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Public boarding schools? Better teachers? “Waiting for Superman”

In about a week, Dayton will join the rest of the country in being able to see the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” I couldn’t wait, so I left town to see it early.

It’s already been mentioned on the site, the DDN has already written an editorial about it and one of the “stars” – Geoffrey Canada, is coming to speak at UD in January [1].

While we don’t have lotteries for charter schools in Dayton, we do have a lottery in our kids’ graduation rates- and I’m not just talking about Dayton proper- it’s a number that has zero meaning because we don’t have a way to track kids from birth to graduation nationally- a national student ID number so to speak.

At what point do you consider a kid belonging to one district or another? [2]

One of the realities of urban districts is that the kids are more mobile- moving more frequently- changing schools etc. This, along with economic status, is one of the two key indicators for graduation rates- and the kids do not measure up to either of them.

In my last post I asked if “orphanages” [3] were what’s missing to put some of these kids back on track- and maybe, I just had the terminology wrong-maybe the answer is public boarding schools- like one of the example charters in the movie.

We don’t seem to have a problem providing post-graduate boarding schools for problem children- prisons, which are at least three times more expensive than what we would spend on solving the problems earlier.

The movie goes to great lengths to blame the teachers’ unions and tenure as the biggest stumbling blocks to improving educational outcomes. There is no doubt that bad teachers don’t teach, and somehow, bad teachers don’t get fired. An example from the movie showed where a school gave a student a concealed video camera over twenty years ago- and was unable to fire teachers caught on video not doing their jobs. This is nothing new- I took a photo in my junior year of high school of a horrible teacher, Liz Russo, sleeping in class. We published it in the yearbook- in the back of the book- behind the index- so the administration might not hang us out for it- but it was well known she wasn’t fit to teach- but was allowed to muddle on for years.

We all know at least one amazing teacher. I was lucky enough to have quite a few- (even though I didn’t know who they all were when I had them). The value they gave me far exceeded at least 5 of the ones I don’t remember- yet they were all paid the same.

The idea of pay for performance is a reality in the rest of the working world- and it would seem, it’s overdue in public education. DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee [4] tried to bring it to a vote in DC and failed, and ended up out of a job as well.

Our school year is already one of the shortest in the industrialized world, and our ability to produce the workers of tomorrow is already in question.

The question is- how long will we continue to do the same thing- and expect a different result? We can all just keep waiting for Superman too.

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I wonder if the people who want to facilitate firing teachers at will are the same ones attacking NPR for cutting Juan Williams loose?  (Where were they when Bob Edwards was fired?)
Waiting for Superman will not fix education.  We have an idea about what will:
–track students appropriately.  Special needs students get their special ed, the top percentile of strudents get self-guided honors programs, and the honorable vast middle gets KIPP style schools with direct instruction as the pedagogical technique.
–reinstate discipline (that’s a feature of KIPP but needs to be stated).
–revamp teacher certification for more coursework in specific academic subjects rather than education courses.
–reduce the attritiion rate that leads most teachers to switch professions after only a few years.

And if you can be Canada and fix the surrounding neighborhood too, good on you.  But is there enough money to do what he’s done in every inner-city neighborhood?


Teachers and unions are NOT the problem! Most people and politicians with these brillant solutions would not last a DAY teaching in a public school! Most teachers are there because they care and want to make a difference and earn every penny of their pitiful salary! The problem is student and parent apathy and accountability!


“The question is- how long will we continue to do the same thing- and expect a different result?” – David Esrati  
Unfortunately I think we will continue doing the same thing for the foreseeable future.  For starters I don’t think a civil debate can be had.  Anyone who challenges the education establishment is demonized and immediately dismissed by the education establishment because of lack of “expertise” or they are vilified as “anti-education” or “anti-teacher”.   It will be interesting to see if Big Education tears down their left leaning comrades, Guggenheim and Gates.

Jeff Dziwulski

I seem to recall William Julius Wilson, in his book “The Truley Disadvantaged”, recommending or speculating on boarding schools as a way to break out of the cycle of the culture of poverty (though I don’t think he used the term “culture of poverty”).  W J Wilson is widely considered to be a “liberal”, so this was an interesting recommendation, coming from him. 

John Ise

Great & important movie.  But to improve schools is “all of the above”.  Good, committed parents usually raise good, studious kids.  Good teachers assist that.  Thriving neighborhoods likewise.  The only thing I’d add is the importance of early childhood education is paramont.  Start high-quality education of a 3-5 year old, and the changes that affect them throughout life is profound.  Plus, we should have as a goal that schools are economically  integrated.  Schools comprised of exclusively poor kids, from exclusively poor families, living in exclusively poor neighborhoods creates tremendous challenges that only Supermen like The Harlen Children’s Zone Jeffrey Canada can surmount.

I’d be interested in knowing how do Esrati readers rate the Dayton School Board?  Is the Dayton’s Teacher Union a prerequisit for getting elected?


A very interesting take indeed.
“Since then, politicians have largely tilted their models towards business paradigms, believing that marketplace principles of competition, standards and accountability would break the government’s monopoly on public education and provide a fresh, anti-bureaucratic start for school districts.”
More accurately they tilted toward the “Too Big To Fail” business paradigms of GM, Fannie, Freddie, AIG etc…where they operate under the guise of free market principles.


Just a small bit of additional info:
HCZ spends over $16,000 per student for classroom instruction alone.  Factor in the additional community support costs–essentially, cradle-to-college health care, counseling, housing assistance, etc.–and the cost per student is going to be probably over $20 grand.  The parent corporation has assets over $200 million, much of it donated from Wall Street (maybe Lehman Brothers?).
Those who say that other inner-city schools can achieve similar results without similar funding are speaking nonsense.