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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 09/27/2010

What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Rick Ayers, a former high school teacher, founder of Communication Arts and Sciences small school at Berkeley High School, and currently adjunct professor in teacher education at the University of San Francisco. He is the co-author, with his brother William Ayers, of the forthcoming "Teaching the Taboo" from Teachers College Press. This post is long, but it is worth your time.

By Rick Ayers
While the education filmWaiting For Superman has moving profiles of students struggling to succeed under difficult circumstances, it puts forward a sometimes misleading and other times dishonest account of the roots of the problem and possible solutions.

The amped-up rhetoric of crisis and failure everywhere is being used to promote business-model reforms that are destabilizing even in successful schools and districts. A panel at NBC’s Education Nation Summit, taking place in New York today and tomorrow, was originally titled "Does Education Need a Katrina?" Such disgraceful rhetoric undermines reasonable debate.

Let’s examine these issues, one by one:

*Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education.
Yet the exclusive charter schools featured in the film receive large private subsidies. Two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources, effectively making the charter school he runs in the zone a highly resourced private school. Promise Academy is in many ways an excellent school, but it is dishonest for the filmmakers to say nothing about the funds it took to create it and the extensive social supports including free medical care and counseling provided by the zone.

In New Jersey, where court decisions mandated similar programs, such as high quality pre-kindergarten classes and extended school days and social services in the poorest urban districts, achievement and graduation rates increased while gaps started to close. But public funding for those programs is now being cut and progress is being eroded. Money matters! Of course, money will not solve all problems (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any given school) – but the off-handed rejection of a discussion of resources is misleading.

*Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress.
The debate of “how to raise test scores” strangles and distorts strong education. Most test score differences stubbornly continue to reflect parental income and neighborhood/zip codes, not what schools do. As opportunity, health and family wealth increase, so do test scores.
This is not the fault of schools but the inaccuracy, and the internal bias, in the tests themselves.

Moreover, the tests are too narrow (on only certain subjects with only certain measurement tools). When schools focus exclusively on boosting scores on standardized tests, they reduce teachers to test-prep clerks, ignore important subject areas and critical thinking skills, dumb down the curriculum and leave children less prepared for the future. We need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.

*Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty.
Schools must be made into sites of opportunity, not places for the rejection and failure of millions of African American, Chicano Latino, Native American, and immigrant students. But schools and teachers take the blame for huge social inequities in housing, health care, and income.

Income disparities between the richest and poorest in U.S.society have reached record levels between 1970 and today. Poor communities suffer extensive traumas and dislocations. Homelessness, the exploitation of immigrants, and the closing of community health and counseling clinics, are all factors that penetrate our school communities. Solutions that punish schools without addressing these conditions only increase the marginalization of poor children.

*Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem.
Of course unions need to be improved – more transparent, more accountable, more democratic and participatory – but before teachers unionized, the disparity in pay between men and women was disgraceful and the arbitrary power of school boards to dismiss teachers or raise class size without any resistance was endemic.

Unions have historically played leading roles in improving public education, and most nations with strong public educational systems have strong teacher unions.

According to this piece in The Nation, "In the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are – gasp! – unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and health care, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results in school."

In fact, even student teachers have a union in Finland and, overall, nearly 90% of the Finnish labor force is unionized.

The demonization of unions ignores the real evidence.

*Waiting for Superman says teacher education is useless.
The movie touts the benefits of fast track and direct entry to teaching programs such as Teach for America, but the country with the highest achieving students, Finland, also has highly educated teachers.

A 1970 reform of Finland’s education system mandated that all teachers above the kindergarten level have at least a master’s degree. Today that country’s students have the highest math and science literacy, as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), of all the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.

*Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement.
Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…), or because they take an unpopular position on a public issue outside of school.

A recent survey found that most principals agreed that they had the authority to fire a teacher if they needed to take such action. It is interesting to note that when teachers are evaluated through a union-sanctioned peer process, more teachers are put into retraining programs and dismissed than through administration-only review programs. Overwhelmingly teachers want students to have outstanding and positive experiences in schools.

*Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation.
Charters were first proposed by the teachers’ unions to allow committed parents and teachers to create schools that were free of administrative bureaucracy and open to experimentation and innovation, and some excellent charters have set examples. But thousands of hustlers and snake oil salesmen have also jumped in.

While teacher unions are vilified in the film, there is no mention of charter corruption or profiteering. A recent national study by CREDO, The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, concludes that only 17% of charter schools have better test scores than traditional public schools, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse.

While a better measure of school success is needed, even by their own measure, the project has not succeeded. A recent Mathematica Policy Research study came to similar conclusions. And the Education Report, "The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, concludes, “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”

Some fantastic education is happening in charter schools, especially those initiated by communities and led by teachers and community members. But the use of charters as a battering ram for those who would outsource and privatize education in the name of “reform” is sheer political opportunism.

*Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them.
If we understand education as a civil right, even a human right as defined by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, we know it can’t be distributed by a lottery.

We must guarantee all students access to high quality early education, highly effective teachers, college and work-preparatory curricula and equitable instructional resources like good school libraries and small classes. A right without a clear map of what that right protects is an empty statement.

It is not a sustainable public policy to allow more and more public school funding to be diverted to privately subsidized charters while public schools become the schools of last resort for children with the greatest educational needs. In Waiting for Superman, families are cruelly paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners’ names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces – in what amounts to family and child abuse.

*Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning.
Too many people involved in education policy are dazzled by the idea of “market forces” improving schools. By setting up systems of competition, Social Darwinist struggles between students, between teachers, and between schools, these education policy wonks are distorting the educational process.

Teachers will be motivated to gather the most promising students, to hide curriculum strategies from peers, and to cheat; principals have already been caught cheating in a desperate attempt to boost test scores. And children are worn out in a sink-or-swim atmosphere that threatens them with dire life outcomes if they are not climbing to the top of the heap.

In spite of the many millions of dollars poured into expounding the theory of paying teachers for higher student test scores (sometimes mislabeled as ‘merit pay’), a new study by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives found that the use of merit pay for teachers in the Nashville school district produced no difference even according to their measure, test outcomes for students.

*Waiting for Superman says good teachers are key to successful education. We agree. But Waiting for Superman only contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession.

According to the Department of Education, the country will need 1.6 million new teachers in the next five years. Retention of talented teachers is one key. Good teaching is about making connections to students, about connecting what they learn to the world in which they live, and this only happens if teachers have history and roots in the communities where they teach.

But a recent report by the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that “approximately a third of America’s new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years of teaching; almost half leave during the first five years. In many cases, keeping our schools supplied with qualified teachers is comparable to trying to fill a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom.”

Check out the reasons teachers are being driven out in Katy Farber’s book, "Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus," (Corwin Press).

*Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.”

But Business Week (10/28/09) reported that “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever,” yet “the highest performing students are choosing careers in other fields.” In particular, the study found, “many of the top students have been lured to careers in finance and consulting.” It’s the market, and the disproportionately high salaries paid to finance specialists, that is misdirecting human resources, not schools.

*Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads.
In one of its many little cartoon segments, the film purports to show how kids learn. The top of a child’s head is cut open and a jumble of factoids is poured in. Ouch! Oh, and then the evil teacher union and regulations stop this productive pouring project.

The film-makers betray a lack of understanding of how people actually learn, the active and engaged participation of students in the learning process. They ignore the social construction of knowledge, the difference between deep learning and rote memorization.

The movie would have done a service by showing us what excellent teaching looks like, and addressing the valuable role that teacher education plays in preparing educators to practice the kind of targeted teaching that reaches all students. It should have let teachers’ voices be heard.

*Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world.
The poster advertising the film shows a nightmarish battlefield in stark gray, with a little white girl sitting at a desk in the midst of it. The text: “The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom.”

This is a common theme of the so-called reformers: We are at war with India and China and we have to out-math them and crush them so that we can remain rich and they can stay in the sweatshops.

But really, who declared this war? When did I as a teacher sign up as an officer in this war? And when did that 4th grade girl become a soldier in it? Instead of this new educational Cold War, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity.

*Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways.
According to a study by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and others, Race to the Top funds are benefiting affluent or well-to-do, white, and “abled” students. So the outcome of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been more funding for schools that are doing well and more discipline and narrow test-preparation for the poorest schools.

*Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers.
Dan Brown, a teacher in the SEED charter school featured in the film, points out that successful schools involve teachers in strong collegial conversations. Teachers need to be accountable to a strong educational plan, without being terrorized. Good teachers, which is the vast majority of them, are seeking this kind of support from their leaders.

*Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds (plus D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a broom) to come to the rescue.
Teaching has been historically devalued – teachers are less well compensated and have less control of their working conditions than other professionals – because of its associations with women.

For example, 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are women, and this is also the least well-compensated sector of teaching; in 2009, the lowest 10% earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10% earned $75,190 to $80,970. () By comparison the top 25 hedge fund managers took in $25 billion in 2009, enough to hire 658,000 new teachers.


Waiting for Superman could and should have been an inspiring call for improvement in education, a call we desperately need to mobilize behind.

That’s why it is so shocking that the message was hijacked by a narrow agenda that undermines strong education. It is stuck in a framework that says that reform and leadership means doing things, like firing a bunch of people (Rhee) or “turning around” schools (Education Secretary Arne Duncan) despite the fact that there’s no research to suggest that these would have worked, and there’s now evidence to show that they haven’t.

Reform must be guided by community empowerment and strong evidence, not by ideological warriors or romanticized images of leaders acting like they’re doing something, anything. Waiting for Superman has ignored deep historical and systemic problems in education such as segregation, property-tax based funding formulas, centralized textbook production, lack of local autonomy and shared governance, de-professionalization, inadequate special education supports, differential discipline patterns, and the list goes on and on.

People seeing Waiting for Superman should be mobilized to improve education. They just need to be willing to think outside of the narrow box that the film-makers have constructed to define what needs to be done.

Thanks for ideas and some content from many teacher publications, and especially from Monty Neill, Jim Horn Lisa Guisbond, Stan Karp, Erica Meiners, Kevin Kumashiro, Ilene Abrams, Bill Ayers, and Therese Quinn.


Follow 's blog every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | September 27, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, School turnarounds/reform, Teacher assessment  | Tags:  arne duncan, michelle rhee, race to the top, school reform, superman and rhee, superman film, waiting for superman, waiting for superman and rhee  
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You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price by calling 877-882-4740 or check If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!

Posted by: bradpitt26 | September 27, 2010 5:37 AM | Report abuse

If you could not find a job for a long time it is time to change your career guys.. The time is now. Be on your way to earning an accredited degree. Check and find suitable career based on your interests.

Posted by: charliebarnett27 | September 27, 2010 6:31 AM | Report abuse

Educational reform isn't going to be very successful without addressing the socioeconomic problems that contribute to children having trouble focusing on education.

Your article mentioned one of these problems, poverty. But there is another whole set of problems which often leads to poverty plus many other obstacles to educational success. Those problems stem from the failed American family law system, courts, and policies and laws regarding families.

The most obvious example of this is how divorce severely hinders educational progress. It didn't used to be so bad. In 1920, a child of divorce would suffer about 3.6 months loss in educational attainment. By 1970, it was a year.

Compound this by the explosion in divorce. The US has the highest divorce rates in the world.

Exponentiate this damage by the way family law courts encourage parents to go to war with each other over child custody and/or strip one parent out of the lives of the children.

No-fault divorce and the perception that moms will attain paradise by divorcing dads and accusing them of child abuse, spousal abuse, etc. to get sole custody has created perverse incentives to lie, cheat, and defame as common practice in divorce. Some dads are doing the same abuses right back to good moms. After all, what goes around comes around.

The study I mentioned above also found that the impairment from divorce is about the same as from the death of a parent. This is not a coincidence.

Improving educational attainment for American kids is very important. But the debate so far features mostly arguing over money, teacher licensing, unions, school vouchers, and charter schools. There is almost universally no mention of the fundamental issue of children being so stressed out and distracted from learning due to dysfunctional families and how such families are so severely impacted by the broken family policies, laws, and courts in this country. Divorced parents at often war with each other, children are missing parents and extended families due to parental alienation child abuse, and kids suffer from vastly reduced financial and time resources of their parents due to the divorce industry sucking the lifeblood out of families. All of these critical problems have been completely missed.

I've written more detail about my thoughts on this matter in in a posting entitled "American Parents, Family Policy, and Courts Contribute to Poor Student Performance" (Google it -- it is easy to find) and referred to some other studies and psychological research that supports these concerns.

Posted by: RobWa1 | September 27, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

It's fascinating when people try to tell us something about a movie, as if we are clueless or can't make up our own minds from our own experiences. It also fascinates me how often people want to use schools to solve society's problems, the same way we want to use police officers to 'solve' the problems of crime.

All the people who complain about poverty, especially these college professors and entertainers, 'pass the hat' and make the same type of $$ impact the Gates', Zuckerman's, and Eli Broad's of the world do with education.

Said another way: instead of marching around with a sign in your hand or making money on a speaking tour or writing a book b@#$ing about stuff, roll up your sleeves and do something to change it.

Posted by: pdfordiii | September 27, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the review! I appreciate it.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 27, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Yes, we have seen how spending more money in DC has led to a great public school system. /sarcasm

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Posted by: linxiuli7678 | September 27, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

This article is much more accurate in relating the realities of the American school system. Ayers and his co-horts do not have the answers and are dangerously distorting the facts.

Posted by: Hepburn | September 27, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Waiting for Superman is another propaganda film similar to the garbage he put out called an Inconvenient Truth.

Having said that, the Unions have done themselves NO favors by:
Supporting leftist political agendas
and selling out students to further their own political agendas.

Maybe the public would stand behind them if they didn't feel their kids were suffering because of the union thugs who run the schools.

Waiting for Superman doesn't address the lousy textbooks/curriculum and it doesn't address the lousy prep our teachers get in the schools of Ed.

It's another propaganda film for the population control freak ...Bill Gates.

Now he can indoctrinate the students into his global warming agenda and push population control on your kids!

Posted by: MOMwithAbrain | September 27, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

The author may make some valid points, however it doesn't change the fact that Public Schools are destroying the American dream.
No longer a melting pot, but a state of institutionalism.

We are programming children to be zombies without free thought,without independence, without patriotism.

Parents need to wake up- raise your own kids and take responsibility for your child instead of asking the government to raise them.

If all the capable and loving parents were to step up to the plate and actually raise their children we would not be in this mess.

Posted by: neumandiane | September 27, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Given my political bent, I am astounded this is the first intelligent comment on public education I have seen in a daily newspaper. The Ayers brothers are to be congratulated for seeing what is. Would that they had the ear of the president who has joined the pack of howlers on the ills of public education. There are lots of good teachers and schools in our country. We should be building on them, not tearing them down.

Posted by: sailhardy | September 27, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Talk, talk, talk........Hey, it'll get better if we just talk it to death, right?

Hey, if the income gap between the richest and the poorest makes the difference in student achievement, then let's all get poor.....Oh, that's right, that's what our Government is trying to do right now, redistribution of income....That'll work.........

You Education "Leaders" just don't get it, you've remained hidden inside the Ed Bunker so long, you no longer can see the sky........

Teachers are the number one component of Education. Motivated, engaged, intelligent teachers that care about their students. Anything less, and children suffer.

As adults, we should be able to identify who is motivated and engaged, and retain and reward them, whoever isn't should be shown the door. It's just that simple Folks.....

So, you guys keep talking back and forth about what issues are more important, and about everybody's Rights, and the Country will continue to suffer. But the solutions are surprisingly simple. DUH....

Posted by: redjimoo | September 27, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Excellent review! But how can we make more people know Waiting for Superman sucks? All mainstream media love it and praise it. It's ridiculous.

Posted by: salukiindc | September 27, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

This article is filled with fuzzy leftist insanity, as well as preposterous emotional-laden language. For instance: "Teachers need to be accountable to a strong educational plan, without being terrorized." Terrorized? Really? The next time a principal tortures a teacher or straps a bomb to her chest before a faculty meeting, you let me know. Or does the author count the expectation that teachers actually stand up and do their jobs educating students as a form of emotional terrorizing? Give us all a break.

Posted by: bocomoj | September 27, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

It’s very hard to argue with the message of Waiting for Superman: Our education system is failing our kids and their families left and right.

It’s equally hard to argue with the intent of the film: Our system is in a crisis of epic proportions, we are running out of time, and we need help – everyone’s help.

But, where I will argue, or at least quibble, with the movie is with the takeaways: The movie is an incredibly poignant depiction of the crisis, but in my humble opinion is unimaginative and rather derivative in terms of the “five simple solutions” it lays out in the end.

Better accountability, world-class standards, higher expectations, better teacher pay … We’ve tried every single one of these things, many times, in multiple places.

They are not working. They are not enough.

Personally, I don’t believe the solutions to today’s education crisis are going to come in the form of traditional policies alone.

I believe we need to reframe the problem and the conversation, from one about re-forming schooling to one about re-thinking education and re-imagining learning.

This is a massive, radical design challenge.

Posted by: dianarhoten | September 27, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Hear! Hear! A very thorough analysis of some of the most salient issues in education, by someone who actually knows and understands them.

I would add two things (I didn't see the movie as I thought I would be sick):

1. It's not 'politically correct', but the most tragic inner city schools exist in the midst of WAR ZONES - gangs, shootings, drug dealers, etc. Just how do you effect community support in these areas?

2. Curriculum - the liberal arts have been undermined for many years now, probably dating back to the romance (20+yrs.) with technology. If you want your child to have more than 'nuts and bolts' learning, than you have to value the liberal arts - history, philosophy, languages, music, art,etc. to prepare them to be citizens of the world and not just mindless drones.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | September 27, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

My sons are in a great school system. Yes, as parents we motivate and make sure our boys adhere to standards that we've put in place for them. We had to be very careful where raise our children and made sure they had access to historically positive performing schools. This should never be the case. That shouldn't be the case in today's society. We are by no means wealthy, nor live within wealthy neighborhoods as most are middle class neighbors.

As mentioned time and time again, "teaching to test" is a failed argument because minority students, when tested, are not collectively achieving baseline levels.

Standardized testing was implemented because students were graduating high school literally unable to read, write or perform basic functions upon graduation. These same students became "parents." How much help can low academic level parents help their own children that are may be presently taking math classes such as geometry, HS level language arts? Most reasonably minded middle and low income families are not asking for handouts. Nor placing blame on anyone. All is desired, and what tax dollars are paying for, are children better prepared to become contributing citizens to society.

The US, once ranked #1 in the academic world, is now near bottom when compared to other modern countries. This ranking is killing our economy. Middle income families are shrinking while low level income families are skyrocketing. If children are not prepared to attend post secondary schools, low income families will steadily increase and the vicious cycle continues.

If a student decides to attend Vocational Training, they still must have achievement BASIC academic skills.

What about students that enter college but require remedial classes? They met HS standards, but ill prepared to begin formal post-secondary education. Parents fault right? Wrong.

Most don't need to see "Superman" to know what's happened to our public school systems. They've learned via their own experiences if they have public school age children.

Parents do not need to see Superman to become informed of the academic injustice of their children. All many or most have to do is visit any public school where a population of students are minority majority. The disservice is readily apparent from huge classroom sizes, to a school not having enough school supplies, books or modern technology within. Some school facilities are so awful; they are one step away from being condemned.

There are some simply fantastic teachers in classrooms, and thank God for them. But there are some God awful ones that shouldn't be near a child, let alone teach.

Each generation of children should yield academic progression. Unfortunately, current US rankings do not demonstrate that being the case. This cannot continue because our society will continue to fail. Crime rates will continue to climb and the need for new prisons will outweigh the need for new schools.

Posted by: TwoSons | September 27, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I cannot think of any problem discussed that anonymous (teacher designed) surveys would not illuminate for the public to consider.
The solution to the number and diversity of the problems is to reform the process of oversight and problem identification.
Anonymous,teacher designed and taken,monthly, and publicly published surveys will not only bring anything into the light but will cause change in anticipation of the exposure to the public.
A teacher will only share their insights if there is absolute certainty that relationships, working conditions, and resources needed are not going to be at risk for the students and community they serve as a result of identifying problems, obstacles, and inequalities for students.

Posted by: rnwhitejr | September 27, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

As a DCPS graduate I long held the opinion that test scores were overemphasized in assessing student progress at the expense of real learning. Since I’ve sat on the medical admissions committee at the southern medical school at which I am a professor for the last three years I’ve adjusted that opinion.

Notwithstanding the truth that several people whom I hold in high regard have been able to translate education through schooling AND life experience into success, test scores still have a great deal of potential value. Though they don’t necessarily accurately reflect one’s knowledge and understanding, they are vital in gaining entry into professional and graduate school. Test scores are also vital to gaining licensure for professions that require certification.

Since our culture tends to be disproportionately (but by no means completely) influenced by people with advanced degrees and professional licenses, the ability to test well holds a great deal of potential value for professional and personal accomplishment. The earlier our kids acquire testing discipline and a value for testing outcomes, the easier it will be for them to make a CHOICE in adulthood as to whether they want to test their way to success or CHOOSE another equally promising path to accomplishment (like the many that I hold in high regard). In short, the ability to perform well on tests gives students more future options.

One of the reasons this hits home for me is that in three years of interviewing medical school applicants weekly I’ve seen graduates of public school systems in Chicago, LA, NY, Miami, Atlanta and all over the south. I have yet to meet or even hear of

Posted by: k-paul | September 27, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

an applicant that attended DCPS.

Posted by: k-paul | September 27, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Agree on every point, especially the "teacher bashing" culture. At this point, I tell new graduates not to go into teaching, mostly because I've seen what happens when their youthful idealism is squashed by a broken system. If they wait a few years, at least they'll have some life experience to lean on.

Posted by: akrauss | September 27, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I think that young people should be warned not to go into teaching because a lot of politicians (like Obama) and many people in the press are going on a witch hunt with teachers as the witches.

I think that all the people who attack teachers should become teachers and attack themselves.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 27, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse


Do you work in education? If not, why don't you become a teacher?

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 27, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse


Become a teacher! Don't attack teachers, be one.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 27, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

There is a lot to the education debate but one issue has been largely ignored: the end of the social safety net and its impact on education. That is, when we "ended welfare as we know it," we abandoned a lot of children in the process. How? We compelled their parents - many single-parents -- to get jobs. They no longer read to their kids, monitor their diet, ensure they do homework and the like. And, of course, the teachers are left being evaluated, essentially, by students who have parents that don't watch their kids in a way that ensures they actually do the homework/show up for the conferences and otherwise discipline the kids.

Finland has a tremendous safety net for its citizens. So do many of the other countries with the supposedly better educational systems. In our country, we're cutting everywhere we can. And, our schools are being cut, too.

Posted by: teoandchive | September 27, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey thank you for this article.

A number of interesting conversations are taking place around the big release of Waiting For Superman. People are seeing ways to widen the conversation now that the public's attention is focused on education issues.

Many are already using A Community Concern to stimulate such conversations.

"I am convinced that the film showings helped more than anything to ensure student and faculty involvement."
- City University of New York (CUNY) Conference Organizer

Are you looking for positive examples of teachers, students, and parents working together to create successful change in their schools?

A Community Concern is a documentary that shows the powerful changes that happen when organizers, parents and youth work with educators to improve urban public schools.

Use A Community Concern in your classroom, organization or event to empower your community, colleagues and students to take action.

Posted by: acommunityconcern | September 28, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse


I was a teacher. I left when I didn't feel like I would be effective anymore. I don't attack teachers (as the union propaganda likes to continue to write) I attack an institution that allows lifetime appointments to the unqualified and I attack the fact that it gets increasingly difficult to fire ineffective teachers.

As far as Ayers (and the whole SDS Ayers and Klonsky crew)...

The movie doesn't ignore poverty, and I'm tired of that excuse for children not being educated. When I walked in to a class I knew that I had to work with a family no matter what and that I had to fight for each child, no low expectations based on poverty.

It doesn't say tenure is a drag on teacher improvement, it says that teachers that don't improve are easily protected.

It doesn't say there should be more lotteries, it says that children shouldn't need a lottery to get a great education.

Ayers also states that we shouldn't over emphasize math and science because creativity will be drained out of our children, yet he supports a system in which teachers aren't rewarded for creativity. He wants all teachers, regardless of how good they are or how effective they are to be treated the exact same way.

What really breeds innovation and creativity is competition; it's the same reason why many countries have gone toward a free market economy (even the Chinese, a country the Ayers boys grew up idolizing).

Valerie, write your own stuff.

Posted by: delray | September 28, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

These all have been interesting to read. As a veteran public high school principal I can see the big picture of this issue. I have accepted the accountability and agree we need common core standards to build a foundation for our students' success. I also see the devastating impacts of generational poverty on performance. I see wealthy communities w/ high performing schools and the converse. I have seen re-constituting schools and the motivations for some charter schools successes. I have seen schools have their entire faculties replaced w/ Natl Board Certified teachers and perform about the same. Many stats were cited showing how the US has dropped in scores. Look at the current US rank for percent of poverty. We are almost at the bottom and we cannot discount how this has affected our country in all areas. Many share that we need to all be personally accountable. The solution lies in working on the accountability and standards part, removing ineffective educators (teachers and principals), and lessening or stopping the impacts of poverty on performance. Not addressing all will only have small impacts in my opinion. My respect to all who care and try to influence positive growth.

Posted by: paulmitchell | September 28, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Mr. Ayers, for your response to WAITING/SUPERMAN, which I find to be little more than a hit piece on America's teachers and their collective bargaining as a diversion to the far more important factors of poverty, media, ethnicity and race, among other factors affecting public education outcomes in America.

I firmly believe the charterization/privatization/mayoralization efforts now underway by Arne Duncan, who extolled virtue on last Sunday's MTP upon the likes of an utter charlatan like Michelle Rhee, where clearly no virtue exists. Rhee was instrumental in 'fixing' allegations of mishandling of federal funds and child sexual abuse allegations against St. Hope charter in Sacramento, against founder, and now fiance, and now mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson. I find this appalling and I find her actions in DCSchools similarly appalling and arrogant.

I also find Arne Duncan's fast talking snake oil sales pitch on behalf of rampant and willy nilly charterization to be akin to a used car salesman.

Thank you for your point by point analysis of the overhyped and corporately sponsored WAITING/SUPERMAN, for its deceptions are many, and its truth is almost completely absent.

Posted by: bbbbmer1 | September 28, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Enjoyed the article by Ayers and agreed with most of its thrust, but disagree strongly with the comments about unions. NO union in the US has ever done anything good for public schools. There was a time in their history when unions were needed and helpful - but no more. Now, they are only in it for their own betterment and enrichment. They block effective personnel management with all their protective rules and make it impossible for good principals to do their jobs. The only thing unions want in education has nothing to do with making things better for teachers or students - what they want is forced union membership so their coffers will swell. Never once in any of the media covered announcements by teacher unions has one of them said anything about what's best for the kids. They do NOT care about what's best for the kids! Unions bring nothing positive to the education of our kids. People say money doesn't matter - WRONG! It matters to get the materials that are needed, but it isn't most important. Want to know what is needed for a good education in order of priority? First - kids! Kids who want to learn make all the difference in the amount they will learn. Second - teachers. Good, solid teachers who love their students and what they do - as is the case with most teachers. Third - interested and involved parent(s). Without a good supportive home life, kids have an almost impossible task learning and retaining what what the teachers are imparting in class. Those three elements are absolutely essential. As an ex teacher and principal, I will add to those three the act of freeing up our teachers to teach with vigor and imagination by doing away with high stakes testing which leads good teachers to forsake what they know is right in an effort to help the kids pass the test. Keep in mind that the US was the world's best in educating ALL its kids back before everyone got so wrapped up in comparing test results with foreign countries (many of whom do not practice universal education of their kids). You are right that our teachers are demonized without just cause. They have developed thick skins to most of what is said about them - but some of it still gets to them and, for the most part, they do not deserve to feel that way.

Posted by: jdt31344 | September 28, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

This article was written by Rick Ayers, who along with his brother Bill Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, which and advocated and committed acts of terrorism.

Posted by: StephanDEsq | September 28, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Children learn their lessons when their parents demand accountability from them. Teachers can only have an effect when they are backed up by the parents. The educational system has declined in direct proportion to decline in the society. It is no longer taboo to have children out of wedlock, it is no longer taboo to be on welfare and take government handouts, it is no longer taboo for children to be raised by single parents. It is a shame that liberal policies have degraded the society to such an extent, but it is the reality of our country now. No matter what your income level if there is an intact family the child has a better chance of succeeding emotionally and intellectually. Intact families have a better chance of raising law abiding kids, who are less likely to commit crimes, go into gangs, etc. Walk into any state prison today and talk to the prisoners. Almost all are men who were raised in families with no fathers, no guidance, and no accountability. There were no expectations of them to even finish school, much less learn in school. They are almost all illiterate. This has come from liberal policies that have destroyed this country. In the quest to give handouts with no expectations of returns, we have let down our children.

The US education system is female centered with very little attention being given to boys. We have let them down in a tragic way, and now they inhabit our prisons in unprecedented ways. Without intact families, responsibility from parents, and accountability from teachers the cycle of poverty continues. Liberal educational policies and liberal government policies make the poor poorer and never give them a chance to succeed.

Posted by: kbarkulisk | September 28, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Two important problems with this otherwise comprehensive piece, perhaps because it bases itself on the film. A) "Standardized" testing makes people think the tests are objective and fixed. In fact, the tests are culturally and racially biased and even worse, they are "normed" -- meaning that there must ALWAYS be "below norm" or "below average" students and schools -- if people improve, the "norm" rises, condemning many to failure. B)The fundamental failure of schools is racism, imperialism and militarism. L.A. uses schools for anchoring real estate projects and gentrification, but if high percentages of Black and Mexicano/indigenous kids were not still dropping out without finishing high school, the LA schools would still be overwhelmingly overcrowded despite the new construction. Any solution for the schools (including funding) must directly address racism and build a conscious anti-racist, pro-human liberation basis for education.

Posted by: mnovick | September 29, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

In your second bullet point you blame standardized tests for seemingly measuring things related to poverty and child background... and in your third you blame the movie for not taking those things into account.

Poor children in modern America _should_ on average due worse on standardized tests, even if there is no bias. To say otherwise is to claim that being from a single parent household, not being read to as a child, having worse nutrition, not having strong educational role models, etc... don't matter. They matter for how well the student learns, so of course tests should pick up on that. Whether the tests perform differently for different races after matching on student ability/knowledge/aptitude is entirely different. A good course on educational measurement and/or psychometrics would discuss this.

Posted by: statepotato | September 30, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Please, go volunteer in your neighborhood, or a very low income, school. Find out what a school needs. Be active.

I volunteered in a unique way for over a decade. All types of clothing; household needs, including a recliner for an extremely asthmatic child; unique items for the art classes; multi-culturally intelligent books for the library; all these were needed and delivered to the school. To know of children who sleeps on the floor of a 1900s Victorian house, how could one not want to find a bed and blankets?

To reach the child's mind and be a rock of security because of a meth mom or dad, teachers have to be extraordinarily creative and strong. To communicate with the brand new immigrant child we have to be welcoming while pushing for English language skills as soon as possible.

I've read "Teaching with Love and Logic" and its model is nearly in every school in our school system. We are reaching new levels of positive behavior with students taking responsibility for THEIR actions!

If I were queen, teacher's salaries would begin at $75,000 per year. So many of our finest minds in universities would be attracted to the teaching profession. (Please don't respond about unions to this remark.) I am very involved with mentoring university students and I am a non-traditional graduate who decided to get a teaching license after age 50. Salaries and benefits help secure bright minds. I have spoken with many who would love to teach but they want to make a living with more earning potential. And for those who think that salary is absurd, again, I invite you to observe and volunteer in most any school for one week.

Our particular school system is blessed with excellent materials in every school - including the Title One schools. Our teachers are amazingly caring and well educated. And yet, we almost universally wish that a magic wand could be waved so that the hungry, the cold, the ignored and the mentally ill students could have better home lives.

Take away more power of teachers? I think not. Let them have the power to be creative, to meet the individual needs and inspirations of kids! Children should reach grade level expectations and meet standards, but please, can we burn the tests and begin reading student essays and evaluating whether or not a child can find resources, think logically and creatively? Teachers used to document these things on items called Report Cards.
And their opinions were usually well respected. Ahh - respect for teachers - what a concept.

Posted by: hropes | September 30, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

It seems the author believes that unions are basically good and help the overall system and that standardized tests are not reliable as a standard because of their inherent problems. So, I found his portion specifically about charter schools interesting since he states that the teacher's union came up with an idea that does not work, according to standardized tests that are not fair which he immediately reiterates.

Good unions = bad ideas that are found to be bad by inadequate testing.

Is there any logic here?

He then quotes that US colleges are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever before but there is no mention of how many of the graduates are US citizens and how many are foreign students studying here to return home.

Finally, most of his points against the film are followed by no counter point of how to help at all or have mere platitudes such as "helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation".

But an interesting view into the mind of one teacher to say the least. I only hope that most teachers have more logic and the ability to state and act on their actual opinions of how things can be improved.

Posted by: foolishus | October 1, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

"But really, who declared this war? ...Instead of this new educational Cold War, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity."

You have your finger on the conundrum.
Those opposed to unions and in favor of standardized tests will never imagine the world in a cooperative future.
The competition which freezes many of our kids, causes others to be diagnosed with learning disabilities when they cannot maintain and presupposes social Darwinism as the correct life ranking is just plain faulty for the the vast majority of kids.
Pouring in facts is temptingly non political as it creates parrots, not potential dissenters.
Great article...but what are we to do about it?
Give it to the Texas Board of Education to consider new books?

Posted by: anetgroup | October 1, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Thanks WAPO. I usually have to go to the Communist Party USA's website when I want that side of the argument, so it's good to see that you have decided to pull in all leftists, no matter how extreme and anti-American, into your big tent of Marxism. Kudos.

Go ahead and change the masthead to include a triptych of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin in profile. Few minds would be shocked; it would merely confirm the course you have been charting for decades.

Posted by: kungfoochimp | October 1, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

You can find an effective counter film's trailer for "the Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" here:

Posted by: drockeducation | October 3, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

There's nothing in the film that you couldn't learn in an hour's worth of google-powered research. It's like a cinematic op-ed. The director uncovers nothing new and presents a terribly oversimplified analysis of the problem. Really disappointed with it.

Posted by: nadeemsx | October 4, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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