45

He’s not waiting for Superman. He’s waiting to exhale.

Jamal Cooks, a San Francisco State University professor of education and former Oakland teacher, has mixed feelings about “Waiting for Superman.” He says people know what makes a great school; he wants to see less talk and more action.

Jamal CooksOn Monday, I went to a matinee to watch “Waiting for Superman.” Though I had heard that the movie bashed public schools and promoted charter schools as the answer to the problem, I went into the show with an open mind. When I walked out, I had mixed emotions about the film.

As a former teacher, director of after school programs, coordinator of mentoring programs, and a professor of teacher education, I watched the movie intently and hung on every word. I am a public school educator, a public school product, and a public school advocate. I have spent 20 years working for and with students who have challenging home lives, come from rough neighborhoods, and lack some resources, but who want the same education as the next person.

In fact, my daughter will be starting kindergarten soon, and with the local public school’s API scores under 800, I want public schools to work. However, there are some real facts that must be acknowledged before moving forward for equitable education for all students.

The movie made some interesting points about public schools and their teachers. It is true that some schools have been underpreparing young people for decades. The cursory tenure process for teachers needs to be revamped; it takes a typical university professor an average of seven years to earn tenure, in a closely scrutinized, complex process, but teachers earn tenure in many districts in two years. We also know that just pouring more money into school and giving merit pay to teachers based on test scores does not work. Though all these things are true, there was one example of someone trying to do less talking about change and more action.

Maybe Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of Washington D.C.’s school district was on to the right idea. She made radical changes to an imperfect system. She closed schools, fired principals, and held teachers accountable. Within one year there were higher test scores, more teacher work satisfaction and a more positive learning environment for students. Though some people were unhappy, the bottom line was an upward trend in learning for students. Isn’t that what really matters? Aren’t we more interested in how the education system works for students, rather than for adults? She proposed giving pay increases and bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 for teachers whose students earned higher test scores. Although I do not believe that test scores alone should be the determining factor for merit pay, since most norm-referenced, standardized tests are not aligned with most textbooks, there needs to be something in place to hold everyone more accountable for academic outcomes, such administration evaluations, peer evaluations, parent recommendations, and student feedback.

In the film, the answer for higher student achievement seemed to be charter schools. The charter schools selected for this movie had charismatic education leaders who believed that failure of students was not an option on their watch. They showed dedicated teachers working long hours, being members of the community, and advocating for student success. However, they also mention, albeit briefly, that both public schools and charter schools have a success rate of 1 out 5. Factor in the inconclusive findings in research about charter school effectiveness, and the question becomes this: If charter schools only succeed at about the same rate as public schools, then why should taxpayers continue to pay for them? In the end, I felt that the film was trying to tell the audience something that was new and unknown to most people, though well understood among educators.

Great schools have administrators with a vision for the school and have five years to bring it to fruition. Great schools have teachers who are competent in their subject areas. Great schools have educators on the school site who are all on the same page about how to educate children. Great schools focus on making sure that students master information in order to illustrate their genius. Great schools ultimately have teachers who love students and not necessarily just the content material. Great schools understand that teaching is one of the single noblest, most important jobs in this country, and teachers should be more respected, honored, rewarded, and highly compensated for shaping the minds and lives of young people.

As a result of these characteristics, great schools end up with higher test scores, happier teachers, and inspired, successful students. So if we know the answers, then why are we so frustrated with the current system that we want a change, not just for our own children but also for other people’s children?

I admit that I am tired of waiting for Superman and I am simply waiting to exhale. I am waiting for a superintendent to have the courage to move Oakland in the right direction without being worried about political ramifications. I am waiting for public school teachers to say that they only want teaching colleagues who are committed to teaching, dedicated to academic excellence, and motivated to do anything and everything to teach students. I am waiting for communities to get upset, demand change and take back their neighborhood schools. Let’s not continue to wait for Superman; let’s push our public schools to give us a reason that we will all, finally, be able to . . . exhale.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Ms C

    From a former Oakland public school teacher, I say ‘thank you’ for being a voice of reason.

  • TheTruthHurts

    You’ll be waiting awhile longer I’m afraid. Why?

    FEAR!!!!

    You’re right. This stuff is well known by people on the inside. I speak with them frequently. What they also tell me is there is rampant FEAR. Why?

    * Urban superintendent tenure is roughly 2 years. You wanna shake things up with that backdrop?

    * Teachers are insecure enough about their own standing to fear “calling out” the teacher who isn’t cutting it. When they do, seldom is sufficient recourse taken. This KILLS morale.

    * Like it or not, unions across the world (and yes teacher’s unions too) use coercive power to stifle movements to address poor performance. The standard line – if management just did their job, we wouldn’t have poor teachers. No informed person believes that garbage when at least half the Ed Code legislation in CA has been co-written by CTA and they pay the lawyer$$$ that defend the poor teachers – they are the largest single union in the state. Most managements are afraid of unions or they should be. Did ya know it takes a public hearing with lawyer$$$ & judge$$$ before you can even think of firing a tenured teacher? Is that true anywhere else in society??? Tenured professors? CEO of any company? Secretary of State, Defense, or Commerce??? Some managements aren’t afraid, but realistic about the psychic and fiscal cost of fighting with them http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-teachers3-2009may03,0,679507.story . If teachers wanted to spot, highlight and excise poor teaching there are about 20 of them for every administrator in most districts. In high functioning schools, poor teaching is just not tolerated by teachers, parents, students and yes, administration – it’s called a functional (vs. dysfunctional) culture.

    * Some fear the dictatorial principal who gets less from her teachers than a true leader would get. These staffs also are afraid to point out crappy teaching for fear they’re next.

    * Fear of tackling the structural racism that exists means that if you “shake things up,” you will be seen as disadvantaging kids that have had all the advantages. Try changing a popular school’s boundaries lately? Watch some parents come flooding out of the hills to complain – not all, but some very powerful, entitled and insistent ones. Fear of this is what prevents change and stops it in its tracks when it happens (e.g. superintendent & Board turnover).

    * Fear of change itself. Tried to change a bus route, school name, after school program, school day, job description, computer software, curriculum, etc? The backlash to such changes can seem immense. Yet, many seems almost comfortably resigned to a status quo of abject FAILURE, GENERATIONAL POVERTY, STRUCTURAL RACIAL INEQUALITY and PUBLIC DISHONOR. This speaks to some very powerful forces at work and a fear of anything new while accepting the failure of what is.

    _________
    Reduction of fear could go a long, long way, particularly in Oakland. But, there’s more.

    In addition to fear, there is a very real lack of resources. Good teaching is not appropriately respected, honored or compensated. Resources won’t solve the problem, but boy could they help. At some point, kind words, motivating speeches and even children succeeding doesn’t fill the hole of not being able to buy a house, go out for dinner or put your own kids through school. IMHO teachers should have higher starting salaries and raises based on cost-of-living and on adding value (however defined) not just adding to their age. This resource issue is a national problem that is acute in California and Oakland. Measure L is a step in the right direction, but it is not nearly enough. California has some serious re-examining of priorities to do when we import brainpower, export ideas and build nothing.

  • JR

    Truthhurts,
    You are right, things wont change if the people in charge of change are also the ones that made the rules, and do the policing of those same rules. Luckily for us most teachers are good, some are great, and unfortunately some are poor. Let good teachers know that you appreciate them and respect the work that they do, when I make my rounds that’s what I do. It bother me to see some teachers work so hard(yet they aren’t at the top of the payscale), and other teachers could care less(even though they are at or near the top).

  • froombler

    Did you guys remember the part of the film that said if we got rid of the lowest performing teachers in the US, we would compete with Finland and lead the world?

    UNREAL! Let’s do this! No more corporate or union entitlement. We need a politician who can bust the unions.

    Tony Smith’s Community Schools approach makes no sense if there are ineffective teachers in many classrooms, right?

  • JR

    Froombler,
    It is more than just the teachers, they are just one piece of what is wrong. Change has to start somewhere, and right down in the trenches where the children learn is a good place to start. This is just a beginning.

  • JR

    “Tony Smith’s Community Schools approach makes no sense if there are ineffective teachers in many classrooms, right?”

    Putting a band-aid on dead flesh won’t heal it(it’s a waste of time that we don’t have), the rotting flesh has to be removed.

  • Katy Murphy

    What a lovely analogy, JR. I welcome a rigorous debate on the issues, including teacher quality, but let’s be respectful, please.

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    I just liked the fact that this guy managed to write an article about the film without using the word “union” a single time.

    One of the film’s main points was that people are afraid to even talk about the union as a source of problems. Obviously, Jamal Cooks is either in league with the union or afraid of it.

  • JR

    I was just agreeing that Tony Smiths programs are nothing but window dressing, or “lipstick on a pig”. Professional highly competent teachers would agree with me. I know a highly regarded junior teacher(bounced repeatedly by tenure and bumping rights) who is being sabotaged at every turn at her new school by her grade level leader. I guess it’s because the parents feel she is doing a great job teaching their kids and that makes her a threat to business as usual.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Diane Ravitch in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” thoroughly refutes the notion that dismissing the teachers whose students make the least progress on standardized tests would do any of the things claimed by the proponents of that plan.

  • http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    @ Froombler: Are you aware that in Finland over 95 percent of the teachers in Finland are members of their union, the OAJ?

    Finland started the reform of its public education system about 30 years ago. The approach they took is a full 180 degrees from the model that today’s ed reformers in the U.S. have embraced.

    People like to cite Finland’s success, but most of them, including the W4S propaganda-film’s producers, have never bothered to inform themselves about HOW the country actually achieved its success. Read this post @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sharon-higgins/why-do-the-education-refo_1_b_775087.html

  • Catherine

    In one of my first classes in my teacher education program and nearly every course thereafter, it was strongly recommended that I do not eat lunch in the teachers’ lunchroom – too much negativity, discussion about students and their families and excuses for why students would not succeed. It’s five years later, tenure earned (after two years I earned tenure and feel as though I was a good teacher when I earned tenure, but a great teacher now and would support five years for tenure) and I still do not eat lunch in the teachers’ lunchroom. Why? It is filled with reasons and excuses.

    Here is something I wish I could discuss with colleagues – in many schools with API scores under 800 students spend a great deal of time every day developing their physical muscles. They have football, soccer, basketball, baseball, kickball, track and field, and even lacrosse coaches. In middle school students practice from 1.5 to 2 hours a day. However, their mental muscle – the ability to pay attention when reading, working on a test or even working on an assignment is about 5 minutes. The coach would never accept this. Yet in flatland schools we are encouraged by administrators (principals, assistant principals, “coaches” from Tony Smith’s former group) to mix it up, change activities every five to 10 minutes, work in groups, etc. When it comes to a 20 question test, our students give up at about 10 minutes. You see it in their work. We have read and discussed a novel or textbook in class, students participate, they seem to know the material – exit slips show they believe they know the material, class activities and checking for understanding shows they know the material, yet when it comes to the actual test, they start out answering the questions (short answer, fill in the blank test in Language Arts), long about question six, seven, or eight, they simply stop working. The mental muscle is not there to work when fatigued or “bored.”

    Think about the SAT or CST, or the CBEST, CSET, or RICA (the tests we had to take to become teachers) – it is about knowing the material, but it is also about stamina and timing, knowing how much time you have and how much time to devote to each section.

    If we were a sports coach would we mix up the drills every ten minutes? Would we say, oh that poor kid from the ‘hood, we working him or her too hard. I doubt it. We would say work harder, much harder and longer.

    In our effort to “help” and “understand” we are doing neither. Strong teachers point out to students their atrophied mental muscle and build that muscle beginning in kindergarten. It’s what strong public and charter schools do, they build, not shrink, the time students are staying on one task or topic.

    I wish there were a place to go to talk and collaborate with like like-minded educators. When I brought up this subject at a recent grade-level, subject professional development group meeting, I was told the students simply could not concentrate that long. Case closed.

    Best public schools, in Oakland the hills schools, Oakland Tech Paideia and Engineering academies require long periods of concentration. The Aspire Charter Schools who have high numbers of students attending university without hand-picking students or intimidation do the same. We need to really rethink our five and ten minute approach.

    Also, when it comes to Finland – homogeneous population in terms of ethnicity, language used it school, religion (in the vast majority of cases), tracking (students are ability grouped for the vast majority of the day, and students do not learn the lessons from each other, but from a teacher with a Master’s degree in the subject areas he or she teaches. We strongly advocate in Oakland public schools that students are seated in table groups, work at learning collaboratively (rather than Finland’s model of having a foundation of education in a subject and then hands-on exploration of the subject to build on that knowledge) and allowing students to code-switch their home / street language within their table groups to the academic language when presenting to the larger class. It is not only the teachers who would have to change – or change out – but our belief about correcting grammar, use of standard English, use of teacher-based knowledge and expertise and students demonstrating mental stamina to complete tasks. Oh, and in Finland, there is about two hours of exploratory and written homework required daily.

  • Turanga_teach

    To The Boss (#8):

    A stunning omission, to be sure. Almost on a par with making a 102-minute film on public education without ever once mentioning a quality public school.

  • Hot r

    There are many “like minded teachers” with whom you could share best practices, just not at your school. Join any AP Listserv at AP Central and converse with a thousand professionals who work every day to achieve at the highest level possible. As for your remark about testing, what you haven’t done is teach the game theory behind these tests. Students who can master a complicated set of rules for a video game and play for hours can certainly sit still for 60 or 75 minutes and apply rules for taking multiple choice tests. As I am sure you know you have to change the culture by honoring academic achievement not sports.

  • JR

    Most countries whose children outperform US kids have choice, the money is attached to the kids(some put more money in education than the US but most are less). At the 17:00 minute mark you can see Belgian teachers and kids tell you that choice is better than no choice.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx4pN-aiofw

  • oakie

    “Within one year there were higher test scores, more teacher work satisfaction and a more positive learning environment for students. Though some people were unhappy, the bottom line was an upward trend in learning for students. Isn’t that what really matters? Aren’t we more interested in how the education system works for students, rather than for adults?”

    You’re speaking truth to power. Every adult in the system has power. Only those of us who SOLELY have the kids interest at heart are powerless. I acknowledge that we are voices in the wilderness against the powers to be, who are preventing REAL REFORM. The union in Oakland has the money and leg power to ensure that hte board is stacked with their shills (in Quan, who is now attempting to lead the city down the same path of distruction and bankruptcy she accomplished for the district). And it looks like they will stubbornly fight any real reform to the end.

    “In the film, the answer for higher student achievement seemed to be charter schools.”

    I think people are getting way too hung up about what is presented as the implied solution. I don’t think that’s the point, and at minimum I don’t really think the director is the one to look to for solutions. (The same applies to any Michael Moore movie, too.)

    We are dealing with a dysfunctional system in OUSD, as with Washington DC and other notorious districts. Reading through the comments on this blog from happily unionized members and their lackeys, it’s clear there is an awful lot of delusion and denial OF THE PROBLEM. In a dysfunctional circumstance, recognition of the severity and scope of the problem is the most monumental goal. Ask any AA member. That is the value of the movie, in bringing the scope of the problem to the general public’s attention. The metaphor of those kids pathetically having to endure the odds against being picked in a lottery to get into an alternative to the union dominated dysfunction, aka district schools like OUSD, brings it home how obstinate and anti-reform the teacher’s unions are.

  • thimbler

    ravitch’s arguments that charters don’t work is hollow. charters are new and for every good charter, these is a charter opened and run by wing nuts.

    in the bay, charters are killing the district schools in terms of student achievement.

  • JR

    Perhaps the biggest strength of charters is that there is no teachers union to stifle the educational needs of the students, in charters the adults are not the primary focus and that is a good thing. A weakness of charters is that they will not work for every single child. I will say again the “union entrenched” educational system is nothing more than a tax funded jobs bank. I can’t believe that janitors make almost as much as teachers, it’s just incredible.

  • Let’s Get Real

    When teachers graduate from a credential program, they do not choose school districts according to their ability. Therefore, we must assume that a mixture of effective and not so effective teachers wind up in every school district.

    So why, then, do students in some districts have high levels of achievement, and others not? And why do low income areas tend to have lower achievement than higher income areas? Remember–there is no vehicle that directs only the “best” teachers to these high scoring areas, nor the “worst” to the lower scoring ones.

    The answer is that the factors determining student success lie largely within the communities themselves and how well the families are able to prepare their children for school. In the absence of good student preparation (ability to behave appropriately, prior learning experience, ample vocabulary, etc.), schools have to provide the kind of structure and support students need in order for teachers to teach effectively. This is the only thing that will truly close the achievement gap, and it is what the more successful traditional public and charter schools in low income areas do. People often praise Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone without acknowledging all the services his students–and their families–receive. (Not to mention the amount of private funding his charter schools receive to help pay for these services.)

    It really disturbs me that so many people have latched on to this teacher (and/or union) as villain mentality. It is a simplistic position whose proponents either have not examined, or have refused to acknowledge the other more significant factors that impact students’ success. Unfortunately for students, the more people focus on scapegoating teachers, the longer it will take for really effective reform to take place.

  • Catherine

    @Let’s Get Real: How many hours per day are students in the Harlem Children’s Zone do students have access to a credentialed teacher?

    How many hours per day are these students working on academic subjects?

    How many hours per day do we separate the students from their families and have them around and with college educated or college-attending adults?

    The reason Harlem Children’s Zone works IS the support system AND it is keeping the students away from families for 10 hours per day to make sure students are indoctrinated into a society of middle class values and educated adults who work outside their homes.

    I would also be interested in knowing how long students spend working on a subject and whether they have the 5 to 10 minutes before changing activities that Oakland strongly recommends.

    My guess, without doing the research is that students are exposed to credentialed teachers 7 or more hours a day in which they are engaged in academic subjects. The students are away from their families and with college attending or college educated adults 10 or more hours per day 45 or more weeks a year. And finally, I would think that students beginning in the primary years (grades 1 – 3) spend 15 – 30 minute chunks on independent work and work up to an hour by middle school. I will check out my predictions, but based on what I know about what is and is not working in Oakland and the performance from the Zone, I would say that I am reasonably accurate.

  • Nextset

    It’s sad how no one wants to really deal with the problems of education.

    All students are not created equal. For political reasons the current fashion is to publicly claim and pretend otherwise even though any educated and non-delusional person knows better. CA has a “diverse” student population which is to say we have a lot of low IQs as well as a certain number of high IQs. You cannot “teach” a dull student to be a physician or any other occupation requiring significant above average brain processing power. In public education the PC way is to lie about this.

    So the public schools now, unlike more successful times, mix dull and bright students in the same campus and classroom. The resulting chaos retards what learning and training that could have been had. The dull students get progressively more angry and frustrated and act out on their teachers, other students and ultimately themselves. Along the way they seek to impose their cultural norms on the school. This was never permitted prior to the mid 1960s and is still not permitted in good schools.

    The CA and Federal Courts dealt what seem like mortal blows to public education by handing down nonsensical decisions awarding the students “free speech” to the point that they are not to be corrected and directed. Note that these policies do not run to a good private school where the courts have not meddled (they send their own kids there) and in non-public schools the tail does not wag the dog.

    Other nations not having such destruction in their education system. By not having academic “diversity” they have avoided decadence and maintain and improve their own education levels.

    So we have a welfare state with poor public education and we are about to vote on legalizing pot. Wonder why jobs are fleeing CA? Watch the Baby Boomers flee the state taking their retirement income with them.

    But hey, benefits of diversity. God forbid we turn the proles into something more than proles. Some other people would have competition then.

    So it’s Brave New World. The increased self sorting of the haves and have-nots into separate societies, different schools, stores, neighborhoods, occupations, restaurants, hotels dentists & doctors, mating habits – membership increasingly determined by birth with little upward mobility.

    Compare this to the CA society in 1960 where many prole-born Men went through the draft and came back to public colleges & university (which their public high school qualified them for) and wound up in eevry part of society. Prole born Women likewise could work their way up the ladder and even marry into higher society. You see, their public high school taught them enough so they could, if the wished, pass. The knew standard english, they could read and write, they had what it took to go to higher education if they wanted it.

    Now we turn out proles from the public schools so deficient in language, manners and sanitation they can’t get a job at In and Out Burger.

    Have you seen the employees at In and Out (they reportedly start pay at $12+/hr while McDonalds pays minimum wage)?

    Reminds me of what my first employer in Downtown Oakland told me. “We only hire blacks from the Catholic Schools, the others never work out.”

    Waiting for Superman, which I’ve not seen yet, is most likely a propaganda film. I’ve heard nothing about it to indicate it addresses the core problems of public education – ie education of the blacks, the proles, urban youth. Firing the “bad” teachers and replacing them with “good” teachers will change nothing unless you get rid of the “bad” students and replace them with “good” students (at least in the “academic” schools leaving the rest for voc ed & continuation schools.

  • Let’s Get Real

    @Catherine: I assume you agree with my central point. You are describing some of the structure and supports at Harlem Children’s Zone that promote student learning and the ability of teachers to teach effectively.

    I agree with you that exposure to “middle class values”, by which I assume you mean values that promote achievement and success, must be included in that structure. I had the impression that the Zone students’ families also receive support in developing some of those values via parent counseling, but I may be wrong. If they do, it ensures that when the students go home, their success-oriented values are being reinforced.

    I doubt that credentialed teachers are covering all ten hours of the school day you describe at the Zone. Other adults who have been trained to adhere to the school’s mission and policies probably take over at a certain time.

    As for time on task, I would say the better the school climate, i.e., policies in place that ensure positive and productive student behavior, the longer a lesson can proceed without disruption (taking age-appropriateness into consideration, of course). Again, this is part of the structure I was referring to in my previous post, and part of what needs to happen in Oakland to promote higher student success rates.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Nextset. You will continue to insist that because students start at different places, they will necessarily be bound to finish there. I will continue to assert that there are too many examples of students who were Special Education, “dull,” or whatever term you’ll use that have succeeded beyond your ability to imagine. They simply debunk your theories that oversimplify the human experience.

    I don’t need to argue that there are no differences or disadvantages to argue that we are more equipped to overcome them than they are to stop us.

  • JR

    Lets get real,
    We are talking about two different things(actually three)Good & great teachers(pay them more and let them do their jobs)deficient teachers(move them up or out)Unions are nothing but a hinderence. People in ordinary working life have job protections built into law, and I’m not so sure its needed. As for your veiled claim that substandard teachers are no big deal, I don’t like having to pay taxes for that kind of union game-playing. I have watched so many wonderful hardworking excellent junior teachers who were bumped,dumped, and canned that it infuriates me knowing that we are stuck with lemons that we still pay taxes for.

  • Let’s Get Real

    JR, you’re missing my point if you think I’m trying to let substandard teachers off the hook. Administrators need to do what is necessary to assist those teachers in improving, and if that fails, do the necessary documentation to get rid of those teachers.

    Speaking of junior teachers, I heard recently that 70% of teachers (voluntarily)leave Oakland before their fifth year of teaching. Could this be because many find teaching conditions intolerable?

    My concern, as I’ve stated before, is that teaching does not occur in a vacuum, and that other factors can affect student learning more than the quality of the teacher. If these factors are not addressed, significant improvement cannot take place no matter how high the quality of the teachers may be. Why not put more energy into the areas that will get more bang for the buck?

    For one example, attendance is a huge problem in Oakland. How can you blame a student’s failure on the teacher if the student is not in class to receive instruction on a regular basis–and the teacher has done all that is within his/her power to address the issue?

    Targeting issues directly related to students and their families may be more difficult and less politically correct than pinning the blame on teachers. But skirting these issues has greatly contributed to decades of underachievement among the students most affected. It’s time to stop tiptoeing around this elephant in the room.

  • JR

    Truthhurts,
    You are correct, Nextset has failed to take into account that 70% from some people is much better than 100% from others. We have also had a few generations of affirmative action enabled doctors and lawyers who maybe weren’t from the top intellectual levels. Bottom line his argument is worthless, because you cannot accurately quantify the human mind, there are lots of unknowns.

  • Hot r

    Nextset: The “political reasons” you talk about are embodied in our Constitution. Our system actually sorts them out quite well. No one is trying to teach low IQ kids to be doctors. They achieve what they can and the achievers are off to four year college and 10 percent of the rest continue from junior colleges to 4 year universities. What’s wrong with that? But our system requires equality of opportunity. That is the real problem, as districts with a high degree of dysfunction for whatever reason deny opportunities to qualified kids. “Dull and bright” students are not mixed in the same classrooms, as math, foreign language honors and advanced placement all sort students by ability level regardless of political correctness. Combined with grouping by sociology-economic neighborhoods we are not as diverse as we pretend to be.

  • JR

    Lets get real,
    Of course parents carry blame, but we cannot restrict breeding, or remove kids for substandard parenting so it is a moot point. Discipline which went out the window with morals are another reason we have kids who are hard to teach.When you abolish morality,integrity and discipline in the schools, what do you really expect to happen. Most teachers are professional educators,and some are just babysitters. I have witnessed so many children who cant do basic math, reading and or writing in the sixth grade and on into jr. high and high school, obviously some people are not doing their jobs. Yeah it’s the kids, parents, and teachers problem that the education system is broken. Reality is we cannot fire parents or children, but we can insist on measured performance gains from our professional educators.

  • wrangler

    Let’s Get Real:

    We can’t evaluate bad teachers out: It’s. Not. Possible.

    These folks can’t be fired–one was rubber-roomed in OUSD after the entire parent body boycotted the school at La Zear. You can write 1,500 pages of documentation in NUCs and NUPs and evaluations and what happens? Nothing.

    OUSD won’t try to fire a teacher unless the district has $100k to spend on the fight. OEA is pure mafia, dude.

    Teacher bashing is certainly not the answer-but the fact that teachers don’t EVER get fired–this is ridiculous. In what industry are people NEVER fired? The most bloated and ineffective bureaucracies in the world operate in this manner.

    I can’t sit by while our public school system benefits mediocre adults while disenfranchized kids (and our future) get the shaft.

    Of course there are a million challenges OUSD kids face daily. Of course. But ineffective teaching and ossified deadwood teachers really hurt kids and a school’s chances at being da bomb.

    Of course we have to support teachers A TON and pay them MORE. Of course letting go of someone is a last-resort effort after mucho remediation and support has been applied. An amazing school is 97% support and 3% accountability.

    But if the coach can’t bench players or cut players, that team will not win. EVER.

  • Let’s Get Real

    FYI, Wrangler, I’m not a dude, nor am I a Mafioso. I am a mother, a grandmother, a teacher, and an OEA member.

    Now, I can agree with you that it is not easy to get rid of an ineffective tenured teacher, but one has to ask how did that teacher get tenure to begin with? Non-tenured teachers can be “non-reelected” with little or no cause. Why was he or she not weeded out early? This is an administrative issue (not specific to the instance you cite) that needs to be addressed.

    Teacher contracts are very tough regarding firing those who are tenured so that an administrator who doesn’t like someone’s personality, looks, outspokenness, etc., cannot just get rid of that teacher for personal reasons. Even so, I disagree that it is impossible to fire a tenured teacher. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. And I agree that teachers like that need to go.

    But Wrangler and JR, please do not play down conditions other than the classroom teacher that affect students’ learning. I will state my main point (which I have learned from experience) again: Even the best teachers cannot effectively teach students who are frequently absent, disruptive, distracted, or significantly behind their grade level. And since our (Oakland) schools serve hundreds of students who fit this description, something else (besides focusing on teachers) needs to be done. Interventions in these areas can be and must be developed. No, parents can’t be fired, but schools have to develop policies that effectively address the issues that confront the students. Otherwise, as I have stated before, we will be looking back years from now wondering why things have not changed.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Let’s Get Real.

    Thank you for a balanced perspective. Of course, firing poor teachers is not enough. It’s the low-hanging, should-be-easy fruit. Yet, we can’t even get to that. If you believe it’s easy, simply read the “truth.” http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-teachers3-2009may03,0,5765040,full.story. People aren’t just making this stuff up.

    You are also right. Administration needs to take responsibility for allowing tenure, not evaluating and not developing poor teachers who are just thrown out to sea. Blaming the “system” that protects poor teachers AFTER they get tenure is a cop out.

    It would of course be great if parents were more educated, involved, functional, wealthy. It would help if kids were more well fed and less well armed. Can’t argue with that. What is not true however is that these disadvantages can’t be overcome. It takes extra time, extra support and more support than just a good teacher. A good teacher is necessary, but not sufficient.

    As policies, supports, fundraising and reform are presented to address these issues as you say, I hope you will speak up when the voices of status quo continue their obstructionism.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Thanks for your encouragement, TTH, and for posting the link to that article. Will have to finish it later, but what a beginning. Yikes! Still we have to keep in mind that a relatively small number of teachers fit into this category.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Funny how much society wants to talk about firing bad teachers but how little it wants to talk about the even larger problem of retaining good ones.

  • JR

    Cranky,
    You know what else is not so funny, several districts in the bay area have cut loose hundreds of highly regarded junior teachers due to budget cuts and union rules, while keeping many sub-par teachers who have seniority(that’s union rules). Yep, its all about retaining good teachers isn’t it. When your union stops making rules to keep substandard teachers, and to throw good junior teachers under the bus I’ll start believing what you say. Until then the fact is, experience does not make anyone good at what they do(although it may improve them somewhat), Either a person is good at what they do, or they are not. Some people are teaching material, and some are not.

  • Nextset

    JR: Be very careful thinking that we can’t quantify the human mind. We can to a large degree. The people who don’t understand how powerful actuarials and statistics are getting – risk being on the losing end of the science. I’d like to think that a good school exposes it’s products (I think of students as “products”) to all the things in life that can hurt them or help them. There is a reason why everyone should take Statistics.

    If you are playing the game of life and your competition is using the latest research and instruments and you don’t believe in it – you are going to wind up on a slab in the morgue early while they end up retiring to Rossmoor.

    I can’t put is more simply than that. Nowadays we can be talking about life and death, not just getting rich.

  • Nextset

    Another point: JR mentions AA Drs and Lawyers.

    AA is a mistake that is going Bye Bye. It may have gained ground when things were booming. Now that we are heading into bad times (remember, a politician friend recently described what we are currently experiencing with municipal finances as “this is the GOOD times”) AA is not longer sustainable politically. Besides, it doesn’t help in the long run.

    AA in law school is a mistake because there are a defined, finite & small number of (for example) black candidates nationally who have the chops to complete a Nationally Accredited Law School (450 of them?) and pass the bar. I believe 1000 was the figure mentioned of black candidates on the national LSAT each year that have presentable scores. Whatever the number is it’s low.

    Since that number is too low for political correctness we admit black candidates wildly unqualified for top law schools and get a resulting bar pass rate a fraction of the white pass rate. Then you look at the disbarment stats. Actually, you don’t since they are not reported by race because of PC. It has been said that if the students were properly matched to the schools so as to fit into the rest of the class the results would improve – but alas, that’s not PC either.

    As far as medicine, The state medical boards are not keeping the black candidates out like the state bars do but the flunk rates in the National Medical Boards are so huge the black Drs have the “not board certified” issue. Patients can easily choose.

    Either way you look at it, the immigrants are supplanting the black physicians. Lawyers, remain to be seen. Can good public schools improve this situation, I believe so. Is it going to occur, No, it’s not.

    I recently spent time with a Bay Area Social Justice Activist. Charming woman. Her politics are irrational but I liked her anyway for some reason. She was mentioning the BART Officer situation – saying that she’s exhorting groups of black adolescents to become cops. She expressed frustration that they told her they didn’t want the $100k jobs. I told her that that’s not going to happen anyway, they’d never pass background in significant numbers. They’d also get barred because of criminal histories of friends and families (to the extend she expected to get huge numbers through the system).

    It never occurred to her that the hiring process for peace officer includes examination of the “society” the applicant is part of and low life applicants are systematically barred. Not to mention literacy (principal reason black applicants are deselected prior to background). And academy (few blacks pass) and probation (more than half blacks flunk).

    Those that do make it tend to either be from families with police members or returning military. Wanna-be’s typically fail. To make it you have to be committed and realistic about what it takes. Wanna-be’s are living a fantasy and don’t want to change.

    Back to the thread. People are what they are and do what they want. At least in this “free” society. That is why we are having these problems with education. We keep insisting that reality isn’t real.

    We need to create clear paths withing public education leading to the various goals. We need to be open about the requirements for each step. We need to ruthlessly prune student wanna-be’s who won’t deliver on commitment and performance. We need to keep education affordable/free and open to citizens and lawful residents. We need to stop blaming teachers for an untenable school system and change it.

  • JR

    Next,
    Oh I believe in statistics, but there are always variables. Just as I believe in applying statistics to concretely measurable things. Case in point, in a GATE class, in very good school in a top ten district in the state you will find wide ranges of so called intelligence. Of ten GATE students, when given a question there is just one who can take available info, and consider all relevant material and postulate a plausible solution. I have since learned that a majority of GATE kids parents, buy the resource books that the schools use or keep one from older siblings(They drill these kids on answers, and make no mistake this is not learning)many children have even written “answers may vary” on their essay questions. This is all about getting the children into AP and honors classes and then top schools(from there top money), whether the child is actually intellectually gifted, or not. Things are not always as they seem, and I have witnessed a great many airheads graduate very good colleges and universities.(cheating, and faking it happens because there is money and prestige at stake.

  • JR

    Next,
    I do agree with you that we need to create clear “multiple” paths for education. Example: one for those that are intellectually inclined and another for those that have other aspirations. I really think we should put these “gang banger” types in a strict disciplinarian military school path for example, if necessary by conscription.

  • harold

    @JR – Do you have any facts, to back up your assertion in post #34? I haven’t read anything about large numbers of “qualified”, junior Teachers who are being denied employment.

  • JR

    Harold,
    There were scads of junior teachers non-renewed from (Hayward,Union City,Fremont,Newark,San Leandro and more)The last in, first out policy union mandated policy is directly responsible for this, some districts(Fremont) have a no-layoff policy for tenured teachers and there is no denying it I know lots of teachers in these districts and they are in fact jobless, this is a fact. The Argus even reported the layoff numbers months ago, and the stimulus money came after school had already started which was too late so the money will be used next year.

  • Nextset

    JR: These Gang-Bangers could be useful also with the right kind of alpha male handling. You don’t have to be the brightest light-bulb in the deck to do well in US Society. Discipline helps, though.

    We do have a problem with the feminization of secondary education. It does a lot of harm to the prole males.

  • Nextset

    Another Post Script to #36.

    The charming social activist was excited at the prospect of using black rage at the BART shooting as a catalyst to get hundreds or a thousand blacks to apply for police jobs. We sat for awhile and talked about the job/employment thing (it was a recent black event we were attending).

    One of the things I forgot to mention to her that acts as an impediment in trying to get blacks into entry level civil service jobs is the driver’s license thing. No driver’s license, no application permitted. You must have one to apply for entry level oil changer at the motor-pool or a garbage job. All the civil service jobs – gardener up, require a driver’s license. Then… if you are after a competitive job – like a $100k police officer – you’d better have a clean driving record. There go your black applicants…

    What does this have to do with public schooling? A lot I believe. Public schools teach indiscipline. Basically they train students that you can do whatever you want – your way – and it’s all going to blow over or work out. The important thing is to force things until you get your way. Nobody get quickly, forcibly or publicly disciplined. Why if you want to drive a car you just do so. Worry about licensure later. Worry about the tickets manana also.

    That is incompatible with a lot of things including getting and maintaining a driver’s license. Compare the black rate of licensure now to the 1960s. My experience with the typical mid 20s black is they don’t have a license, a passport, a bank account, birth certificate etc..(examine teeth also). Having and keeping these things require among other things the foresight to qualify for them before you need them, to follow enough rules to keep them in force. the mother type may have done some paperwork for them, she may have a birth certificate somewhere – they don’t know. They’ve not been conditioned to take care of much.

    This is particularly alarming to me when I see it in the adolescent children of educated or professional blacks. I have a relative who graduated from OUSD, refusing to apply for a permit or a license or take the private courses to do so (despite instructions and payment from the mother). This older black teen doesn’t “see the need”. The teen does see the need to demand the mother constantly provide rides – and the mother permitted this. The father isn’t in the equation. Very typical. Doesn’t bode well. This isn’t unusual I am told. Do I blame the school? I suppose I do. This person is full of entitlement notions – love discussing the social justice thing. Unemployed also. If the mother becomes too ill to drive the family around there is no one to help out. That clearly is no concern to this fully grown child. When I pointed out this behavior renders a job applicant ineligible for a number of better jobs I was told no one had said that before. Funny, I knew that one when I was 16-20. Maybe I went to a good school. There are still no plans to deal with this months later.

    Compare this to the Italian/Irish good (and rowdy) Catholic blue collar boys I grew up with. They drove fast, they got tickets (or talked their way out of them). But they kept licenses and lined up at the police job fairs – or prison guard fairs (license required also). Not a bad retirement, either. They get to go to Rossmoor.

    I’ve often said that it was a huge mistake to take driver’s education and training out of the public schools and we should shut down some of the AP/College prep before we ever let that go. Too bad. The behavior deficits the current prole public school kids pile up in their teen years hold them back for the rest of their lives. We used to avoid this.

    Brave New World.

  • spock

    low hanging fruit needs to be picked

    supporting and developing and making teachers amazing–that is 98% of the work. retaining these masters and paying them more–yes!

    but there has to be a way to say ‘this is not the right job for you. good luck in another industry.’

    it is patently unacceptable that tenured teachers can’t get fired. it is bad for kids, bad for parents and community members, bad for socioeconomically disadvantaged kids, bad even for the teacher who is in the wrong line of work.

    does OUSD have rubber rooms?

    JR–as usual, keep it up. Next, you are on some intellectual stuff, there. Have you read NUMBER CRUNCHERS? Fascinating book on stats and the future.

  • JR

    OT a bit here,

    Did anyone see the CTA explanation of their support for prop 24(tax fairness act). The dripping irony of CTA lobbyists(who live off of tax money that is forcibly extracted from their members and non-members alike)telling legislators ” The tax giveaway was made for California’s largest corporations with no requirement or expectation that they would use that money to create or maintain jobs in the state”. This is just so hypocritical, I just don’t believe they would be oblivious enough to say it. I am not a money loving capitalist, but I see the necessity, and I understand the nuts and bolts of how the system works. I know employment depends on available jobs, which depend upon companies to stay in business to supply those jobs, and we must make it attractive for companies to stay and be able to compete in California so we can have employment opportunities. These lobbyist are complaining about high paid CEO’s, but they don’t mind collecting their own impressive tax funded pay and perks, do they? It is true that no one is worth all that money, but that is part of the price we pay for capitalism and prosperity.

    http://www.cta.org/Professional-Development/Publications/Educator-October-10/Yes-on-Prop-24.aspx

    http://educationnext.org/the-long-reach-of-teachers-unions/

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    I caught the Oprah promotion shows for this film, and that was plenty for me. I have no need for a one-sided, carelessly researched documentary designed to cash in on the current fashion in finger pointing.

    Here’s something Oprah and Bill and Michelle and their cronies aren’t considering, as far as Oakland is concerned:

    It’s difficult enough to get some of our students invested in, much less excited about, their own education. Some of them walk in the door on Day One already believing that school is a joke, purposely designed to waste their time. And that’s a hard shell to crack, even when it’s not Superman they’re waiting for, but for a chance to slip their cellphones into their laps and text all their friends during class, hopefully without my tiresome, prying eyes interfering with the latest “What’s up?” or…worse, sometimes much worse.

    The last thing our students need is for some slick, opportunist movie guy, or Oprah, or anybody else who doesn’t really care a hoot in hell about Oakland to inform them that their schools are worthless and that their teachers are lazy, clueless flunkies.

    When the most troubled of our students hear all this, who’s to guarantee that they’ll look for salvation at one of the local charter schools? It’s just as likely, once they’ve given up on the neighborhood public school, that some of them will turn to (or turn back to) the neighborhood dope dealer, pimp, or gang poobah.

    Twice in the last month, I’ve gotten something to the effect of, “Oprah says you’re stupid.” Sure, from a couple of kids who were looking for any excuse not to participate in their own education that day. And they’re teenagers. They don’t hurt my feelings anymore than Oprah could.

    But if this film is providing Oakland students with “valid” excuses for blowing off school, there’s got to be a special cave in hell for flaky movie producers with blood on their hands. Fortunately, I haven’t heard a single student mention having seen the movie or wanting to see it.

    As for Michelle Rhee, radical changes are not always the RIGHT changes (and I haven’t seen any indication that her actions have improved test scores, student learning, or the education climate in DC.

    From what I gather, she ordered principals to list their “undesirable” teachers, and if they hadn’t, it would have been THEIR heads on the block. Ms. Rhee succeeded in disappearing a number of older, more payroll-heavy teachers and replacing them with far more “cost-effective” TFA people. (One hand washes the other.)

    There absolutely was serious work to be done in the DC schools. And the Barbara Bullock embezzlement fiasco painted the Washington Teacher’s Union with quite a nasty bulls eye.

    But if Ms. Rhee was the hero for the job, would the local citizens have banished her to the hinterlands? That never happened to the real Superman.