Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Think You Know How To Help Your Child Study? Think Again

Find a quiet location. Keep a routine. Focus on one subject at a time. It all seems like sound advice for students who need to hit the books, but recent studies indicate the conventional wisdom is all wrong.

New York Times reporter Benedict Carey has written about the research. He tells NPR's Neal Conan that though a lot of ideas about learning make intuitive sense, they're actually way off.

Here's a list of Carey's tips for getting the most out of your study time:

Test yourself: Doing practice quizzes can help you retrieve information on test day. "Tests have a very bad rap as a measurement tool," Carey says. But psychologists have found self-tests slow down the forgetting of material you've studied. "If you study something once, and then you test yourself on it," Carey says, "you do better than if you study it two times over."

Move around: Changing up where you study can help you retain more information. "If you move around and study the same material in several places," he says, "you may be forming ... multiple associations for the same material, the same words and so on. So it's better anchored in your brain, and you can pull it out easier."

Mix it up: Think about a football player who does strength training, speed training and drills. Carey says alternating between different facets of a subject in a single sitting can "leave a deeper impression on the brain." For example, when studying French, do some verbs, some speaking and some reading. Spending your time in deep concentration on just verbs, say, isn't as effective.

Space it out: Information learned in a hurry is lost just as fast. Carey likens cramming your brain to speed-packing a cheap suitcase -- it all falls out. So if you really want to learn, space out shorter, hourlong study sessions. "There's no doubt you can cram your way through an exam," Carey says. The problem is that it's so easy to forget what you just crammed -- and once it's gone, Carey says, "It's gone. You're not getting it back."

Of course, nothing can replace the power of motivation and discipline. But Carey says the overall message is encouraging: "Studying can sort of be incorporated into a more varied life, much more easily than we thought." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Picture: Hoboken Haunted House

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Department of Education- Letter to All School Districts on Bullying

The Department of Education sent a letter to schools, colleges and universities on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 warning them that failing to stop bullying could violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The letter comes amid growing concern that there may be a religious undercurrent to the harassment of teens who are seen as gay.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Abandoned, Neglected, or Forgotten?- Saturday U Program for Hoboken's Gifted and Talented Middle Schoolers

During the 2008-2009 academic year, the redesigned and expanded Saturday U Program for gifted and talented Hoboken middle schoolers began on January 17, 2009 and serviced over 125 students. There was also a mid week version of Saturday U to accommodate students involved with weekend sports and activities. To date, Saturday U 2009-2010 has not begun and information has not been forthcoming as to whether it has been phased out due to cost cutting or simply not a priority of the Board of Education majority. Last year's redesigned and expanded Saturday U program was enthusiastically received by students, parents, and associated faculty (a survey was given). The Saturday U Program has been a part of the gifted and talented program in Hoboken for well over a decade. The program's apparent disappearance without public discussion, debate, or a proposal of an alternative program by the Kids First Board of Education majority has left many citizens, parents and children understandably uninformed and disappointed.
Take a look at some related links:

1) First Day of Saturday U Program 2009-
January 17, 2009

2) Saturday U Orientation-
January 10, 2009

3) Explanation of Saturday U Expansion-
January 8, 2009

4) 2008-2009
Hoboken Gifted and Talented Official Policy- Click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stated Session Oct 12 2010 Hoboken BOE Agenda- Planned Report on "Assured" Rise in Standardized Test Results Throughout the District

The following is the posted agenda of the October 12, 2010 Hoboken Board of Education agenda. Among some interesting items to be discussed will be the results of the 2009-2010 district standardized test scores.

The new curriculum was created specifically to align with State of New Jersey Curriculum Standards in all subject areas and designed to raise state test scores by 10%-15% yearly with effective implementation.

Why so many consultants and "interim" administrators would be hired by the Kids First majority while the new curriculum was knowingly "lain dormant" might appear to raise serious questions. Certainly a dormant curriculum implementation strategy would appear to be inconsistent with assurances of a rise in standardized test scores.

At the very least, it may be fair to question what a dozen extra consultants and administrators were doing if not implementing the new curriculum.

Stated Session Oct 12 2010 BOE Agenda

Picture: kindergarten at David E. Rue School in Hoboken (1963)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tools of the Mind Begins Third Year in the Hoboken Public Schools- How It Got There (and how it almost didn't)

Tools of the Mind (ToM) is an integral part of the Hoboken Curriculum Project and is the curriculum for all Pre-K3, Pre-K4, and Kindergarten classrooms in the Hoboken Public Schools. Research and interest in the program goes back to 2007 when it was decided by Dr. Petrosino and Early Childhood Coordinator Jessica Peters that a new early childhood curriculum was needed to reflect self regulation and metacognition-- cornerstones of the Hoboken Curriculum Project.

Along with the curriculum, there is a corresponding professional development sequence that is critical to effective implementation.

But support was more difficult than imagined when first proposed. Despite peer reviewed research on the program's effectiveness and extensive write-ups in the NY Times, this program was met with skepticism and negativity by the Kids First Board of Education members. "Focus on the high school" was the general if a district administrator can afford to focus on only a single aspect of a school district.

Interestingly, at the time, Hoboken High School was under the leadership of Dr. Lorraine Cella (Ph.D Columbia University), and the school had recently been awarded its' second consecutive Bronze Medal Award by US News and World Report and New Jersey Monthly had named it the "second most improved high school in the state of New Jersey". Certainly the school needed attention, as all schools do, but it 1) wasn't being ignored and 2) there was some indication that HHS was on a good trajectory*.

Fortunately for the young children of Hoboken, a non-Kids First majority existed on the Board of Education and this innovative, research based, and responsive curriculum was supported by the Board of Education and was able to be effectively implemented in the Hoboken Public Schools. Tools of the Mind is now celebrating the third year of successful implementation.

Special recognition to recently departed Early Childhood Director Jessica Peters for her leadership in coordinating Tools of the Mind during its first 2 years. Good luck to all those currently involved. -Dr. Petrosino

* Some of you may recall the circumstances of Dr. Cella leaving the district. For more details on that incident, please click HERE.

Description: Tools of the Mind is an early childhood curriculum for preschool and kindergarten children, based on the ideas of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The curriculum is designed to foster children’s executive function, which involves developing self-regulation, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Many activities emphasize both executive functioning and academic skills. A growing body of new research indicates that many children start school not ready to learn not because they do not know their letters or numbers but because they lack one critical ability: the ability to regulate their social, emotional, and cognitive behaviors. Current research shows that self-regulation – often called executive function -- has a stronger association with academic achievement than IQ or entry-level reading or math skills.

Picture: The "new" Malibu diner in Hoboken, NJ.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Obama to appear on episode of 'Mythbusters'

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will appear on an episode of "Mythbusters," a television show that uses science to determine the truth behind urban legends.

The White House says the episode will air Dec. 8 on the Discovery Channel.

Discovery says the episode considers this question: Did Greek scientist Archimedes set fire to an invading Roman fleet using only mirrors and the reflected rays of the sun?

Officials say the president's appearance, which has already been taped, is part of a White House push to promote math and science education. On Monday, Obama hosts a White House science fair celebrating students who have won science, technology, engineering and math competitions.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Christie Administration Makes $30 Million Available to Help Charter Schools Hoping to Leverage as much as $300 million for Construction and Facilities

In a not too surprising official announcement made this week, the State of New Jersey has allocated about $30,000,000 in school construction funds for charter schools around the state. The hope is that charter schools will be able to leverage these funds, which they will obtain at near 0 interest rates, to generate as much as 10 times the amount in private sector financing. It certainly will give charter schools around the state a boost in the arm for facilities acquisition and development. The state will be looking for competitive "shovel ready" projects ready for development. This is an interesting model for long term economic support for charter schools in the state of New Jersey. -Dr. Petrosino

October 13, 2010 Trenton, NJ – Acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks announced today that charter schools will now have access to $30 million in federally subsidized, low-interest bonds to help finance construction of new classrooms and other sorely needed facilities.

"For too long, charter schools have been denied equitable resources to finance construction projects needed to grow, expand and serve even more children. Other public schools have always been able to borrow money at a low interest rate to help them meet their facilities needs. Today, we begin to level the playing field by providing financial help to charters to help them build and improve facilities," Acting Commissioner Hendricks said.

Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Caren Franzini said her agency will be looking for projects that are ready to build so that the money can have an immediate impact.

"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the State has ever made federal school construction bonds available to help charter schools," Ms. Franzini said. "For the most part, we will be looking for projects that are already underway, with other financing in place, and the loans we will be administering will put the finishing touches on projects so they can move rapidly to conclusion."

The projects will be awarded on a competitive basis, Ms. Franzini said. Charter schools will have until November 19 to apply for the funding.

The news that charter schools will be able to get help to finance construction projects was welcomed by the Newark Charter School Fund. In Newark, the City and the Newark Public School district have already forged partnerships with local charter schools. In both 2009 and 2010, the City and the district shared more than $20 million in federal stimulus bonds with the city's charters.

"In our city, we are working together to help address the facilities needs of some of our outstanding charter schools, but more work is needed,’’ said Mashea Ashton, chief executive officer of the Newark Charter School Fund. "The strength of the charter schools in Newark benefits all our students and families by offering high quality public school options. We are all public schools together, and we applaud the State's efforts to make these precious resources available to a greater number of charter schools in Newark and across the State."

The New Jersey Charter Schools Association said the $30 million in low-cost bonds will begin to help charter schools immediately address some of their most pressing needs.

"We are pleased that the Christie Administration is taking this positive step to support the healthy growth and expansion of charter schools. Far too many charters in New Jersey are in dire need of funding for capital projects," said Carlos Perez, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. "The option of borrowing with low-cost financing will allow charter schools across the state to construct new facilities, repair dilapidated buildings, modernize classrooms and address health and safety issues.

"This low-cost borrowing option will make it possible for us to do what charters have proven to be great at: squeezing more educational value out of each dollar invested," Perez said.

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said New Jersey will let charter schools obtain low-cost money for critically needed facilities.

"This federally backed debt will allow charter schools to get funds at zero or near zero interest expense," Treasurer Sidamon-Eristoff said. "Clearly, this will allow charter schools to stretch their scarce resources, greatly improving educational opportunities for New Jersey’s children."

Brian Keenan, president of a firm that helps charter schools build facilities, explained how the $30 million in bond funding will help address current needs.

"Charter schools are in the business of educating kids, not developing real estate. They don’t have equity on hand to invest in real estate and build schools. This low-interest bond money provided by the State will enable charter schools to leverage as much as 10 times this amount in private sector financing," said Keenan, president of Real Estate and Advisory Development Services, a non-profit charter school facility development company in Metuchen, N.J.

Acting Commissioner Hendricks said the $30 million in construction bonds are just further proof of the Christie Administration’s focus on making charter schools an increasingly important part of the educational establishment in New Jersey.

"Governor Christie believes in offering students and families more choices for a quality education," Acting Commissioner Hendricks said. "Through this action, and his bold reform agenda for education, Governor Christie is taking action to grow and expand high-quality charter schools, increase accountability in the education system, and ensure our children are getting the results they deserve."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rhee Resigns as DC Superintendent- Colleague Appointed Interim to Continue Effective Reform Efforts

Washington DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee announced her resignation earlier today. Her successor will be Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson. The two, Rhee and Henderson, were colleagues at the New Teacher Project and were both Teach for America participants. Rhee’s reforms produced results in Washington where students continually produced below-average test scores. A year after Rhee became Chancellor, 99 schools increased their scores in both reading and mathematics.

An recent interview with Rhee talking about her pending resignation....

Picture: D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, right, announces her resignation on Oct. 13 while accompanied by City Council Chairman and Democratic mayoral candidate Vincent Gray and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
—Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ex-education chief says Christie was focused on battle with NJEA in Race to the Top application

Recent revelations under oath by former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler paints a graphic picture of Governor Christie being more concerned with battling the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) than securing over $400,000,000 in guaranteed federal funding for the education of the state's children. Hoboken residents also know Governor Christie as being Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's education and civic government sage.

Unfortunately for the Governor, this issue does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Rather then obtain an additional 15 points on the grant application which would have secured the grant by reaching agreements with the NJEA, the Governor decided on trying to submit a weakened application without a partnership with the public school teachers of New Jersey. Christie is recognized for being fundamentally against organized labor. Political ambition often has a price. So far in New Jersey, it's $400,000,000 and counting.

An interesting note to the parents of students in the traditional Hoboken public the Governor's 2 visits to Hoboken under the Zimmer administration the Mayor has arranged visits to Hoboken Catholic School and Elysian Charter School.


TRENTON — So far, the biggest fight in the ongoing controversy over the state’s failed Race to the Top application has been about an accidental clerical error that cost the state $400 million. A deeper look at the state’s application may tell a different story.

Fired education commissioner Bret Schundler said, in interviews as he prepared to testify before the state Senate Thursday morning, the bigger problem was Gov. Chris Christie’s insistence on perpetuating his battle with New Jersey’s leading teachers union. If Christie had permitted Schundler to submit a Race to the Top application endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association, the state would have racked up more than enough points to win money in the competition for federal education reform dollars — despite the mistake that Schundler has taken the blame for.

"We have an opportunity to win here, with union support, which is a rare thing," Schundler said he told Christie. "He said he didn’t care about the money … He said he hadn’t gone through hell with (the NJEA) so he could then cave in to them now."

Schundler’s remarks shed new light on the controversial events of Memorial Day weekend when he and the NJEA announced a surprising agreement on the federal grant application’s proposals. Almost immediately, the governor reneged on the deal and filed a different submission in Washington, one which the teachers union opposed. At the time, Schundler took the blame for acting without the governor’s approval, a mea culpa that allowed him to keep his job even as some Trenton insiders suggested Christie would dismiss him right then.

Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella would not comment on Schundler’s statements.

NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said the union had been willing to make concessions.

"But that wasn’t enough for the governor," Wollmer said. "The governor made clear that he wasn’t interested in any of that collaboration. He basically said, ‘I don’t care.’"

Schundler said he will tell senators the changes by Christie’s team in the final application made it impossible for the NJEA to sign on but made little substantive difference. Christie balked at Schundler’s deal with the NJEA on merit pay for teachers and layoff rules.

Schundler said the deal was a good one for the state because it allowed the NJEA to endorse the application — something that could have been worth 15 additional points in the final judging.

"It seemed like a no-brainer," Schundler said.

By Jessica Calefati and Josh Margolin/The Star-Ledger

photo: Credit Andrew Tavani

Bret Schundler comments on firing as education commissioner

Happy Birthday John Lennon

John Winston Ono Lennon,
MBE (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English singer-songwriter who rose to worldwide fame as one of the founding members of The Beatles and, with Paul McCartney, formed one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the 20th century.

Born and raised in Liverpool, Lennon became involved in the skiffle craze as a teenager, his first band, The Quarrymen, evolving into The Beatles in 1960. As the group began to undergo the disintegration that led to their break-up towards the end of that decade, Lennon launched a solo career that would span the next, punctuated by critically acclaimed albums, including John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and iconic songs such as "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine".

Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, his writing, on film, and in interviews, and became controversial through his work as a peace activist. He moved to New York City in 1971, where his criticism of theVietnam War resulted in a lengthy attempt by Richard Nixon's administration to deport him, while his songs were adapted as anthems by the anti-war movement. Disengaging himself from the music business in 1975 to devote time to his family, Lennon reemerged in 1980 with a comeback album, Double Fantasy, but was murdered three weeks after its release.

Lennon's solo album sales in the United States alone stand at 14 million units,[1] and as performer, writer, or co-writer he is responsible for 27 number one singles on the US Hot 100 chart.a In 2002, a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted him eighth, and in 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him the fifth greatest singer of all time. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What ‘Waiting For Superman’ got wrong, point by point

What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point

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 comprehensive. There is a 5 minute interview/video at the end if you prefer. -Dr. Petrosino

While the education film Waiting 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.