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Documentary Is A Catalyst For Discussing Education In San Diego

Above: Geoffrey Canada in "Waiting for Superman."

Audio

Aired 10/14/10

Countless organizations devote money and research to trying to fix the public school system in the United States and kids keep falling farther behind. Why do you think people disengage from talking about education? The United Way of San Diego is using the momentum of a new film, "Waiting for Superman," to start a local conversation about the troubles in our schools and what we can do to fix them. We'll talk about the difficulties faced by students and teachers in San Diego County and find out what the United Way is doing to address the future of education here.

Event: United Way's 'Waiting For Superman' Private Screening- ALL SEATS ARE RESERVED

  • Landmark Hillcrest Cinema, 3965 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103
  • Thursday, October 21, 2010
  • 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Age Requirement: 13+
  • Cost: Free

Full Event Information

Video
Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim discusses his documentary "Waiting for Superman."

Countless organizations devote money and research to trying to fix the public school system in the United States and kids keep falling farther behind. Why do you think people disengage from talking about education? The United Way of San Diego is using the momentum of a new film to start a local conversation about the troubles in our schools and what we can do to fix them. "Waiting for Superman," Davis Guggenheim's (An Inconvenient Truth) new documentary, dives deep inside our nation's public school system. A free community screening will take place on Thursday October 21 at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinema. Following the screening, former NBC anchor Marty Levin will moderate an open discussion about the future of education in San Diego. RSVP here.

Guests

Doug Sawyer, President & CEO United Way of San Diego.

Dr. Joseph Johnson, executive director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation at San Diego State University.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. What the documentary An Inconvenient Truth did to promote a conversation about global warming, some say a new documentary by the same director is doing for education. The film is called Waiting for Superman. And it's already been the focal point for cable news networks and national magazines to explore the pitfalls of the U.S. education system. Now educators and civic leaders in San Diego are preparing to screen the film to start a local conversation about the troubles in our schools and what we can do to fix them. Join me to discuss the Waiting for Superman screenings sponsored by follow San Diego United Way are my guests. Doug Sawyer is president and CEO of United Way San Diego. And Doug, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

DOUG SAWYER: Thanks, Maureen. Glad to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Joseph Johnson is director of the National for Urban School Transformation at SDSU. Dr. Johnson, good morning.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now. Let me start with you, Doug. Because perhaps you could tell us just a little bit about this pursuit Waiting for Superman. What issue does it raise about education?

DOUG SAWYER: It raise a gamut of the issues all surrounding the issue that all of our children needed to have a good education and it talks about some of the things that may be getting in the way but more than anything else. What it does is it starts a conversation. And that's where the United Way is very, very involved is we want people to be discussing education. Because frankly, it's, our education system today is failing our children. We can't allow that to continue.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why is San Diego getting involved in this?

DOUG SAWYER: Because nationally, we work off of an agenda which talks about education health, and welfare. And education, this is education we are involved because we feel that we can help with be a catalyst for a conversation surrounding the education system.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Dr. Johnson, the filmmaker in this, Davis Guggenheim says his film is catalyst. He wants people to start talking about this topic. And he also says that one of the problems is a lot of people disengaged from talking about the problems in our education system. Why do you think that is?

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Well, I think that for many ordinary citizens, these are complex issues and often the part of the system that we personally touch so we know about our chime's school and the experience that we have in a school and often times, I think, citizens are overwhelmed by what they hear. It's hard to know exactly what the truth is, and so the reason that we have this conversation about where do we stand in public education, what are the strengths, what are the needs, what are the opportunities to serve children better?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the director of Waiting for Superman always says there were a lot of things that people think that they don't talk about when it comes to education. They think that maybe, maybe those kids over there really can't learn. Maybe there's a school over there that, you know, is really doesn't have the perhaps the kind of education that you would want. These kinds of things that people don't sit down and talk about. Why don't think that is? Why do you think there's these deep sort of misconception of that? The ability for schools to teach and for kids to learn.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Yeah. I think that for years. I think the mid '60s, there has been data that's put forth suggesting that schools don't make that much of a difference. That it's primarily sociocultural factors. It's the family income. It's other kinds of issues that influence whether or not children will do well in school. The fact of the matter, however, is that, there's more and more compelling examples that suggest that that just isn't true. That, in fact, we have, in many schools, not enough schools but still a good number of schools that provide solid evidence that race, family income, language backgrounds, other social cultural factors, do not need to predict whether or not children get a quality education. So I think that's part of the myth that needs to be interesting.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Interesting. I'm speaking with Dr. Joseph Johnson. He's director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation at SDSU. And Doug Sawyer, president and CEO of United Way of San Diego. We're talking about the screening that the United Way is going to be supporting for the documentary Waiting for Superman. And what is the United Way's strategy, Doug, in terms of, as you say starting this conversation, structuring this conversation so that the barriers that people feel to talking about these issues are lifted?

DOUG SAWYER: We believe there needs to be a number of things happen over a fairly long period of time. That just has been accelerated by the movie. But what we need to do is we need to bring everybody together to talk about what the issues are. And I think in response to your last question, the United Way needs the pull people together. We don't take positions. We just know that the kids need to be taken care of. And we're look at -- just to use one example. Over the class of 2008, there were 7300 kids in San Diego that didn't graduate out of that class; 6000 kids a day drop out of school. And so we're working toward the end of reducing the dropout rate by half over the next ten years. And this awareness that's being created by this movie, I think, can help accelerate the process. But we're going to be working very diligently to bring all people to the table so that we can have this conversation that Joe's talking about to eliminate this "I don't know enough" or "everything is too polarized." We need to get past that for the benefit of our children.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Johnson, I'm interested in hearing about what -- how many teachers might be going to this screening because I know that there's been a controversy about this documentary Waiting for Superman because it sort of challenges teachers' unions in some ways, teach some teachers have found not to their liking. I'm wondering if you feel that teachers get too much of the blame when kids don't learn.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: As I have read all the material about the movie, I am certainly concerned about the way at least that written material seems to suggest that the problem is all about teachers. The industrialist William Dimming used to say our system is structured to achieve the results that were currently --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: And I will argue that teachers didn't create the system. They're in a critical part of the system. I think that we will fall short of our opportunities to help children if we frame this in a way where we don't all -- administrators, teachers, parents, communities, state and federal politicians -- if we frame this in a way where we miss seeing our share of the responsibility, then we short change children. And so, that's certainly one of my concerns, while the movie addresses a really important problem, is suggest a more perhaps myopic look at what the solutions might be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Johnson, you are the director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation. You've been studying high performing urban schools for if past five years, what are some of the characteristics that those schools share?

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON one of things that we see in these very high performing urban school that still serve very low income communities is we see very strong leadership that's working with teachers in ways that improve the quality of instructions, improves the rigor of curricula, improves relationship with parents and community. And that leadership creates a climate or a culture in which students want to come to school. Parents want to be engaged. Teachers feel supported and appreciated for their contribution and so the school becomes a very functional environment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's not just a school anymore. It's like the hub of a lot of activity.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's very interesting. I want to ask you, Doug Sawyer, after you have this screening and after you have this conversation, this coming together of community members and educators in San Diego, how are you going to further that momentum? Where are you going to take all this?

DOUG SAWYER: The very first thing we're going to do is there are as number of other entities. There are local private showings also, and we're going to gather those people that did the private showing. We're going to compare outcomes and comments and then we're goings to, as a group, decide where going we're going to go from there to help this issue.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are some of your -- for continuing?

DOUG SAWYER: We're not going to know until we see the movie and we see what people want. The one thing we do know is a conversation needs to continue. And we're going to do the best we can to include everybody and move forward. We talk about teachers and teachers are absolutely the heroes in our school. But we also know that kids are failing, so we're involved making sure that the teachers are involved in this conversation. In fact both the NEA and the AFT have ask their teacher to be involved in this conversation on a national basis and local basis, that where we can get that side of the issue along with just regular parents being involved. In the end it comes down to the entire community has to participate, and our job is to find a way to allow that to happen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you getting ready for a lively meeting?

DOUG SAWYER: We're getting ready for a very lively meeting. But again the United Way has a very long history of being able to, on whatever the subject is, bring people together in a situation where everybody can feel safe and free to comment. That is how we end up making progress.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, there are so many more things that we talk about if we have the time. Charter school, featured very prominent in this film, magnet school, the responsibility of parents and teachers. I know that this school -- this documentary highlights the lives of different children, different individual children as they struggle and their parents struggle, to get them the best possible education that they can in the school districts that they're in. And that's why it's caused so much -- I think it's hit so many people so deeply around the country. I want to let our listeners know at a screening for Waiting for Superman and a community discussion of the future of education in San Diego will be held a the Landmark Hillcrest Cinema on Thursday, October 21 at 7:00 p.m. For more information, you can go to our website. It's KPBS.org/TheseDays. And Doug Sawyer and Dr. Joseph Johnson, I want to thank you both for speaking with us today.

DOUG SAWYER: Thank you for having us

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Thank you very much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. What the documentary An Inconvenient Truth did to promote a conversation about global warming, some say a new documentary by the same director is doing for education. The film is called Waiting for Superman. And it's already been the focal point for cable news networks and national magazines to explore the pitfalls of the U.S. education system. Now educators and civic leaders in San Diego are preparing to screen the film to start a local conversation about the troubles in our schools and what we can do to fix them. Join me to discuss the Waiting for Superman screenings sponsored by follow San Diego United Way are my guests. Doug Sawyer is president and CEO of United Way San Diego. And Doug, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

DOUG SAWYER: Thanks, Maureen. Glad to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Joseph Johnson is director of the National for Urban School Transformation at SDSU. Dr. Johnson, good morning.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now. Let me start with you, Doug. Because perhaps you could tell us just a little bit about this pursuit Waiting for Superman. What issue does it raise about education?

DOUG SAWYER: It raise a gamut of the issues all surrounding the issue that all of our children needed to have a good education and it talks about some of the things that may be getting in the way but more than anything else. What it does is it starts a conversation. And that's where the United Way is very, very involved is we want people to be discussing education. Because frankly, it's, our education system today is failing our children. We can't allow that to continue.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why is San Diego getting involved in this?

DOUG SAWYER: Because nationally, we work off of an agenda which talks about education health, and welfare. And education, this is education we are involved because we feel that we can help with be a catalyst for a conversation surrounding the education system.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Dr. Johnson, the filmmaker in this, Davis Guggenheim says his film is catalyst. He wants people to start talking about this topic. And he also says that one of the problems is a lot of people disengaged from talking about the problems in our education system. Why do you think that is?

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Well, I think that for many ordinary citizens, these are complex issues and often the part of the system that we personally touch so we know about our chime's school and the experience that we have in a school and often times, I think, citizens are overwhelmed by what they hear. It's hard to know exactly what the truth is, and so the reason that we have this conversation about where do we stand in public education, what are the strengths, what are the needs, what are the opportunities to serve children better?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the director of Waiting for Superman always says there were a lot of things that people think that they don't talk about when it comes to education. They think that maybe, maybe those kids over there really can't learn. Maybe there's a school over there that, you know, is really doesn't have the perhaps the kind of education that you would want. These kinds of things that people don't sit down and talk about. Why don't think that is? Why do you think there's these deep sort of misconception of that? The ability for schools to teach and for kids to learn.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: Yeah. I think that for years. I think the mid '60s, there has been data that's put forth suggesting that schools don't make that much of a difference. That it's primarily sociocultural factors. It's the family income. It's other kinds of issues that influence whether or not children will do well in school. The fact of the matter, however, is that, there's more and more compelling examples that suggest that that just isn't true. That, in fact, we have, in many schools, not enough schools but still a good number of schools that provide solid evidence that race, family income, language backgrounds, other social cultural factors, do not need to predict whether or not children get a quality education. So I think that's part of the myth that needs to be interesting.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Interesting. I'm speaking with Dr. Joseph Johnson. He's director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation at SDSU. And Doug Sawyer, president and CEO of United Way of San Diego. We're talking about the screening that the United Way is going to be supporting for the documentary Waiting for Superman. And what is the United Way's strategy, Doug, in terms of, as you say starting this conversation, structuring this conversation so that the barriers that people feel to talking about these issues are lifted?

DOUG SAWYER: We believe there needs to be a number of things happen over a fairly long period of time. That just has been accelerated by the movie. But what we need to do is we need to bring everybody together to talk about what the issues are. And I think in response to your last question, the United Way needs the pull people together. We don't take positions. We just know that the kids need to be taken care of. And we're look at -- just to use one example. Over the class of 2008, there were 7300 kids in San Diego that didn't graduate out of that class; 6000 kids a day drop out of school. And so we're working toward the end of reducing the dropout rate by half over the next ten years. And this awareness that's being created by this movie, I think, can help accelerate the process. But we're going to be working very diligently to bring all people to the table so that we can have this conversation that Joe's talking about to eliminate this "I don't know enough" or "everything is too polarized." We need to get past that for the benefit of our children.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Johnson, I'm interested in hearing about what -- how many teachers might be going to this screening because I know that there's been a controversy about this documentary Waiting for Superman because it sort of challenges teachers' unions in some ways, teach some teachers have found not to their liking. I'm wondering if you feel that teachers get too much of the blame when kids don't learn.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: As I have read all the material about the movie, I am certainly concerned about the way at least that written material seems to suggest that the problem is all about teachers. The industrialist William Dimming used to say our system is structured to achieve the results that were currently --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes.

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON: And I will argue that teachers didn't create the system. They're in a critical part of the system. I think that we will fall short of our opportunities to help children if we frame this in a way where we don't all -- administrators, teachers, parents, communities, state and federal politicians -- if we frame this in a way where we miss seeing our share of the responsibility, then we short change children. And so, that's certainly one of my concerns, while the movie addresses a really important problem, is suggest a more perhaps myopic look at what the solutions might be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dr. Johnson, you are the director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation. You've been studying high performing urban schools for if past five years, what are some of the characteristics that those schools share?

DR. JOSEPH JOHNSON one of things that we see in these very high performing urban school that still serve very low income communities is we see very strong leadership that's working with teachers in ways that improve the quality of instructions, improves the rigor of curricula, improves relationship with parents and community. And that leadership creates a climate or a culture in which students want to come to school. Parents want to be engaged. Teachers feel supported and appreciated for their contribution and so the school becomes a very functional environment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's not just a school anymore. It's like the hub of a lot of activity.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Reason4Ed'

Reason4Ed | October 14, 2010 at 10 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Note to Doug Sawyer: The film you're really looking for is "Race to Nowhere" .

( | suggest removal )