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Not just superMAN, but superMEN and superWOMEN


A good education is luck?

I am slightly behind the times in that I finally had the chance to watch Waiting for Superman. But seeing that our education system has not drastically improved in the last year since this movie came out, I believe that I have seen it well within what would be considered “in time” to take action. If you have not seen this movie, you need to put this in your Netflix queue; but as a warning: it is an incredibly difficult movie to sit through. It is perhaps one of the most depressing documentaries I have seen. I do not recall what type of reviews this movie got when it came out, and if or if not what I have just mentioned was the consensus about the movie.  But the movie does dramatically illustrates the fact that the American school system is not adequately preparing a majority of the children that go through it for sustained employment in their future.

Specifically what I wanted to investigate more was the brief introduction of Michelle Rhee’s summer 2008 radical proposal of offering a choice to teachers to be able to earn up to twice as much if he/she gave up tenure. It was just a brief feature of the proposal, showcasing the potential for reform if it worked, and in the director’s opinion, the devastating event that the proposal was deemed so threaten that it was not even put to a vote.  This proposal was incredibly intriguing for me because earlier in the movie it mentioned some interesting statistics on the number of teachers who have lost their teaching credentials to doctors and lawyers who lose their licenses. The numbers were 1 in 57 doctors, 1 in 97 lawyers and 1 in 2500 teachers who have lost their credentials for malpractice. So with these numbers, why not have a proposal to take another look at teacher contracts?  But let me poke some holes in the proposal.

1. I do not know how the worst teachers (who probably know that they are the “lemons”, and probably would choose tenure) get eliminated by this system/proposal?

2. The extra funding is provided by private sources which is not sustainable.

3. There does not seem to be a solid assessment process for those who choose to give up tenure for their “merit-based” raises.

Perhaps a better proposal is to change how K-12 teachers get tenure. What if K-12 teachers went through the rigorous process of academics for tenure? Should K-12 work like the ivory tower? hm, imagine for a moment what that would look like. just briefly: pros – incredible innovation not just out of universities but also high schools? cons – Only a small percentage are deemed “qualified”. In 2006, only 15% of PhDs hold tenure track positions. But like Rhee’s proposal, it does not eliminate current poorly performing teachers. It is quite interesting and fascinating that even the potential to earn six figures as a teacher was no where close to being competitive to having tenure.  Ms. Slyvia, “Don’t as me to give up tenure, not even for a moment.”

* I do have to note that I believe that every single one of the kids that are featured in the movie have the chance to be successful. **spoiler: just because a few of them do not get into their charter school of choice, it is not the end for them as the movie might imply. But it is a movie and directors do have cinematic freedom to captivate an audience. But I also do not think that the drama dilutes the take home message: there needs to be a be a better way of educating children in the US so that we can be as competitive and innovative as we can be as a nation.

Josh Eidelson’s blog post (from back in Feb 2011) that also asks a lot of very good questions about the movie.


Letter to House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee

Activity: Engaging in the political discourse.

Resource: One of the resources that started me on this journey was Act4Chemistry, the ACS legislative network. Their Office of Public Affairs will every now and then send out emails that update its members about the workings of congress that most effects its (largely chemists based) membership. They encourage its members to engage in the political discourse by encouraging them to send letters to policy makers if they also agree with the society’s stance on a particular issue.

Latest Issue: There is a letter being circulated by Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) as a bipartisan effort to continue prioritizing innovation and scientific research in building a better America. The letter encourages House appropriators to support innovation fueled by scientific research – specifically research made possible through investments in the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science.

Here is what I would add to my letter: As a scientist who cares deeply about the environment and knows that it is essential that we begin the transition to alternative fuels and forms of renewable energy to both satisfy our exorbitant use of energy and to protect our planet, DOE is one of the key agencies to help us reach those goals. Not only do options like alternative fuels and forms of renewable energy save our valuable resources, it also creates jobs, boosting the economy. Yes, the workforce will need a new set of skills and will have distinct expertise but that is not to say these cannot be taught or gained. We must head towards this direction to be competitive.  I am not only a scientist but a part of the future workforce and therefore equally as worried about the future; so in this case I hope that funding towards DOE will continue to help the nation meet long-term competitive and energy needs so then I can be a part of that journey.

If you also feel that sustained and reliable funding to DOE is important, you can submit your own letter showing your support here. Add your own experiences and reasons why the Office of Science is a vital program and that responsible investments there will greatly benefit the Nation.