Will “Waiting for ‘Superman’” provoke the change we need?


There’s certainly lots of controversy surrounding the movie "Waiting for ‘Superman’"… some debate around the value of charter schools, the impact of unions and criticism of teachers. However, some things no one can deny… one, we have to celebrate and encourage great teachers, and do what we can to cherish and praise and support the value and prestige that teachers have in our society; and two, we have to continue to work together to drive change, not only for our schools, but for our kids. 

There are no easy answers.  We have to look at the models and the innovative practices of charter schools that are featured in the film like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the KIPP Schools, but also great public schools and districts in our society and all over the world, and take those great examples and find ways to make not only opportunities available for all kids, but really work to increase the role and the importance teachers have in our society.

For me, “Waiting for ‘Superman’” was a very personal reflection, because I grew up near a lot of the neighborhoods featured in the movie, and I could see a little bit of myself growing up. As someone who won the lottery because of great teachers and parents who made sure that I stayed out of trouble… I feel we have to honor that work in our daily lives every day to support great education and great teacher opportunities.

One of the things that the movie talks about is the role or the rate of success the U.S. has had versus other countries as it relates to math and science performance, and the U.S. being ranked 24th in those areas, and significantly behind in some areas compared to other countries. (You can learn more about the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) here.) I think it’s important to consider that if you look at technology penetration, broadband access, devices in schools, etc., the U.S. would rank #1 compared to other countries…so, it's clear technology is not the answer alone. We've got to think differently around the role of technology, the role of schools, the role of a teacher and the role of education. That's why we're focused on initiatives like Partners in Learning, and the work we do with individual schools to drive and scale successful models holistic reform.

One of the things that’s certainly clear is successful models need to scale, and scale is often difficult, because models are often not rooted in sound methodology and growth. I would encourage every education leader to look at our scale toolkit. We’ve been working with Chris Dede from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education to develop a tutorial to help schools create a foundation for driving change in schools. You can learn more about it in this video and article on Edutopia.

One of the reasons why I think the KIPP schools have been successful is because they are built from a process focus from the start, and they've been able to scale because they replicate the process in other schools.  It's not tied into the individual leaders that often drive change in our schools. It is the amazing teachers and amazing principals that often define a good school.  We've got to put a process and plan in place, and the scale toolkit does this.

We held a screening of  “Waiting for ‘Superman’” on Microsoft’s corporate campus in Redmond last week…and before the film I had the opportunity to talk with the director, Davis Guggenheim. I talked a lot about the work that Microsoft does, and the thing that he reacted to most was the scale toolkit. After researching and shooting the movie, Guggenheim saw that when you find a best practice or success, as in the KIPP schools, you need to find a way to replicate it…you need to build a foundation upfront before you apply innovation and thinking.

I encourage you to see the film…and regardless of your opinion…it shines a spotlight on the need for us to explore and look at these hard issues. If anything, the movie is a moment in time for us to reflect on the quality of education in the United States and ask ourselves what more can we do to improve education…and not accept anything but the best for our kids.

For some ideas on how to get involved and more on how we are trying to help...read my earlier blog post here.

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