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Waiting for “Superman” and Minnesota Schools

December 07, 2010 By Valerie Ong, Education Fellow

The recently released documentary Waiting for “Superman” takes a critical look at education in the United States. The director, David Guggenheim, suggests that a public education catastrophe has hit the nation and that no “superman” – no silver bullet – is available to save America’s children.

The documentary’s premise is this: The American public school system is broken. Schools are failing. Teachers and administrators are ineffective. Adult and political interests get in the way of children learning. Teachers’ unions are primarily to be blamed.

Waiting for “Superman” follows a handful of children and their families who turn to charter schools to seek an education not afforded to them in traditional public schools. Unfortunately, since there are more children than charter school openings, the children must enter a lottery and wait for their names to be called. Ultimately, there is not enough room for every child.

The documentary implies that broad national education reform is needed.

Responses to the documentary have been mixed. Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, defended his union by stating that Guggenheim’s main arguments were not applicable to Minnesota.

A few Minnesota public school teachers and administrators were asked to comment and noted that they felt unthreatened by the documentary’s general message but were critical of some of the documentary’s themes. However, they generally agreed amongst themselves on several points regarding the documentary’s main points in relation to Minnesota:

1. While public schools in Minnesota have not reached their full potential, most Minnesota schools are not “failing,”
2. It's unfair to say that teachers’ unions are the sole cause of public schools’ problems, and
3. Charter schools are not and cannot be a panacea to the problem.

While public schools in Minnesota are not “failing,” they are not reaching their full potential. Several factors indentified include: an outdated model of education, inflexible teacher contracts, inefficient school governance, inadequate funding, the presence of ineffective teachers, too much emphasis on standardized tests, and loss of individualized student support and attention after elementary school.

Some of those interviewed saw teachers' unions as less effective than they had been in the past, when they fought for equal rights and protections for women educators. However, one respondent noted a specific example of Education Minnesota effectively protected her against arbitrary and political changes which might otherwise have resulted in job loss.

Regarding teacher quality, respondents offered their views of attributes that make a teacher effective. This included the commitment to building relationships of trust with students and families, openness to criticism, willingness to grow and commitment to accountability to students and fellow teachers.

Additionally, strong leadership skills in administrators, particularly principals, are essential for helping teachers succeed. Professional and staff development initiatives were identified as valuable.

Respondents noted that charter schools featured in Waiting for “Superman” as highly successful, but that this was the exception, not the rule. The success of charter schools in Minnesota has varied. While high levels of commitment from family and teachers are an asset to charter schools, it is often unsustainable. There are also costs to public schools when great teachers and students leave their schools.

A number of policy suggestions repeatedly emerged from these conversations:

  • Reassess the hiring process. The hiring criteria should extend beyond teacher licensing. Teachers may be experts in a given subject, but they must be interested in teaching and place children first. Schools should hire principals who have a variety of administrative skills, strong leadership credentials, and a commitment to fostering partnerships with their teams. Teacher and administrator accountability should be increased.
  • Focus on collaboration. At every level in the education system, everyone must be willing to compromise in the interest that everyone gets on board. Educators must created clear channels of communication, collaborate with each other, and establish partnerships and relationships built on trust.
  • An education model for the 21st century. The education model must be updated to meet the needs of today’s children. The use of relevant technology and new instruction methods is necessary.
  • Reassess teacher evaluations. Test scores provide an insufficient criterion for teacher evaluation. Administrators, fellow teachers, and even parents and students should provide continual evaluation and constructive feedback. Administrators in leadership positions should offer tools for improvement such as professional and staff development initiatives.
  • Reassess student development measurement. Reduce the focus on test scores as a measurement of student development. Instead, teachers and administrators should consider social and emotional development through social curriculum and community involvement programs.
  • De-politicize the debate on education. While administrative politics are unavoidable, the education debate should focus on the needs of children. Adults should set their differences aside and collaborate, communicate, and create strong partnerships with each other. We are all responsible for both the success and failures of education.

Waiting for “Superman” invites us to consider the state of public schools in the United States, and in Minnesota specifically, today. A useful lesson we should take away from the documentary is the need for consensus and not polarization on the issue of education. In order to move forward, there needs to be collaboration focused on the future of Minnesota students rather than on adult and political blame games and disagreements.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Mike Downing says:

    December 7, 2010 at 10:38 am

    This is one of the very best, if not the very best, articles ever written at MN2020.

    The article recognizes that we are not improving despite all the $$$ we are throwing at education. We were #1 in the world in K-12 and are now around #26. We need to learn from “best practices” and reform we teach our children. We also need to put students and our country’s future ahead of the adults and especially the teacher’s unions. Our country’s competitiveness and standard of living hangs in the balance.

    Bravo to MN2020 on this well thought out & written article.

  • Alec says:

    December 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

      You talk about emulating “best practices”, but you don’t even get what those are. For example, Finland is #1. They not only pay their Master’s Degree teachers more, they pay for them to get education and content masters degree.

    Finland teachers are 100% unionized with tenure protection. Do you want to emulate systems that are #1, or just the parts that fit your ideology? 

    Performance pay is NOT a best practice. I bet you want that. Putting teachers into classrooms with less training, as little as 5 weeks, is not a best practice, but I bet you want Teach For America.

    We need reform that changes the structure of education, not a reorganization of the chairs on the Titanic. All of the market gimmicks do nothing to reform the culture of teaching. In fact, the market reforms encourage isolation and competition that is contrary to functional, effective schools.

  • Alec says:

    December 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Basically you want to blame the unions and teachers, and then cry because the issue has become so political. The unions are the vanguard of reform that actually is research based and works. Maybe you should interview Saint Paul’s local instead of just blaming them. At the very heart, the current reformers are trying to dismantle labor, and that is criminal. Liberals and progressives have been co-opted out of good intentions. Unions want reform, are reform, and believe in reform. Teachers need support, not this constant bashing.

    You want to help education? Support good teaching. Quit demonizing teachers at the expense of students.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 7, 2010 at 2:19 pm


    I don’t “have a dog in this fight”. I’m a retired senior (BS & MS in Chen. E. from other states) and our children are both college educated (out of this state as well, thank you very much).

    I volunteered at a Twin Cities elementary school three two weeks ago. I observed a best practice that should be used throughout this state simply based on the student performance in this classroom just last year. This remarkable teacher had students at the beginning of the year ranging from 1 percentile to 99 percentile. This teacher was able to get the 1-10 percentile students up to 50+ percentile in just one class year while retaining the 90-99 percentile students.

    This teacher was trained in operational research and had industry experience. It was his unconventional training that created the team teaching, the peer teaching, the web based teaching and the competition with students around the world.

    Yes, he had to waste three years to get a MS in Education because Education MN would not allow such alternative licensing. It was his unique education & training that led him to remarkable classroom results. Check out:

    This is just one little example of probably many examples where the establishment of politicians & teacher unions block educational reform & progress.

  • Alec says:

    December 7, 2010 at 6:35 pm

      Ed Minnesota is on record as supporting a path to licensure for community experts like your friend. Your story just exemplifies how the system works in that respect. There is real value to people with extraordinary life experience bringing that to the classroom. There still have to be high standards for that path though.

      The reformers speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes teacher qualifications. On the one hand, they want to make it more rigorous to become a teacher, which is fabulous. Then they want almost no qualifications whatsoever and no teacher training. You can’t have it both ways Mike.

      I’m glad it worked for your friend, but having life experience and gumption is not a qualification for the most complex job there is. I could give you just as many examples like the psychology major who thought it would be “neat” to be a math teacher. She lasted half a quarter, quit, and doomed the students to a year of substitutes. Life experience has great value, and the training is important too. Again, your friend got to be a teacher, so the system worked.

      on the other hand, last year I started with 64% of my students being below average and below grade level. By the end of the year I had 60% above average. You know what the “reformers” did Mike? They closed down my school.

    Start supporting teachers Mike, and you will be supporting education and students. They are not mutually exclusive inputs in an industrial assembly line.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 8, 2010 at 9:53 am


    Don’t tell me that I don’t fully support teachers and students. My wife was a secondary ed math teacher and dept chair for 10 years. I know her frustration with the current system.

    I fully support teachers but I do not support teacher unions. Teacher unions have shown they are only interested in pay, pensions and work rules. This is a tragedy when the US education remains stagnant compared to the other countries in this global economy who are improving their education systems significantly.

    I would hope that the new legislature offers a Bill in the 2011 session for teacher opt in and teacher opt out options for union membership. It maybe the only way to get a message to the Ed MN union elite. Perhaps then Ed MN would become interested in outcomes & results.

  • Alec says:

    December 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

      Once again you pretty much confirm exactly my point. You are ignorant to all the things the unions do for students. Visit a local and ask them, instead of just listening to people who know nothing.

      You cannot separate the working conditions for teachers from the act of teaching. Saying you support teachers but not teachers unions is an oxymoron. Saying you support students but not the people that support students is an oxymoron.

      If unions are the problem, then how is 100% unionized Finland #1 in the world? If unions are the problem, then why are right to work states correlated with the worst educational outcomes?

      Once again Mike, you offer zero solutions to support teachers. Your solutions are all based on perceived problems, but none of them offer solutions for making teaching better. The unions have great solutions like Peer Assistance and Review teams that identify struggling teachers and then work to help them. I can give you example after example of how the unions work to improve teaching and the environment for teachers and students.
      Our biggest waste of money and resources is that we lose 50% of teachers within 5 years. That is a huge waste of money in training, hiring, talent, and experience.

    Mike, you have made it very, very clear that your number 1 goal is to weaken the teaching profession, not help students. Your number 1 agenda item is to destroy the union, not help kids. If unions were so detrimental then places like Alabama, South Carolina, etc. would have great schools.

    When you start offering solutions that support teachers, and support students, and aren’t just about bashing teachers, then people might actually believe you care about students.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm


    Look at the global education results that were released yesterday. These results clearly show the US is falling behind the rest of the world. The US is making no progress; we are slipping year after year.

    “Once again” you can not refute the fact that the unions are the obstacle to reform and catching up to the educational improvement made in countries that value education to be competitive in the global economy.

    We will agree to disagree. But only you will need to put a mirror up to yourself and your profession as the US continues to slip in educational competitiveness with the rest of the world. My grandchildren will suffer not me.

  • Alec says:

    December 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      When all of the top performing countries are heavily, if not 100% unionized how can you possibly say unions even belong in this conversation? When the highest achieving states are unionized and the lowest achieving states are right to work/non-union, how can you honestly say this is a union issue?

    You cannot refute that you are just anti-labor and anti-union and want to use students as a pawn in an ideological fight. This shouldn’t be an argument about your ideological, adult battles. We need reform Mike, not some bitter fight against workers. Save that for your GOP meetings.

    I find the most disheartening thing is that, when we should be talking about kids, people like you want to make it about your petty grievances that have no basis in reality. We can agree to disagree on ideology, but facts are facts Mike. You have none.

    Please show me some empirical evidence of the negative impact of unions. You can’t Mike. There is none. I can show you reams of correlational evidence that union schools achieve at higher rates. I can share reams of anecdotal evidence of how our unions have programs to improve teaching and the learning environment.

    This shouldn’t even be about union/non-union. It should be about teaching and learning. But, since you want this to be about your anti-labor movement, show me the evidence Mike. Show me the evidence.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Our failure to communicate is based on your parochial pride in MN results only vs my concern about the US results in comparison to other countries. We, as a nation, are slipping in comparison to other nations which ultimately will reduce that standard of living for future generations.

    Be proud of the US decline compared to other countries. I remain concerned for our future generations as a country.

    BTW, it was the teacher unions that got rid of Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.

  • Alec says:

    December 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      I think we share a common disgust with our achievement gap. I truly think that the achievement gap is a shame on our state and nation. Where we differ is that I work every single day to change this terrible gap, while you rant about some ideological vendetta.
      You talk about how you “care” tht we are falling behind other nations, yet totally ignore that those nations are completely unionized with tenure protections.
      You offer zero evidence that unions harm education. It is all isolated anecdotes. I’m going to stop, because it is obvious you care more about your ideological struggles than actual data. Just know tht there are thoe of us out there who are doing the real hard work of real reform, and you certainly make that harder on teachers and students with your baseless and evidence less attacks.
        Unions are not the enemy. Teachers are not the enemy. You have no evidence except for anecdotes in a one sided movie.

  • Alec says:

    December 8, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      check out these actual facts, then decide if you still want to pursue your vendetta against teachers and unions or will you decide it is better to support teachers and students. We all want the best for our students. They should be the focus. Anyway, read the article and let me know if you have any facts.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Check out:

    This is even in the uber-liberal state of California!!

  • Alec says:

    December 11, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Actually disenfranchised parent groups got rid of Michelle Rhee, but if the unions helped, thank God.

    Still waiting on any evidence of statistical significance that unions lower student outcomes Mike.

    Take a look at the video of your hero. In the face of her own incompetence she resorts to force.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I encourage everyone interested in educating our youth to learn about a new organization called Students First. One can learn about this new organization at:

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 13, 2010 at 10:18 am

    This is a great article which identifies an issue in our deep political divide.

    “The moral case for unions, protecting working families from exploitation, does not apply to public employment.”


  • Alec says:

    December 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Funny Mike, how you have gone from “unions are destroying our schools” to “unions just don’t have the right to exist.” I believe the latter is at least an honest position of what you are fighting for. I think anyone who looks to Tim Pawlenty for moral guidance is seriously bereft of understanding, foresight, and compassion.

    Thank you for clarifying your position as having absolutely nothing to do with student outcomes.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 13, 2010 at 5:07 pm


    Your thoughts are irrelevant since you are “accepting the unacceptable”. You accept the fact that the U.S. has dropped to #26 in the world. Sane, rational & logical people do not accept the drop in education results in the U.S.

  • Alec says:

    December 14, 2010 at 8:44 am

      Pretty sure I never “accepted” the fact we had dropped to 26th. Pretty sure I have devoted my life to bridging an achievement gap I find unacceptable and repugnant. Mike, I have devoted my life to changing how we do things in order to help our kids.
      What have you done Mike? You use kids as pawns in your admitted fight to destroy labor and disparage teachers. I hope that some day you can give up your vendetta against teachers and public sector unions.

  • John LaBreche says:

    December 14, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Take a look at Diane Radivitch’s recent article in the New York Review of Books. She compares our system to Finland’s, and shows what we really need to do to improve.

  • W. D. (Bill) hamm says:

    December 14, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Alec, the white collar proffesional organization you call a union is absolutely not about students or what is best for students. You are lying through your teeth as the plain fact is that as teacher union power has grown in the USA student achievement has steadily declined. Most of that has to due with the Unions vast over representation in the Democrat Party as the strongest element of the feminist movement and their moves to use the education system as their private propaganda tool. What we may need here is a students and possibly a parents union to fight back against your organization and to put their needs back on the table with an equal status to your teacher needs. Teachers Unions have never operated with anything but teachers interests as nuber one.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 14, 2010 at 10:24 am


    Once again you misrepresent me. My wife was a teacher and I support teachers and I support students.

    I simply do not support the U.S. outcomes compared to other countries. The U.S. needs fundamental reform to compete in this global economy or our grandchildren’s standard of living will drop compared to previous generations.

    Despite their TV ads, many believe the teacher unions are only concerned with wages, benefits, work rules and pensions. Teacher unions are indeed the main obstacle to education reform. Many in the DFL majority came to this conclusion during the 2010 MN legislative session. Fortunately, there will be education reform bills passed in both the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. The only question is whether or not George Soros, I mean, Mark Dayton will sign the bills.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 14, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Well said W. D. (Bill) Hamm!!!!!

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Of all those suggestions listed above the one I find the most hilarious is to De-politicize the education argument. How do we acomplish this when the teachers union holds about 30& of the bodies present at the state DFL convention. It should be noted that teachers only make up 1% of society. How do we de-politicize when retired teachers and administrators hold about 30% of our school board position. The reality of what your asking for by “de-politicizing the process”, is that we shut up and go home and leave education to you failing gene asses.

  • Alec says:

    December 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    As usual, either of you offer even one speck of evidence to suggest unions are harmful to education. Not one study. Not one statistic. Nothing. Collective bargaining has no distinguishable impact on student achievement. There is simply no data, and it is telling that neither of you anti-teacher zealouts can find any evidence or present any.

    Mike, we agree that we need reform. I am saying we need reform. You want to reform the human resources office. I want to reform the education system.

    I also do not misrepresent you Mike. You have admitted that there is zero evidence that unions are bad for student outcomes, but you just think public sector unions are just “morally” wrong.

    Please gentlemen, please, provide some evidence that proves you aren’t just anti-labor, anti-teacher zealouts. And Mike, I’m proud your wife was a teacher. You remind me of the racist who starts every sentence with, “Some of my best friends are black, but….” Mike, “My wife was a teacher, but…..

    You know that your opponent has lost the argument when they pull out the spooky George Soros boogeyman. As if he has more influence than Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes.

  • Alec says:

    December 14, 2010 at 2:36 pm


    For heaven’s sake, quit focusing on the union and start focusing on students guys. You’re getting the argument nowhere. None of you say wht you will do to help kids.
      There is no correlation relationship between unionization and student outcomes. In fact, Mike, the states with the weakest student achievement, have the weakest outcomes. Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, etc. Now there are many reasons for this, but obviously not having unions hasn’t helped them.

    Before you call someone a liar Mike, check the facts Mike. You are provably wrong Mike, no matter what your gut says. Do you support kids enough to have an open mind and be willing to change it in the fact of facts.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Alec, I got involved with both politics and education when my oldest daughter started school, that was 33 years ago. I spent all of my three kids k-12 years fighting the education sewage we have now. I fought the takeover of all education decition making from local parents and citizen that was pushed by your damn proffesional organization. I stood up in 2 school board election recounts against your candidates, both times after intensive lie campagns by local teachers union members in the last days of the campaign. I remember the teachers battle cry in 1976, “Freedom From Religion”, pushed by Bloom’s Taxonomy. I attended many of the same transformational OBE meetings you did and dared them to throw me out. I was the reason the local school board used to restrict public input until after all decition making was done. I have fought against you and for Children for 33 years and will continue to focus on the problem “Teachers Unions” until you are no longer an obsticle to quality education.

  • Alec says:

    December 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Nice rhetoric Bill. Very loud. Unfortunately loud does not equal correct.

    Do you have one single piece of tangible data that union districts are correlated with poor performance compared to non-union districts?

    It feels like the less and less facts you have, the louder your rhetoric gets. I will concede that you are the loudest. You win that battle.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 14, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    There is a little truth in your rhetoric as well Alec. There are actually three factors tied together; teachers union formatiom in 1963-4, the formation of the Federal Deptment of Education in 1967 coupled with the turning over of directional authority to the Teacher Union, and also important, the elitist education reform movement that gradually started shifting control to the Federal Govenment through the Regional Education Lab system. Anouther factor here in Minnesota that parallels falling education quality is the increased education level of teachers payed for by us in lurative union agreements that were suppose to pay us dividends by improving education. As for compairing non union schools to union schools, every time we try to do that you acuse the non union schools of “cherry picking”, seems you have an answer to cover your backside no matter what we say.

  • Alec says:

    December 14, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      I put the report right up there at top for you. It compares states with strong collective bargaining and states with no collective bargaining. No cherry picking Bill.

      Also, you provided a bunch of historical events you don’t like, but no facts or studies connecting unions to poor student outcomes. I will patiently await your evidence Bill. I have provided mine. It is pretty irrefutable that there is no correlation.

      Bill, let me show you how your “slippery slope A->B->C logic works, or doesn’t.

      In 1947 Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act allowing Right to Work(Anti-Union) Law. In 1970 only 28% of Americans lived under right to work laws. As of 2008, a whopping 40% of Americans lived in right to work law states.

      Taft Hartley allowed right to work laws—>States passed Right to work Laws—> As less and less people live in union friendly states, education has gotten worse—->Right to Work Laws caused the destruction of our education!!!

    Pretty dumb, ehh Bill? Show me some facts and data.

    Let me make it even a little easier: “We eat more ice cream in the summer—> We get less flu in the summer—->Ice Cream protects us from the flu!!”

    That is your logical train Bill.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Our Governor-elect is going to George Soros’s NY Apartment for money & instructions. Governor-elect Dayton is not going to visit Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes for money & instructions.

    Get your facts straight Alec.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 14, 2010 at 9:24 pm


    Alec & Education MN have only one hope of avoiding significant education reform in the 2011 & 2012 legislative sessions. That is to line Gov-elect Dayton’s pockets with PAC etc. money.

  • Alec says:

    December 15, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Again, waiting for a fact based conversation Mike. I’ve given you mine. You have none.

    I guess you are technically correct that Rupert Murdoch did not hold a fundraiser for Republican gov’s. He just cut the middle man and donated $1,000,000 directly to the Republican Governor’s Association.

    Still waiting on any facts whatsoever that collective bargaining hurts education. You responded about 8 times since I first asked you to back up anything you say with any sort of data.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 15, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Sorry Alec but you have to use a reputable source of information, not one of the 2 most Socialist propaganda papers in the country (The Wshington Post). I blog them regularly too Alec and trust nothing they have to say. The fact is Minnesota (not mentioned in you post report) has slid from an education leader in the 1970’s to our lower 1/3rd education loser status as implementation of the education reform effort swept over us. It is also true that your organization supported this movement. It is also true that your organization has done everything possible to undermine control over your organization by local citizens since 1964. You havent shown any other viable reason for Minnesota’s slide from grace.
    Mike, their connections to anti-2nd ammendment George Soros is definitely more than suspect. Those of us who remember the Franken election year and the tremendous number of TV adds placed by Educate Minnesota, are still wondering how Educate Minnesota was able to out spend both political parties, and where they got their money. The worst case for them was that spending all that money only further eroded public support for and trust in their effort and has helped those like me who want to see their power curtailed. I have yet to hear or see a credible accounting of where they got those millions they spent in self promotion.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 15, 2010 at 8:38 am


    What are your reform proposals or do you subscribe to the status quo of being 26th in the world?

  • Alec says:

    December 15, 2010 at 8:58 am

      Please study the NAEP results here:

    We have a long, long way to to go still, and can never quit reforming and getting better, but you need to look at some unbiased data. Please. Visit the NAEP.

    In 1990, 67% of Minnesota 8th graders were at or above basic in math.

    In 2009, 83% were at or above basic.

    Again, we have to get better. We have to. But we are nowhere near the bottom third, and you provide no data to back that up.  If you’re going to just make stuff up, how can we ever move the conversation forward. The gist of the article I provided you came from NAEP statistics. It’s unbiased and the industry standard. 

    I’m still waiting for any sort of citation from you on any sort of evidence.

    The evidence I provided for you was from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the NAEP. This is the widely accepted measure of how students are doing. In general, performance on the NAEP is directly correlated (not necessarily caused)with strong collective bargaining states.

    Do you not believe the NAEP is the accepted exam states use to judge progress?

    I’ve also shown that population in non-union states was at 28% in 1970 and is over 40%. This precipitous decline is directly correlated to any decline in education. This is as likely a cause.

  • Alec says:

    December 15, 2010 at 9:04 am

    One last thing Bill,

    Look at how Minnesota compared against the rest of the country in Math throughout the last generation:

    In the last 20 years we have been consistently 12-15 points above national average in 8th grade math. How is that a decline like you describe, and how are we in the bottom third when we are way above average?

    Before you say I think things are great, we have to have to get better with our underprivileged students. Our achievement gap is a disgrace. We need good reform, not gimmicks and teacher bashers.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 15, 2010 at 9:08 am


    Alec has blind faith in Education MN therefore does not support reform. Fortunately, cracks in the DFL support of Ed MN appeared during the 2010 legislative session. The cracks may widen to be veto proof on 2011 & 2012 reform bills.

    Every Minnesotan should be VERY concerned that Gov-elect Dayton is going to George Soros’s apartment to ask for money. We should speculate on what Soros wants in return.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 15, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Alec, you keep refferancing education establishment sites that are bias and therefore worthless in this discussion. One of the interesting things I find about teachers union activists is their absolute refusal to take input from anywhere but their insider sources. It is politically foolish not to read your oppositions material. Now let us get back to the quality issue. When it comes to read our highest vocabulary for 8th graders was about 12,500 words in 1959, by 1999 we had dropped nationally to about 9000 words. As for math, there is no way to compair now with then, and compairing states against each other under this socialist garbage has no meaning. Let us not forget that the SAT has been normed down 3 times since 1976 and both remedial reading and Math are now part of every college in our state because K-12 teachers are failing to do their job. Now let us look at the bottom 1/3rd issue. Prior to the Socialist education reform movement Minnestota was one of the top 2 education states in the USA because of our grade 10.5 graduation standards. Your organization pushed our legislature into accepting 8th grade minimum competency standars, all the states that held on to their 9th and 10th grade standards have now moved ahead of us and will stay there as long as this remains unchanged.

  • Alec says:

    December 15, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Mike, Thanks for asking. I hope you actually want to hear the answers.

    the answer is three fold, really. I will provide links at the bottom. Collaboration, student data, and training/education. The following are proven methods to improve at-risk schools. These reforms are not as easy as just looking at test scores, but they are more effective.

    1) All teachers should have time built into their schedule to meet with colleagues at least twice a week to go over student data, come up with interventions, and share strategies for the current topics.

        a) By meeting in groups you multiply the skills of all the teachers. You can design common assessments. If my kids do bad at something, I can ask the other teachers what they did, and vice versa. It helps design a curriculum focused on student results.

        b) Our biggest problem is that we lose too many good teachers in their first 5 years. Working together reduces burn out ans saves money in re-training new teachers and hiring new teachers.

        c) It is almost impossible to be a bad teacher when you have to face your colleagues at least twice a week and you have to keep up with them, help them, and share info about your students on a weekly basis. Believe it or not, most teachers want the best from their students.

    2) Real observations. Principals and peer teaching coaches should be in your room, watching you teach, at least once a week. If you identify a struggling teacher, their should be a system in place to help them get better, instead of just shuffling them around the district. 

    3) Have a relentless focus on formative student data. Formative data let’s you help a student and design interventions before it is too late. Summative data should be value added (show growth).

    4)Demand the highest qualified, best trained teachers in the world, and help them get there.;=false

    This from the Economic Policy Institute

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm


    Why do you continue to miss the point on purpose?

    The USA is #26 in the world. The issue is our Country!!

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm


    Are you really a teacher? If so, where do you teach that you can post during school hours?

    Or do you work for Education MN in their propaganda department?

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts & ideas Alec. I will be unable to read them & respond for a few days.

    What stopped Education MN from these approaches and more reform over the last 5 years? This is a serious question since I have talked with a MN Rep on the Education Committees at length on Ed MN’s blocking of any reform.

  • Alec says:

    December 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Dear Bill,
      You keep discounting anything I present no matter how well researched, then say I should read up on your stance. How can I do that when you provide no facts whatsoever?

    Bill, please provide one link or citation showing Minnesota is in the bottom 1/3 of education. Please, just one Bill. I will read your side if you can actually present one.

    Where is any documentation that 33 states are ahead of us? This is your claim Bill. Could you please provide evidence? Your problem is that you won’t enter discussions on a fact based platform.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Alec I get a real charge out of your “Reforms”. 1 and 2 are exactly the way our schools use to work before the present Socialist reform. 3 is more of the socialistic attitudes and behaviour garbage that caracterizes the present socialist garbage instead of measuring “Knoledge” learned via objective rather than ignorand subjective testing. 4 is absolute teachers union sewage, overeducated teachers have never corelated with a better education We don’t need Master degree teachers to do what High school grads use to do better than you. We absolutely need to drop the teaching standars down to a 2 year degree for at least all K-6 students and I strongly support it for the 7-12 as well. This eliminates this elitist holyer than though attitude we as parents are presently putting up with from these overeducated super egos.
    Mike, if you get a chance drop me a line at gpahamm at yahoo.

  • Alec says:

    December 16, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Bill—You have still never, ever documented your statement that 33 states have surpassed us on educational outcomes. It’s not that big of a deal, except you have said it multiple times, and it makes it hard to believe you when you say such obviously outlandish things. 

    Can you document any metric at all that says our system is in the bottom third?

    Also, the reforms I have suggested have turned around schools. The reforms you suggested have not. The fact you want to lower the expectations on teacher quality is quite telling.

    Mike—-Ed MN did not oppose reform. They opposed reforms your friend wanted. There is a big difference. Ed Mn supported many, many reforms that have actually worked to turn around schools.

    For example, one bi-partisan reform was that you should let unqualified teachers teach the neediest students. They wanted to let people teach our most challenging kids with as little as 5 weeks of training!!! That is against all research and common sense. 5 weeks of training to do one of the most complex jobs there is?

    Ed Mn, on the other hand, is on record as supporting people with real life experience such as a 3M engineer for example,having a path to becoming a teacher.

    So you see, Mike, your friend was telling a half- truth. Ed MN resisted HIS reforms, but not reform in general.

    The biggest reform is in the way teachers work together. For 100 years they’ve worked in isolated classroom kingdoms. This has worked for a few in our society, but not most. The problem is that the people successful in that old model are all the policy makers and even educators that benefited from a system that doesn’t work for so many kids.

    The real reform is getting teachers out of their classroom kingdoms and supporting their collaboration.

    All of the reforms you and Bill talk about don’t address any real change in that outdated model. You are just reconfiguring the chairs on the Titanic.

    You want to change how teachers are hired and fired. We want to change how teachers actually work and teach.

    Bill—-still waiting on any documentation on your bottom third claim. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 17, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Let me help you a little here Alec. 8th grade minimum competency standards are the bottom of the barrel bud, not even the Feds will let your union sell us out any worse than that. Let us explore that 8th grade level a little bit here. The 8th grade reading level is the level at which comic books and newspapers are written at. To be able to succeed in college our children need to be able to read at a Technical Manual level or better. For math it is even worse because an 8th grade math level bars our children from blue collar skilled labor jobs. The really sad thing is that some teachers, like yourself, seem to have no concept of this, nor to even care.

  • Alec says:

    December 17, 2010 at 5:50 pm

      Let me make this real simple. [edit]

    We all agree our eduction needs to get better, and we need reform. We need to have an honest discussion.

    You said, numerous times, that Minnesota is in the bottom third for education. This would mean 33 states are ahead of us. I’ve asked you for evidence of this many times and you dodge every single time.

    Were you:

    A) Using a little bit of exaggeration to try and prove a point
    B) Lying because you have no real facts
    C) Telling the truth. There are 33 states better than MN and you can prove it.
    D) A and B

    Please choose the most accurate answer

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    December 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

    You may have a point Alec as I may have gotten a little disflectic with the numbers. You can check quickly by looking up how many states are holding their grad standards above grade 8 and I think you will find that number is about 1/3rd meaning that we are in the bottom 2/3rds, still not a very good argueing position bud.

  • Yi Li You says:

    December 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

    In general, schools in US are very good. It is what other countries are expecting. Almost every kid likes to go to schools here, esp. in MN schools.
      because the education atmosphere is very good. Teachers are encouraging students to explore.
      While Asian countries’ education system only emphasize “filling in the ducks”.
      Take one of my children for example. He went through 2 years of Kindergarten in Singapore education system. He hated it very much. Everyday, we have to drag him out of bed. He simply didn’t want to go. The learning contents are not interesting. Teachers are seldom smiling. Most importantly, teachers don’t encourage students to explore. Every kid has to be same. No wonder we don’t see many scientists coming from Singapore.
    When he came to US, when he was 6, he loves to go to school here, even if he was sick, catch flu, he didn’t want to miss school. He still want to catch school bus.

    In US schools, kids’ creativities are really well developed and trained.
      Look at those “successful students” in US schools, their parents are very involved in kids’ education activities or at least encourage kids to work hard in school.
        On the other hand, look at those failing students, 100% of them don’t have much parental support at all at home.
      We should encourage parents to be more responsible, Like president Obama talked during his campaign speech.
      Compare to Asian countries, China, Singapore, Japan, etc, every student in a US school has more money than their counterparts. 
      US schools, esp. elementary schools, can let kids learn a little more than what they learn currently. Kids in elementary schools are too relaxed. Of course, I don’t mean to follow Asian countries’ schools: only know to “fill in ducks”.
    Just add a little more than current curriculum. Then US students will excell in the world.
      Now it seems US students learn much less than counterparts in other parts of the world. But US students have better imagination and creativity ability.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 20, 2010 at 9:24 am


    I’m a retired 3M Engineer that knows for a fact that Ed MN blocked reform which would have enabled 3M Engineers to immediately qualify for secondary education teaching.

    We need business experience in teaching to help students understand the practical use of math, chemistry, physics & biology. Current teachers are virtually clueless on practical uses of the sciences. These clueless teachers are the reason current students are not going into the sciences like my generation did.

  • Yi Li You says:

    December 21, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    In general, curriculum in US schools, now for MN schools, need to be added some more. Kids in elementary and middle schools can learn some more, although don’t need to follow other countries, like Asian countries, they put too much pressure on students.
      But on the other hand, presure for US students are too little. We need to balance a little.

    Yi Li

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 22, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Yi Li: Well said! I saw what you saw after traveling internationally for over 20 years for 3M. The US education system is no longer competing in this global economy.

    While I agree with your hope that Asian countries reduce the education pressure on their students, I do not see that happening.

  • Mike Downing says:

    December 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

    The next film which should be reviewed is
    “The Cartel”. It is another movie which shows the the national problem with our current education system.

    Fortunately, there are reform minded activists who will affect change & reform during our next legislative session.

  • Alec says:

    December 31, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Actually Yi,
      The United States has too many standards covered an inch deep, where as the Asian countries have fewer standards but have time to cover them in more depth.

      An inch deep and a mile wide is not the way to do education.

  • Alec says:

    December 31, 2010 at 10:52 pm

      There’s the crux Mike. You could have taught, as a 3m engineer. Ed Minnesota encourages and believes in programs to get people with real life experience into the classroom.

      You just didn’t want to do anything to learn the craft of teaching. Your real world experience could have benefited the kids, but you didn’t think you should have to learn effective pedagogy, learning styles, etc. etc.

      In all fairness Mike, you blocked yourself from teaching. Not Ed Minnesota. Teaching is one of the most complex endeavors you could ever undertake. It should require higher standards, not lower.

  • Alec says:

    December 31, 2010 at 10:58 pm

      We have to get better. We have to reform. With that out of the way, let’s review the facts once again. The old BST’s were 8th grade level. The new MCA II’s are Advanced Algebra.

      Even if our exit exams were 8th grade level, it wouldn’t mean our kids didn’t know more than that.
      I have had more students than I can count move to relatives in Wisconsin because the Wisconsin tests were easier.

    Now, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, is the one test that all states take, so you can do a direct state to state comparison.

    You said there were 33 states performing better than us.

    2009 8th grade math-Minnesota number 2 in the nation. 1 state better than us.

    2009 8th grade reading-Minnesota #10. 9 states better than us.

    2009 Science-Minnesota 9th. 8 states better than us.

    Seriously Bill. Even if our test was just 8th grade level, which it is not, it wouldn’t tell you a good state by state comparison.

  • Alec says:

    December 31, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    That was the BST. The MCA II goes to Advanced Algebra.

    Here are the sample items for the math test our kids take. I challenge you to get half correct.



  • Alec says:

    December 31, 2010 at 11:05 pm

      The point you are missing is that our schools need to get better. Real reform needs to happen. Let’s focus on reforming how our schools are structured and how we teach, instead of your ideological crusade against unions.

      The point, Mike, is to do better for students and quit worrying about political goals.

  • Yi Li Y ou says:

    January 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Generally, kids in US schools have better hands-on abilities, while Asian students only know how to read, and study and take tests.
      If US schools learn a little more in current curriculum, US students will excell students in other parts of the world.
      I don’t agree with some people’s views that: some people move to Wisconsin because tests in Wiscounsin is easier.
      I think tests in US schools are already quite easy, no matter what state.

    Yi Li

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm


    I enjoyed my 1 1/2 years of teaching undergraduate chemical engineers. I received a NSF Teaching Fellowship to do so.

    I was regarded as a good teacher since I had an excellent grasp of theory & practice of the courses that I taught.

    Once again, it was Ed MN that prohibited me and my colleagues to teach when we were eminently more qualified and effective than the vast majority of M<N high school teachers who are protected by Ed MN.

  • Alec says:

    January 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    There are light years difference between teaching and engaging undergrads who come from good academic backgrounds, want to and are paying to be there, and teaching high school kids who have probably struggled with education their whole lives, may have a lot of holes in their learning, and may or may not want to be there. The fact that you think they are analogous just shows how little you know about teaching.

    Look, if I wanted to be a doctor because I’ve seen ER a few times they wouldn’t let me. Does that mean they are standing in my way?

    What do you think the criteria should be for just letting people teach? Seriously? Can anyone teach? Teaching is the most complex job I have ever had. It should be more rigorous to take on teaching, not less rigorous.

    There are exceptions, and maybe you are one of them, but in general, teachers need a good background in content and in education. You need both.

  • Yi Li You says:

    January 10, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Thank you Joe.

    I feel curreculum in US schools should increase some, plus the hands-on ability training. US students will really be better than counterparts in the world.

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Funny thing Joe is that my students did VERY well in my classes. So I must have “understood teaching”!