When I picked up this book at the Library’s Used Book Store, I thought I could read it in place of watching the documentary. But the film follows people, particularly children, trying to break out of the failing system. The book is a series of essays, some by people featured in the film, on the subject.
Two struck me in particular: Michelle Rhee is running the DC public schools and turning the old paradigm on its head. She is not making a lot of friends in her administration, but she is starting to see results. One big thing that fell like a ton of bricks – an offer she made to the Teachers’ Union: take the contract with its modest increases, or go off contract for an opportunity to double (that isn’t the exact math, but close) your salary over the next couple of years. The Union never even brought it to a vote. I guess that is to be expected, but I am glad to see someone fighting from inside the system.
The other Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers. She strongly opposed the depiction of unions in the film, and she was given the opportunity to dispute it. She had a couple of interesting points: one was that we should spend less time trying to fire below-standard teachers and spend more time trying to make them better. And that the charter schools that are successful are not simply 9-3 institutions without unions, but include serious full-service stuff like before school care, after school care, parent outreach and making sure kids are fed.
I just saw a headline that said only 22% of 8th graders in California are passing the standardized test in science. Dismal. But it seems that Bill and Melinda are on that now.