You mention moving to get into a better school system. I have a young daughter, and my wife and I constantly debate whether to stay in the city or move out to the suburbs to do what’s best for her. Recently, however, we’ve been hearing encouraging bleatings about our urban public schools from other parents with children in the system.
The idea of moving to the ’burbs to fix the situation has been around for several generations. You live in a great spot in the city, you got all these ideals about living in a diverse place, and then when your kid is old enough to go to school, you move to the ’burbs where the schools are good. Many, many people do that. The film reveals that the schools in the ’burbs are not as good as you think they are, and they’re failing a lot of middle-class kids.
Because schools [in the ’burbs] serve the upper track, it’s just masking the problems because it just raises the average. The idea that you could just move away from your problems doesn’t work anymore.
In the film, you tag D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee as a reformer you believe in because of the way she has shaken up the system; but recently she was cited as the main reason her appointer, former mayor Adrian Fenty, was not reelected, and many conjecture that her tenure will soon too come to an end.
She was doing great things for kids. I have spent a lot of time in the schools in D.C., and there is no doubt in my mind that what she is doing is transformative and her leaving would be like turning out the lights in the middle of heart surgery.
I hope she keeps doing what she is doing. Just because the mayor leaves doesn’t mean that the kids leave.
One of the fixes alluded to in your film is a merit-based pay system for teachers versus the peer pay largely adhered to by the union. Do you think such an implementation will have an impact?
It’s a very complicated matter. And there is no doubt that one key component for reform is that these contracts need to change. You can’t have a great school without great teachers. So how do you get great teachers? There are a lot of pieces to that. You’ve got to recruit the very best. You’ve got to retain good teachers. You’ve got to reward good teachers; and the ones that aren’t working, you’ve got to remove those teachers. And we’re not doing any of those things very well.
There are new contracts, ones that are promising. One that Randi Weingarten [president of the American Federation of Teachers] negotiated in New Haven and the new one in D.C. that was negotiated after the movie was finished seem to be going in the right direction.
Was that the one with Michelle Rhee that didn’t seem to be fully resolved or likely to be passed in the movie?