Um, I don’t think so.
Waiting for “Superman”, in case you haven’t heard, is the hot new film from Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim. While his last film capitalized on liberal guilt over destroying our planet (and maybe voting for Ralph Nader?), “Superman” (yes, the film is weirdly insistent on those unnecessary quotation marks) is for people who feel bad about sending their kids to private school while poor kids wallow in the slums.
“Teaching should be easy,” Guggenheim declares as we watch a cartoon teacher rip open his students’ skulls and pour what looks like blue Spaghetti-O’s inside. (When he closes the skulls the kids sprout wings and fly out the open classroom window.) This is about as close as the film gets to depicting actual teaching. (I checked with the friend who paid for my ticket and he confirmed this scene was meant seriously, though thankfully not literally.)
Despite repeatedly insisting poor kids just need better teachers, the film never says what it is that better teachers actually do. Instead it highlights the voices of American Express pitchman Geoffrey Canada and Bill Gates, whose obsessions with higher standardized test scores have led their schools to cancel recess and art in favor of more hours of scripted memorization. Why bother with art if teaching is just about filling kids’ heads with pre-determined facts?
The real crisis in American education isn’t teachers’ unions preventing incompetent teachers from getting fired (as awful as that may be), it’s the single-minded focus on standardized test scores that underlies everything from Bush’s No Child Left Behind to Obama’s Race to the Top to the charter schools lionized in the film. Real education is about genuine understanding and the ability to figure things out on your own; not about making sure every 7th grader has memorized all the facts some bureaucrats have put in the 7th grade curriculum.
This would be obvious if the film dared to show real teaching in the schools it lauds. Instead of the rich engagement you imagine from progressive private schools, you find teachers who read from assigned scripts while enforcing a regime of zero-tolerance discipline. They’re nightmarish gulags where children’s innate creativity is beaten out of them and replaced with martial order. Because standardized behavior is what makes you do well on standardized tests.
Film is the perfect medium for showing what this life is like. Seeing terrified kids up on the big screen, you can’t help but empathize with them. So we never see it. Instead, the film hides behind charts and graphs and interviews. “When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art,” Geoffrey Canada tells us, but this is something Guggenheim would rather tell than show.
The film has other flaws. It insists all of America’s problems would be solved if only poor kids would memorize more: Pittsburgh is falling apart not because of deindustrialization, but because its schools are filled with bad teachers. American inequality isn’t caused by decades of Reaganite tax cuts and deregulation, but because of too many failing schools. Our trade deficit isn’t a result of structural economic factors but simply because Chinese kids get a better education. Make no mistake, I desperately want every kid to go to a school they love, but it seems far-fetched to claim this would solve all our country’s other problems. At the end of the day, we have an economy that works for the rich by cheating the poor and unequal schools are the result of that, not the cause.
I’m glad a talented filmmaker has decided to draw attention to the horrible inequities in our nation’s schools. But I’m terrified that the solutions put forth by its proponents will only make things worse. We know what happens when we fire teachers who don’t do enough to raise their students’ test scores, or when we adopt more stringent requirements for classroom curriculum: we squeeze out what little genuine education these schools have left. And that’s something we should really feel guilty about.
Thompson: The Meaning Of “Highly Qualified”
I am agnostic on the California case regarding the classification of interns and Teach for America educators as “Highly Qualified.” But even under the notorious NCLB, the term “highly qualified” should mean something. Similarly, the words “persistently dangerous,” “research-based,” “proficient,” and “AYP,” should not be meaningless. Think of the misleading or false soundbites uttered last week by “reformers” on NBC’s Education Nation back-to-school infomercial, and how they were not cross-examined by journalists. What happens when districts try to use their new theories when punishing individuals? How will their soundbites stand up to cross examination in legal proceedings where words have meanings? – JT
OK, maybe not it doesn’t, but I was reading today’s NJ article and noticed this:
“At Glasgow, where the district chose the transformation model, there won’t be a new principal, the district said. Edward Mayfield Jr. can stay on board despite the model’s requirement that the principal be replaced, Lyles said, because he’s been there less than two years.
It’s not a given that the state Department of Education will allow a principal with less than two years on the job to stay in a school that has selected transformation, but it will be considered, said Dan Cruce, the state deputy secretary of education.
And if that person is allowed to stay he or she must be given a “new role” in the school.
They can make the case for that person to remain in the building in a new role other than the building instructional leader role,” Cruce said in an e-mail.
Now here’s the code on Tranformation:
18.104.22.168 Transformational Model, in which
22.214.171.124.1 A district or charter school shall:
126.96.36.199.1.1 Replace the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the
188.8.131.52.1.2 Use rigorous, transparent, and equitable evaluation systems for teachers and
184.108.40.206.1.2.1 Take into account data on student growth (as defined in this notice) as a
significant factor as well as other factors such as multiple observation-based
assessments of performance and ongoing collections of professional practice
reflective of student achievement and increased high-school graduations rates;
220.127.116.11.1.2.2 Are designed and developed with teacher and principal involvement;
18.104.22.168.1.3 Identify and reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who, in
implementing this model, have increased student achievement and high-school
graduation rates and identify and remove those who, after ample opportunities have
been provided for them to improve their professional practice, pursuant to the
Delaware Performance Appraisal System II or any successor thereto, have not done
22.214.171.124.1.4 Provide staff with ongoing, high-quality, job-embedded professional development (e.g., regarding subject-specific pedagogy, instruction that reflects a deeper understanding of the community served by the school, or differentiated instruction) that is aligned with the school’s comprehensive instructional program and designed with school staff to ensure they are equipped to facilitate effective teaching and learning and have the capacity to successfully implement school reform strategies;
126.96.36.199.1.5 Implement new financial incentives and increase opportunities for promotion and
career growth of effective teachers, and provide more flexible work conditions
designed to recruit, place, and retain staff with the skills necessary to meet the needs
of the students in a transformation school;
188.8.131.52.1.6 Use data to identify and implement an instructional program that is research based and “vertically aligned” from one grade to the next as well as aligned with State
184.108.40.206.1.7 Promote the continuous use of student data (such as from formative, interim, and summative assessments) to inform and differentiate instruction in order to meet the
academic needs of individual students;
220.127.116.11.1.8 Establish schedules and implement strategies that provide increased learning
time, which means using a longer school day, week, or year schedule to significantly
increase the total number of school hours to include additional time for (a) instruction
in core academic subjects, including English; reading or language arts; mathematics;
science; foreign languages; civics and government; economics; arts; history; and
geography; (b) instruction in other subjects and enrichment activities that contribute to
a well-rounded education, including, for example, physical education, service
learning, and experiential and work-based learning opportunities that are provided by
partnering, as appropriate, with other organizations; and (c) teachers to collaborate,
plan, and engage in professional development within and across grades and subjects;
18.104.22.168.1.9 Provide ongoing mechanisms for family and community engagement;
22.214.171.124.1.10 Give the school sufficient operational flexibility (such as staffing, calendars/
time, and budgeting) to implement fully a comprehensive approach to substantially
improve student achievement outcomes and increase high school graduation rates;
126.96.36.199.1.11 Ensure that the school receives ongoing, intensive technical assistance and
related support from the district, the Department, or a designated external lead partner
I will spare everyone the breakdown on the innumerable other fallacies contained in that code above and cut tho the question at hand:
I do not see IN THE CODE FOR TRANSFORMATION how retaining the principal is allowed (although we have been assured it is allowed) and I see no basis for a mandatory reassignment of duties IN THE CODE FOR TRANSFORMATION.
Finally, I am confident that a significant basis for the Board’s approval of this heinous model was the extremely reassuring notion that our Principal would be retained.