The Antidote to Anti-Teacher Films

The film considered by some to be the anti-Waiting for Superman is now widely available for viewing online, on television, and on DVD. The documentary American Teacher, released last year under the auspices of The Teacher Salary Project, is a straightforward look at the rewards and challenges of teaching across the country and promotes no particular political agenda—a criticism leveled against the earlier film.

American Teacher is written by Dave Eggers—who kick-started a national tutoring and writing program for children—directed by Vanessa Roth, and narrated by actor Matt Damon.

Five teachers from four different regions of the country tell their personal stories. They work long hours for not enough pay. They often have to pay out of their own pockets for school supplies. One is working a second job to earn enough to support his family. One pregnant young teacher, unsure whether she would return to the classroom after the birth of her baby, is back after a six-week leave and is stressed about time away from her family and finding an empty room where she can express her milk. Another teacher, a dedicated leader in his school, eventually leaves to join his family’s real estate business. It simply pays better for a lot less work.


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Because—you know—nobody cares more for New York public school children than hedge fund managers, an executive for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and a divisive former Washington D.C. schools superintendent

Now that the nation has seen how an influx of cash from rich, well-connected conservatives can impact the outcome of a local political campaign (the defeat of the recall vote of Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, a huge blow to organized labor), it is time for New Yorkers to gear up for the 2013 mayoral election, in which the outcome will decide the city’s education policy for the next four, eight, or  12 (?) years.

Assuming Michael Bloomberg doesn’t find a way to run for a fourth consecutive term of office, next year’s race will be an opportunity to take the city’s schools in a new direction, or to continue with the current “reform” measures, designed to render the teacher’s union less powerful and to reap benefits for the private sector.

Pursuing the latter alternative is StudentsFirstNY, founded in April as a spinoff of former D.C. schools superintendent Michelle Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst. She, along with Joel Klein, executive vice president of the News Corporation and former New York City schools chancellor, Eva S. Moskowitz, founder and chief executive of Success Charter Network and a former city councilwoman, and Edward Koch, partner at Bryan Cave LLP and former New York City mayor, are among those listed on StudentsFirstNY’s board. Topping that list—perhaps in more ways than one—is  billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, chairman and C.E.O. of Tudor Investment Corporation and founder of the Robin Hood Foundation. He is number 330 on Forbes list of top billionaires in the world.

A reference to Rhee’s taping her students’ mouths shut during her first year of teaching (See We Don’t Need Another Hero 10/15/2010)  Source: Living Behind the Gates (

In 2013, expect to hear more calls for charter school expansion (as the city continues to shut down failing public schools) and support for efforts to roll back teacher tenure and seniority rights. To be sure, StudentsFirstNY, with its huge war chest, will be sending out the message to vote for candidates who are in line with these positions.

A countervailing force began coalescing in May among the city’s unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, to thwart StudentsFirstNY. Dubbed New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, the organization is getting its game face ready for the elections next year. “New Yorkers for Great Public Schools refuses to let the education of the next generation be sold to the highest bidder,” it says on its Web site.

Summer Reading: The lessons of Wisconsin

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Advice to Cathleen Black? Get a Public Education!


Cathleen Black, New York City’s former schools chancellor did the honorable thing this week by resigning. When she took over the position from Joel Klein last November, there was an outcry from parents, teachers and others in the education community concerning her qualifications. After all, she had no previous experience in education, not to mention in public schools. She went to private schools, as did her children. Basically, the nation’s largest public school system was going to be run by someone learning on the job.

A recent poll showed that New Yorkers had little confidence in her ability to run the school system, giving her a 17 percent job-approval rating. And no matter how smart or how effective a business manager she is (Black was a successful magazine publisher for more than 30 years), she would never be able to implement NYC school policy without the support of its key constituents.

So, resigning (at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s urging) was the correct move on her part and shows good judgment rather than failure. Even she, herself, admitted she was unprepared. But her involvement in public education doesn’t have to end with the chancellorship. If she really cares, she now has the time to familiarize herself with the complexities of delivering education to an ever-growing, culturally diverse public school population. She can start with taking some education courses and actually spending time teaching in a classroom—she’s not too old! She could volunteer to tutor students after school. Or teach a high school course on running a magazine.

I welcome suggestions from readers on how Cathie Black might earn her chops in the field of public education. Please post them here!

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Of Rats and Men: Sanitation and Transportation in NYC

Nobody loves rats, especially if they’re crawling on your face! So, New Yorkers were justifiably creeped out by a YouTube video that showed a rat on a N.Y.C. subway car fearlessly climbing onto a sleeping passenger and staring him in the face before the man woke up and swatted him. The rat then ran down the middle of the car while other passengers looked on.

Some commentators and news reporters, such as the ones in the above ABC broadcast, question whether the video was authentic or a hoax, because the rat appeared too friendly and too clean and was probably somebody’s pet or lab experiment. New York subway rats are supposed to look grimy, mangy, and tough.

One thing is for real, though: the rat-infested subway stations and the garbage that attracts Rickey, Rizzo and Ben. Who can blame them for seeking warmth on subway cars during the harsh winter and partaking of the lavish feast that some 5 million passengers leave behind each weekday?

Washington D.C. smugly compares its relatively clean Metro to the festering garbage heap that is the N.Y.C. subway, most notoriously in an ad campaign three years ago. But New Yorkers, alone, aren’t responsible for the mess. Tourists are just as careless. And budget cuts to the Metropolitan Transit Authority in the past two years haven’t helped. Subways are getting dirtier, according to a survey released in June by the Straphangers Campaign, a watchdog group. There are fewer workers and cuts in cars and service. In many subway stations, garbage sits for days in “trash rooms” after it is collected from waste cans on the platforms, providing virtual Ritz Hotels for rats.

It is clear that these four-legged critters are more resourceful and resilient than we are. Setting poison traps is not going to get rid of them—they will survive! But if we don’t want them to become a health hazard to us, we have to stop encouraging their propagation with free food. And if NYC  doesn’t want to get dissed by DC, it shouldn’t give short shrift to the people it hires to clean up its subway—a dangerous and dirty job.

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New Year, New Name

I decided to change the name of my blog from the generic Patrice D. Johnson’s Blog to Patrice D. Johnson’s End of Daze.  When I started posting, I didn’t really know in what direction I was heading, only that I wanted to inform my readers and clarify misconceptions. Because of my brief career as a teacher and my interest in education and education policy, my posts were focused on that topic.

There is so much confusion surrounding the issue of schools and how to make them better, the phrase, “School Daze”—as in the title of the Spike Lee film—popped into my head. As apocalyptic as End of Daze may sound, I am hopeful that in some way my writing will have a positive effect and help clear up some of the foggy thinking on education and other bewildering subjects in the future.

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We Don’t Need Another Hero

I didn’t get an invitation to a free screening of Waiting for Superman. So, money being tight, I haven’t seen it yet. Recently a friend treated me to a movie, and Waiting for Superman and the bank-heist action thriller The Town were showing at the same multiplex. Given a choice between a movie starring Harlem Children’s Zone’s Geoffrey Canada and D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and one starring Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm, I chose the latter. Come on, who wouldn’t?


The media blitz surrounding the release of Waiting for Superman in late September was hard to escape, though. NBC kicked off a week of nightly education news coverage with a town hall meeting, timed to the movie’s release. Oprah hailed it as “the movie that could revolutionize America’s schools,” and Rhee as a “one-woman tornado at the center of a Washington, D.C. storm.” I feel that I’ve read enough reviews, news and commentary to know what it’s about, but I will reserve judgment until I’ve seen it for myself.

In the meantime, as I mentioned in my last post, D.C.’s education-reform mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated in the Democratic primary, and, as expected, Rhee turned in her resignation on October 13. Who knows where she will turn up next, but she is another example of the kinds of policy wonks with little or no experience in the classroom who think they know better than veteran teachers how to educate the nation’s children.

Rhee taught in a predominantly black Baltimore elementary school for all of three years as a fast-track recruit for Teach for America before starting the New Teacher Project, her base for advocating  nationwide education reform. Her first year as a teacher was disastrous, which is not unusual; many new teachers struggle through their first year. But listening to her gleefully telling tales of taping pupils’ mouths shut to keep them quiet makes one wonder whether she should have been sent to the rubber room with the other “bad” teachers that she was so eager to fire.


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In the News…

For more commentary on hedge funds and charter schools, read Margaret Kimberley’s blog entry in the current issue of Kimberley writes about how hedge fund investors are bankrolling insurgent candidates in local elections to challenge anti-charter school incumbents.

In one local primary, however, a charter-school proponent was defeated after one term in office. Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty lost to City Council Chairman Vincent Gray in what could be seen as a vote of no-confidence for the educational policies of the mayor and his controversial, anti-union schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. Will she be getting the pink slip? Stay tuned…


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