    A. There is a vast public school system which serves the middle class adequately. Could it be better? Yes, much. But for 100 years it has been serving up mediocre college-prep education to kids whose parents make sure they do the homework and go to class most of the time, and it still basically works, with lots of AP classes for the high achievers and calls home for the lesser lights. At these schools and in some whole districts (think Alameda, Albany, Piedmont, Orinda, etc.), turnover is a minimal problem and the culling process for young teachers is generally fierce. Oakland has schools like this, especially at elementary level, and Tech, OHigh and Skyline have tracks like this, with veteran teachers of high quality teaching college-bound students.

    B. The public school system for POOR and lower-middle class children, usually from single-parent homes. Kids who generally don’t have support at home, have a high level of emotional and academic issues and low morale/self-esteem. These are the schools where all the horror stories come from, the failure factories and all that. In these places, the NORM is high turnover (both teachers AND admin), low morale, constant changes in priorities, burnout, etc.

    When you talk about RIFs for young teachers, I am unsympathetic. Every single twenty-something with a credential and an interview smile can find work again within months, even in this recession. I know ZERO credentialed teachers who want to work who are not working! Are they working where they want to be working? Are they teaching what they want to be teaching? Not necessarily, but the work is out there.

    There is ALWAYS a need for teachers at flatland schools in Oakland. There is ALWAYS a need for Special Ed teachers. There is ALWAYS a need for science teachers. There is ALWAYS a need for middle-school teachers.

    When the maligned boomer teachers finish retiring, there will be even greater shortages.

  • J.R.

    “When you talk about RIFs for young teachers, I am unsympathetic. Every single twenty-something with a credential and an interview smile can find work again within months, even in this recession. I know ZERO credentialed teachers who want to work who are not working”!

    You are missing the point entirely, in OUSD this may be true in the worst schools, but most school district are not like OUSD. My point always was and continues to be, let the on-site administrator(principal) choose their own staff irregardless of seniority, because the principals will be forced to accept full responsibility. I have witnessed a great deal of principals forced out of schools for not doing their jobs, but I have never seen even one teacher leave a school except voluntarily.

    I think people have had enough of the canned responses

    1. Principals are vindictive and we need protection against them.

    2. Tests are ill conceived and not good indicators.

    3. Kids are poor and underfed and unmanageable.

    Have you as teachers, no responsibility at all?

    When it comes time for pay raise teachers are right at the head of the line, but when responsibility comes knocking they want to hide, why?

    A good place to start would be treating those dismal teachers they way you treat scabs, and you will earn some respect from the taxpayers.

  • J.R.

    When the maligned boomer teachers finish retiring, there will be even greater shortages.

    We made a huge error in judgment during the 70′s 80′s 90′s, we threw just any warm body with a degree into the classroom, and that cost us big time(and it will continue until these retirees cease to exist)because ultimately the taxpayers are on the hook. Maybe things will work out better this time around(good luck with that one).

  • Cheuy_Lewie

    JRs BEEF: Where do you get your teacher bashing ideas from…you must read the LA Times…

    http://utla.net/photos/2010/LA%20Times%20protest/slides/LATimes026.html

    What do you think will happen if 6000 teachers are tortured enough and nobody wants to take their jobs tomorrow, say if we just fired all 6000 of them…?

  • J.R.

    Mrs J,
    Although you may not think so, a good teacher can “prove” themselves in just a few years time(it’s not about time as studies have shown that teachers learn what they need to know in about five years) though its about ability get through to your kids and connect and teach them. Most people in general perform well because they want to, and have personal pride in what they do. Good teachers change lives, and most people who are paying attention know who they are, poor teachers just “go through the motions” and let kids fall through the cracks, and most people who are paying attention know who they are as well. It all comes down to principals being able to decide who is on their own staff without any kind of interference.

  • Sara

    Whoa Cranky Teacher. I am credentialed and can’t get a single job. Granted I have a provisional credential which will expire if I don’t get a job but I am willing to work ANYWHERE in Oakland. I am told time and time again that because I haven’t worked as a full time teacher in the district that I have no seniority and that is why I can’t get a job offer – supposedly there are lots of teachers who were let go from other Oakland schools. I see TFAs getting them though and other non-credentialed teachers getting them. I know some horrendous teachers who got really bad reviews from the admin who are still in their jobs. I am a wonderful teacher but will never get the chance in Oakland to teach children. If I could leave and go where good teachers are wanted I would but I have a child who can’t be uprooted. If you know a school that needs teachers, let me know. Obviously being on EDJOIN is a joke. – Middle/ High school social studies.