Superman Is Here? I’m Not So Sure…

I’m not as convinced as many of my colleagues that revolutionary education change is at hand.   That’s this week’s column.

Update: Justin Cohen amplifies the point on R & D.

Also, I didn’t mention this in the column for space but it’s also worth nothing that – as I understand it from someone close the film – An Inconvenient Truth did more box office overseas than it did here…And, last I looked we didn’t have a climate bill or sensible/sustainable energy policy.   And that movie and the ensuing social action they wanted people to take was more straightforward.  Would love to be wrong about all this though!

45 Replies to “Superman Is Here? I’m Not So Sure…”

  1. Andrew: I read your article and I was surprised to see that you did not mention the students (and their role in their education) as a vital issue in education reform. As a former teacher, I found that the students’ behavior and motivation, along with their parents and peers, had an extreme effect on their ultimate academic success and that of their classmates.

    Most teachers I met tried hard to reach the kids, but ultimately (and this was at the middle and high school level) the onus fell on the students to come to class, participate in class activities, do their homework, study for tests and, at the very least, not act up and distract the other students who were trying to learn.

    To this end, addressing the lack of value (or lack thereof) that many students (especially low-income minority students) seem to place on their education is critical to addressing student achievement. School discipline policies (including those for students with IEP’s) are a key area, along with looking more broadly at how our schools are stymied while trying to teach kids who act like they don’t want to be there. Do you have any thoughts on this aspect of improving education?

  2. And there is this sardonic take on Superman:

    To truly appreciate the movie you must accept these claims:

    1. Public teacher unions are so powerful people like Bill Gates and the folks who run Walmart can’t figure out a way around them.

    2. Countries like Finland and Sweden that have much more powerful teachers unions than we do and are considered the world’s top school systems have nothing we can learn from

    3. Schools in the South are a utopia since they do not have teacher’s unions or have right to work laws that make them useless.

    4. Public school teachers don’t care about kids, only corporations do.

    5. The people pushing education reform based on standardized tests and strict discipline like KIPP seek education opportunities for their own children directly opposite the KIPP philosophy by mere coincidence

    6. That a failed teacher like Michelle Rhee after 3 years of struggling to control her own classroom suddenly found the magic formula for teaching and abruptly left the classroom to recruit teachers. She now is capable of running a big city school district despite the parents that live there seeing her as one of the main reasons to vote against the mayor that hired her.

  3. “There are still more reasons to bet against reform than for it.”

    Yes, Andrew Rotherman is right about that. But the reasons for it, in my opinion, are different from the ones he gives:

    As all reliable polls show, the majority of Americans are satisfied with their local schools. Take myself, for example. As a middle-income person I feel that my sons got a world-class education from the local schools. By “world-class” I mean that they got an education that was comparable to the education offered anywhere in the world. When I think of all my friends and relatives, I can’t think of a single person who is dissatisfied with his own public schools. Almost every young adult I know graduated from a good college or university and can compete nicely with any graduate of any other country. Think about your own circle of family and friends and you will likely come to a similar conclusion. Almost all these people are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants and belong to the vast middle class.

    Although our fourth-graders do not compete well with fourth-graders elsewhere, our adults compare very well with adults in other countries. Americans tend to have a philosophy of education that places more academic pressure on older teenagers and young adults; and less on children. As the education commissioner for Singapore once put it, we have traditionally had a meritocracy based on talent, and not on test scores. This is more in keeping with learning theory. The end result is that students in places like Japan start to “coast” in college, whereas our people are just getting started. That’s certainly how it was for my children and those of my friends and relatives. Our citizens are not likely to mess with a system that has worked well for so many of our people. In fact, when the present brand of “reform” comes to their own school, they will fight it, just as the people in DC did, and they will win.

    The crises in education is with the poor. Many of our least privileged children are not doing well and almost everyone recognizes this. Many of us want to see these children have the same opportunity as everyone else to get a good education. It IS a civil rights issue.

    There is a growing recognition that very impoverished children need “wraparound” services. This is what more successful countries do. Merit pay and profit-making charters will probably not help these children, but health care, preschool and successful teachers will. Many of us are fighting to channel money into these schools and out of the pockets of wealthy “reformers.”

    So, in conclusion I would say that we WILL see true reform, but it will take a different direction than we see now. What I predict are fully qualified, experienced, and successful teachers for our most challenging schools; fully equipped learning centers with a wide range of services for our urban areas and high-tech learning for all students.

    As for teachers, I predict we’ll see them evolve into a fully empowered profession similar to what college professors have. The unions will develop into the professional associations they were originally intended to be.

    Yes, true educational reform will happen but it will be determined by the American people, and not a group of very rich people.

  4. Personally I would be shocked if Waiting for Superman gets even 10% of the box office receipts as An Inconvenient Truth.

    Global Warming is a potential crisis for every human on the planet.

    Charter schools and education reform are of interest to only a very small sector of the population in this country. Education itself is of great interest to many. But I suspect the large majorities of middle class parents living in middle class suburbs with decent schools are not particularly interested in this whole charter school/reform debate. I doubt many of the residents of my upper middle class Texas suburb are.

  5. Andrew — about your Superman Time column — what practical advice do you have for on-the-ground education reformers? For example, how do we pull folks into the arena who are not stakeholders in the system, or are otherwise satisfied with their public schools? and how do we capture, then sustain energy from Waiting For Superman publicity?

  6. Worth reposting:

    At present, journalistic pseudo-elites enjoy discussing the alleged failure of teachers, an offensive group who ought to be glad we’re willing to pay them at all. At the same time, they break their backs to avoid discussing the failures and frauds of powerful players—the failures and frauds of the Big Major Players who are part of their own high class. Who are some of these major players? These:

    State education elites: The state of New York just copped to a statewide test score fraud; your major newspapers are breaking their backs to avoid exploring its genesis. (In real time, teachers warned that it was occurring. As head of the New York Times editorial board, Collins mocked what they said.)

    High-ranking national players: In New York City, Chancellor Klein should have known that this fraud was occurring. You will never see him questioned about why he said and did nothing. Unmistakably, Michelle Rhee seems to have lied about her own success as a teacher as she fashioned her own post-teaching career. Everyone has agreed to look away and pretend that she didn’t do this.

    High-ranking, elite pseudo-journalists: Wendy Kopp parades about, spreading ridiculous tales about the success of the Ivy League kids who form her Teach for America program. Her representations are absurd, a disgrace—and they confuse the public debate. But when she went on Charlie Rose, the Manhattan gentleman floundered and fawned. Kopp’s bogus tales have been widely accepted; they’re a key part of the union-trashing narrative which now rules our “great debate.” Deferring to every damn-fool thing she said, Rose conducted one of the worst interviews of all time.

    Top education correspondents: At the Washington Post, Jay Mathews is one of the nation’s leading “education correspondents.” In 2006, he turned out to be such a rube that he featured a low-income school at the top of the Post’s front page, bragging about its tremendous success. In fact, the school turned out to have the second-lowest reading scores in the whole state of Virginia! Mathews had been conned by Virginia’s statewide test score scam—but his fellow elites agreed not to tattle. Their reaction? They kept their traps shut about the statewide fraud; they hid the fact that Mathews got conned.

    In short, many players have floundered and failed, even as test scores have improved. Modern pundits attack teachers only. It’s the official scam.

  7. Good grief, Marlowe, do you have nothing to contribute at all? Reposting old, bizarro stuff isn’t helping your cause. The ridiculous rhetoric and anger and efforts to demonize people who aren’t on the far far fringes of the discussion is just the left wing version of Tea Party nonsense – claiming victimization by “the elites,” inventing facts, and reposting the same silliness again and again.

    Step back and think about how ridiculous you sound when you claim a national conspiracy against poor teachers led by… journalists, nonprofits and foundations (almost all of whom are democrats by the way). ohhh, the insidious evil plot!

  8. PhillpMarlowe:

    Fortunately I think we are now experiencing the end of The Great American School Fraud. See the article in the New York Times “Is Michelle Rhee’s Revolution Over?”

    I think we’ve all just had a good lesson on what can happen during a severe recession. Unscrupulous people look for untouched pots of gold (in this case school money) and find ways of tapping into it. So a person who might have made $300,000 as a Wall Street broker ten years ago now makes it as a charter manager or school pundit. These people almost never do the work of teaching at any level.

    Even journalists were part of this fraud because newspapers desperately needed the money from corporate interests to keep afloat, but now more and more of them are reporting the truth.

    Thanks to people like you, many of us knew what was going on all along and we hope for a quick end to this unconscienable fraud.

  9. Real educated, consumer.
    What do you drive, a Yugo?

    So, avoid what has happened and create a strawman.
    President Bush, as any politician, is a real good master at that.
    Charlie Rose laid down for Wendy Kopp. Did you actually watch the interview or read the transcripts?
    Jay Mathews praise Maury Elementary School based on lousy data.
    Did you actually read the article/
    Doubt it.

    Stick to facts, edconsumer or shut up.
    The education of children is too important to leave to liars and shaman.

    Thank you, Linda.

  10. People who disagree with you are rubes, disgraces, liars, shaman based on your last posts.

    Oddly, those who disagree with you include the current administration and the past administration. And, apparently, leading journalists, nonprofits and foundations. (I like Linda’s take that newspapers were in on the fraud in order to make money – but now they are reporting the truth! Awesome!)

    You seem very angry, which is understandable since you’re on a bit of an island. Ranting about a two or three year old interview with a nonprofit leader? and a four year old article that nobody cares about? it’s a little paranoid and odd, no?

    Thanks for the offer to shut up though – I personally felt like it really enhanced the dialogue and made me much more open, as a parent and a voter, to your viewpoint.

  11. 2 years old?
    4 years old?

    We can disregard , because it doesn’t fit our narrative.

    edconsumer to children:
    Kids, disregard the Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation and Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
    They’re old.

  12. And the same for you Chris.

    How’s the unemployment “analysis” working out.
    Getting Better All the Time?

  13. edconsumer:
    “You seem very angry,”

    More like having a low horseshit tolerance.
    I can take it from the kids; they’ve got an excuse.

    Adults who willfully ignore what’s in front of their eyes;
    no excuse.

  14. Yeah, suck on this big ten inch of irony, Chris:
    ” you instead post data that doesn’t support your conclusions”

    Achievement Gap between African American students and White&Asian students:
    Reading Math
    2003 31.9 32.6
    2004 37.0 38.6
    2005 36.7 39.6
    2006 47.6 54.8
    2007 51.7 55.5
    2008 45.2 51.6
    2009 42.8 45.9
    2010 46.2 49.4

    The achievement gap overall has closed

    THAT’s how you misuse data.

    What are you going to believe:
    Chris’s disaggregation or your own eyes.

    “Let’s have some fun
    This beat is sick
    I wanna take a ride
    on your disco stick”

  15. Your phallic depiction of irony seems to be staring you down:

    “So try harder, big boy: How am I misusing the data? And how do you justify your own flimsy approach to said data?”

    Your posted achievement gap data does *NOT* support your contentions that the achievement gap has widened throughout the district under Rhee’s tenure. Disaggregating the data would show you that. In fact, if you were too lazy to do as much, you could also just compare your 2007 data to the 2010 data to see a decrease in gaps, but this would be overly simplistic and unsuitable for a detailed analysis of the numbers. It might be enough to convince you, however, our resident horseshit detector.

    Do you come with a warranty?

  16. Geez phil, you seem even angrier, now with the weird phallic references.

    I’m sorry you’re so angry. But I don’t think it’s because of the achievement gap. And I really don’t think it’s because of some question Charlie Rose didn’t ask two years ago in an interview that nobody watched or is talking about (which maybe is supposed to be the information right in front of my eyes that I’m willfully ignoring; if I just would look back at the PBS archives, I would see the conspiracy and really know what’s going on here as PBS and Teach For America conspire to… well, do something really really bad.)

    This is where the far left and the far right have much in common. It’s like the sad mirror image of Michelle Bachmann conspiracy theories and I want nothing to do with it. People aren’t buying what you’re selling. But I lack Chris’ stamina to duke it out with you and so I cede the last (profane) word to you.

  17. I just saw the movie. I’m not impressed. I grew weary of listening to reporters, businessmen, union presidents, and superintendents talk about schools. How can a person make a movie about education reform and not interview a single classroom teacher!?!? I would LOVE to know why teachers choose to teach in KIPP schools and why others choose to teach in public schools. I would like to hear what successful teachers say works and doesn’t work to support their excellence in the classroom. Perhaps it is because filmakers, legislators, and everyone else does not listen to the experienced and excellent classroom teacher when designing so-called “education reform.” Please, stop inflicting reform on me and give me textbooks, copy machines, paper, pencils, and reduced class size. Those simple changes will make me superwoman!

  18. Classroom Teacher:

    Well said. Whatever happens in your classroom will happen because of you. That’s what the “reformers” don’t get.

    Here’s a gem from Diane Ravitch: “You can’t win the war when you’re firing on your own troops.”

    Best wishes for a successful school year.

  19. Awww, your concern is very touching edconsumer. It’s like the time the police officer took my mugshot and said, “My, my, you are a pretty asshole.”

    Unlike you, I don’t like when educated people like Rhee, the crew at NYT, Klein, Guggenheim, Mathews, Kopp, Oprah, Rotherham Armao, Hiatt, et. al. play us like rubes.

    You do. People can lie to you if in their heart you know they’re right.

    And ten years from now, when their “reforms” show no difference from today, you’ll pooh-pooh it as past history.

    For Chris,
    there you go again

    Has Miss Rhee decreased the racial gap?
    What will you believe, Chris’ “analysis” or your own eyes?

    It’s too bad Chris and edconsumer have problems with penises.

  20. Awww, your concern is very touching edconsumer. It’s like the time the police officer took my mugshot and said, “My, my, you are a pretty asshole.”

    Unlike you, I don’t like when educated people like Rhee, the crew at NYT, Klein, Guggenheim, Mathews, Kopp, Oprah, Rotherham Armao, Hiatt, et. al. play us like rubes.

    You do. People can lie to you if in their heart you know they’re right.

    And ten years from now, when their “reforms” show no difference from today, you’ll pooh-pooh it as past history.

    For Chris,

  21. Phillip:

    Just answer the questions.

    1) How am I misusing the data?

    2) How do you justify your own flimsy approach to said data?

    Your answers will help us determine if you really are a horseshit detector or if you’re just full of shit.

  22. I would love to see “Waiting for Superman”, but working in a Middle Eastern country that does not have movie theaters, I will have to wait until I go out into the ‘real world’ to my home country, South Africa. Hopefully it is viewing there in December.

    Your analysis is that of a true educationalist.

    Those who have not been involved in a teaching situation seem to find it almost impossible to conceptualize what real teaching involves. Perhaps distant memories of their own school days distort what is our reality. They would have memories of happy-go-lucky times which held little or no responsibilities. Thus they align today’s teachers with this view, constantly telling us that we need to do more, give more of ourselves and our time; that we must be doing something wrong to account for any failings in the education system.

    Perhaps if the policy-makers spent a month or two in our classrooms participating in our daily difficulties, they would have a better appreciation of how demanding teachings actually is. Perhaps they may even realize that the money invested in investigations and reform would have a far greater impact on student learning if they spent it on the basic materials so badly needed in schools.

  23. Dear Karen Meidlinger,
    If you search online, you can find Waiting For Superman. Look on or
    You can download it or watch it online.
    As it would probably be considered copyright infringement,
    you can assuage your conscience with the thought that you are sticking it to the man (Guggenheim) or that by joining the cause, the needs of millions of poor kids receiving a wretched education will be met by your agitation on their behalf.
    Or download it, promise to buy the DVD.
    Or send Guggenheim $20.
    You can reach him here care of
    Participant Media
    331 Foothill Road, 3rd Floor
    Beverly Hills, CA 90210

  24. Let us never forget we educate ALL children in this country – not just the “smart ones”.

    We have children with cognitive disabilities forced to take the regular state assessments because their IQ is over 70.

    In order to transform our schools we must collaborate and do what is best for each individual student. As a special education K-5 teacher I provide a safe learning environment where all can learn.

    As teachers we change with every new system that is the “fix of the day” in the end what matters is helping each child become the best they can be – union or not.

  25. I am afraid all “Waiting for Superman” did is upset the teachers who are in the trenches everyday trying to improve the educational system in this country. I haven’t met one parent yet not in the school system yet who cared about this film or its message. Our system does need reform but I don’t think this film has even got the ball rolling. Nice try Oprah. I am very eager to see what our current administration plans to do with the educational system. They were so against the Bush education plan but haven’t done a darn thing yet to change it. Where is our “change” Mr. President???

  26. Funny how Phillip parades about as an advocate of the truth but is vehemently opposed to finishing debates he starts.

    It’s not that hard, Marlowe:

    1) How am I misusing the data?

    2) How do you justify your own flimsy approach to said data?

    If you can’t answer, say so, and I’ll respectfully regard you as the village/blog idiot for the rest of your tenure.

  27. Funny how Phillip parades about as an advocate of the truth but is vehemently opposed to finishing debates he starts.
    Sorry Chris that I have a life and thus don’t spend every waking minute stalking this site looking for you.

    Let’s see:
    take care of my child with broken foot
    relax over the weekend with wife
    do my day job
    watch friend’s dog
    practice with two different church choirs
    visit former student in jail.

    With regards to the last one, he was arrested and will have spent two months in jail before his trial. His mom and dad don’t visit, his sister won’t, and his so-called friends vanished like smoke on a windy day,
    If he has to wait 2 months Chris, you can wait another bloody week, even though I already answered your question.


  28. “even though I already answered your question.”

    Nope, you never did. Instead you linked to a comment with data that I had replied to weeks ago, showing why you were being obtuse (the nice word for it) with your analysis.

    And there are two questions. Not one. Two.

  29. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^”Here’s a gem from Diane Ravitch: “You can’t win the war when you’re firing on your own troops.”

    So SOOOOOoooo true!

  30. Me, misusing data:
    Washington Redskins 17
    Philiadelphia Eagles 12
    Redskins won.

    Chris, analyzing data:
    While it may appear Washington won by examining the score, by disaggregating the data, I can show that the Eagles really won:
    Passing Completion
    Eagles 64%
    Redskins 42%

    Total yardage
    Eagles 353
    Redskins 293

    Returning Yards
    Eagles 128
    Redskins 99

    First Downs
    Eagles 21
    Redskins 16

    4th Down Efficiency
    Eagles 2-2 100%
    Redskins 0-0 0%

    Time of Possession
    Eagles 32:57
    Redskins 27:03

    So, by disaggregating data, I Chris, have shown the Eagles played better football than the Redskins and beat them.

    Who are you going to believe, Chris’s analysis or your own eyes.

  31. Phillip:

    Yet another intellectually bankrupt comment.

    First of all, you still (repeat, STILL) didn’t answer my two very simple questions addressed to you concerning the merits of the data I posted and the fallacies replete in your analysis of your own posted data. You’ve instead poorly attempted another deflection, this time with an analogy, which I will of course humor, on the condition that I consider you as intellectually dishonest as Edlharris until you somehow prove otherwise.

    Now then, what has your analogy here showed us, if anything?

    1) That you don’t know what “disaggregate” even means. Come on Marlowe, you can’t be this stupid. You’re not “disaggregating” the scores of the football game by deciding to broaden your analysis with 6 other completely separate variables. “Passing Completion” is not at all implicitly defined as a component of “Total Points Scored”. “8th Grade Math DC-CAS Scores”, however, *are* a component of “Total Math DC-CAS Scores. The initial failure on your part was ignoring the inherent error in drawing conclusions from aggregate data in making far-reaching conclusions about DCPS as a whole instead of attempting to disaggregate scores by grades, but really it seems that you don’t understand the difference at all and so your failure only compounds.

    2) Were you to correctly disaggregate the football scores, perhaps you could do it along the lines of “Total Points Scored in the X quarter”. This would tell you more precisely when the Eagles began to lose, if the game was neck-and-neck until the end, on whom the blame should more fall for the loss, etc. The difference between reading the final score and analyzing the scores throughout the game is the same as the difference between passively reading the results and actively pursuing the causes for those results. You like to do the former, which is fine, but don’t pretend you’re engaged in the latter.

    3) This analogy also wrongly implies, just as the final score is THE most important result of the game, that the aggregate data you’ve presented is THE most important data in determining whether to praise or stone Rhee. It’s NOT. Were we to disaggregate the data and find that secondary students showed large improvements every year since 2007 (which is the case), that information is just as important as how the district did overall. It would suggest that we consider what is happening in the later grades of DCPS to help students advance toward higher levels of proficiency.

    4) And another thing: your aggregate data suggested the gaps CLOSED from 2007 to 2010. CLOSED! You’ve been going on and on about the difference between 2008 and 2010 in your elementary assessment of Rhee, but Rhee has been implementing her cruel regime of reform since the fall of 2007. If you want to at least bear a semblance of accuracy on this topic, you need to compare the 2010 test scores (the last time point of her tenure) to the 2007 test scores (the last time point before she started).

  32. First of all, you still (repeat, STILL) didn’t answer my two very simple questions addressed to you concerning the merits of the data I posted and the fallacies replete in your analysis of your own posted data.
    Chris you don’t read well or reason well.
    I posted data, which you objected to because it didn’t show what you wanted.
    I did not analyze the data.
    You “analyzed” the data to show what you wanted to show.

    That’s it.

  33. No, I objected to your conclusions because the conclusions you drew from them were inane, as I’ve argued extensively in my past comments, all of which have been met with vapid responses, as you’ve again shown here.

    I don’t know why this is so hard for you:

    1) How am I misusing the data? Be explicit.

    2) How do you justify your own flimsy approach to said data? Be explicit.

  34. An Inconvenient Truth
    June 2007 Michelle Rhee appointed Chancellor of DCPS, accountable only to the mayor.

    School year 2007-2008 Reforms central office replacing staff thru a RIF

    School year 2008-2009 replaces many principals

    June 2009 releases large number of teachers for ineffective teaching

    Summer 2009 hires 900 new teachers, replaces more principals

    Oct 2009 RIFs 266 teachers due to a budgetary shortfall. She want(ed) to make clear that the teachers let go were good teachers

    Summer 2010 fires a couple hundred poor performing teachers

    If we accept your analysis Chris, the most improvement was made with teachers she wanted out. Her five year plan was to significantly (her second favorite word after dramatic) replace the teaching staff.

  35. Wrong again, Marlowe.

    The disaggregated data suggests that secondary students have improved every year since 2007, and elementary students have improved every year except in 2010, although the data also suggests student variation itself as one such cause for this recent decline. Simply comparing the 2009 test scores to the 2010 test scores and berating Rhee for the decline found therein would be like taking two data points and happily concluding you’ve found a trend with a linear regression of 1. You’d be laughed out of any room that you presented in.

    Even Rhee has admitted that the gains made in the first year were some of the easiest to produce, but the gains likely weren’t because she replaced central office staff, but rather due most likely to the academic program on Saturdays that she initiated. Funny that you didn’t mention that.

    I’m also very curious to hear how you will defend your football analogy. Please do go on.

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