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Class of September 20, 2011
“Waiting for Superman”
• What does the documentarist (Davis Guggenheim)
think is wrong with American public education and
what remedies does he suggest?
• What narrative techniques does he use to advance
his argument?
• Evaluate Geoffrey Canada as an educational leader
• Evaluate Michelle Rhee as an educational leader
Sept. 20: Educational Reform
Heroic Teachers, Charter Schools
• Tim Hortons and “coffee stories”
• Note-taker needed
• Setting the stage: transformational teacher
• “Waiting for Superman”: one of the first
narratives about educational reform
Transformational teachers
The dominant fable
• Freedom Writers (2007), Stand and Deliver (1989), Dangerous
Minds (1995)
• S & D: Bolivian math teacher (male), Latino students in East
LA, AP calculus, results challenged, East LA math program
• FW: female English teacher in Long Beach use personal
journals to energize students
• DM: female English teacher in academy program in Palo Alto,
CA earns love and respect of her students
• Male versus female subjects?
How to be a
transformational teacher
In the classroom
• Be cool
• Set a (collective) stretch goal, sign contracts
• Be the coach, helping them achieve the goal
• Be patient: transformation takes time
Outside the classroom
• Sacrifice: be available 24/7 outside class
• Connect: with student culture, families
How to be a
transformational teacher
In the educational system
• Market: publicize your efforts to attract interest,
attention, resources
• Be savvy: size up who are your opponents and
• Diversify: look for support at higher levels or outside
the school system
Implications for all front-line innovators
Questioning the transformational
teacher fable
• Required work effort and impact on personal
• Downplaying political/organizational skill and
overemphasizing classroom teaching
• Examples from Freedom Writers:
Real story about Miep Gies’s visit, Gruwell’s
connections and student visit to Steven
Counter fables
• Dead Poets’ Society (1989): teacher inspires students
but lacks clear goal, repressive prep school fires
teacher (set in a prep school)
• Half-Nelson (2007): teacher is crack cocaine user,
student helps him score, teacher forced to go on
• Cheaters (2000): teacher coaches academic
decathlon team from poor Chicago school, team
cheats, wins, confesses, teacher disciplined but
students survive: but is cheating wrong?
More counter-fables
• The History Boys (2004): two teachers in a
Northern England high school prepare
students for Oxford, Cambridge exams,
demise of one teacher
• Entre les Murs (2008): high school teacher
working-class Paris fails to inspire immigrant
students, causes demoralizing in-class
confrontation with students
Educational Reform Initiatives
• Lots of foundation interest (Gates Foundation, NY
hedge fund managers)
• Charter schools (publicly-funded, open-enrollment
outside regular system, educational philosophy,
accountable for results)
• Coalition for Essential Schools (projects)
• Knowledge is Power (hard work, testing)
• Better teachers: Teach for America
• Better principals: New Leaders for New Schools
Guggenheim as policy advocate
• Critic of teachers’ unions and tenure, weed out the
worst performers, pay for performance
• Supporter of charter schools
• Additional funding for education, whether for charter
schools or public schools
• Supports testing as a measure of performance of
school system
• Opponent of streaming in school system
Narrative techniques
• Stories evoke sympathy: children struggling for competence,
sweetness and no attitude; parents struggling for their kids
• Difficult lives, randomness of lotteries (narrative arc)
• Visuals up close and personal, use of music
• Demonization: Randi Weingarten and teachers’ unions
• Heroes: school reformers (Rhee, Canada, Kamras)
• Academic analysts (Hanushek, Matthews, Alter)
• Vintage documentaries, Superman episodes
• Cartoons and charts
Geoffrey Canada
• Came from ghetto background, knows and
sympathizes with students
• Humility: admits his youthful attitude and mistakes
• Bold: Harlem charter school
• Innovative: comprehensive support network for
students from birth
• Enthusiasm for his work: charisma
• Turned down offer to be NYC schools chancellor
Michelle Rhee
• Middle class background (father doctor), private school,
Cornell University, Harvard MPP
• 3 years Teach for America, disaster then improved
• Founded New Teacher Project in 1997, recruited, trained 23K
teachers => educational entrepreneur
• DC schools chancellor: too ambitious a reform agenda? Too
• Too high-profile, e.g. firing of a principal taped
• 2010: Mayor Fenty defeated, Rhee resigned
• Students First: non-profit political advocacy organization
• Controversies about fudging data (personal, schools)
Policy Critiques
• Canada’s program provides social services from birth, has
$100M private funding: hard to replicate
• If the problem is poverty, schools only part of the answer
• The best 20 % of charter schools oversubscribed and hold
lotteries, what about the others?
• The most ambitious parents enter lotteries, considerable
attrition from best charter schools
• Teacher pouring knowledge into students’ skulls: simplistic
teacher-centred model of education
• Test scores taken as indicator of performance of entire
system, Emily story a critique of use of test scores
Next Week
• Discussion of individual narrative assignment
• View The Social Network, excellent supplemental material on
visuals, post-production, and score
• Why was Zuckerberg so successful?
• Were the claims of the Winkelvossi and Eduardo Saverin
against Zuckerberg justified?
• Is The Social Network heroic or ironic (in terms of fourquadrant model)?
• Is The Social Network sexist?
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