Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Waiting for Superman?

I missed a big twitterfight yesterday about the film Waiting for Superman. So I thought I'd put up a few of my many thoughts about school reform issues.

1. I haven't seen WFS. I agree that most popular documentaries are manipulative and should be taken with a large grain of salt.

2. As I tweeted before "good school" mostly means "good students."

2a. US schools aren't as bad as you think, it's the students that are bad. I believe outcomes for Chinese students here are much more similar to Chinese students in Singapore than they are to Chinese students in China.

2b. There is probably no magic bullet in school reform, and even things that are most worth doing will probably show small effects.

3. Disappointingly, research shows that charters overall haven't appeared to perform very well.

4. Nevertheless, there is a subset of charters that does appear to perform better. It would be nice to allow those charter models to expand. But there are many political obstacles to opening new charters.

5. Personally, I would like to see less power for unions of all kinds, and public sector unions especially. I think teachers are great, and I admit that unions help them get higher compensation and less mistreatment by employers, things which I fully support. But this is outweighed by the negative effects of unions: they block all chances for positive reform other than tinkering around the edges, they often protect the jobs of even very incompetent teachers, and they lobby for compensation structures (e.g. DB pensions, extra pay for master's degrees) that are bad for the system.


  1. .

    Yeah, I pretty much agree with all of this.

  2. .

    Sorry, that was me. I was not speaking on behalf of the Berkeley Ward.

  3. Hi Chris,

    It's based on various things I've read. Googling around about the 2009 PISA results gives me these:

    Or the report linked here:

    (We don't have PISA scores for China as a whole, just for a possibly-not-random sample of students in Shanghai, whose scores topped the world. But most of China is still desperately poor, and I am confident their scores would reflect that.)