I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Brilliantly crafted video. I’m interested to see what the movie will be like. I’m pretty cynical when it comes to all this talk about education reform…and some questions come to mind when I hear facts like these:

    What are some factors that lead to success for education in other countries? (i.e. economic politics, cultural norms, special education protocol, etc.).

    Are poverty/other social problems going to be solved by “fixing” education? Because it doesn’t seem linear to me…more like a vicious cycle, which makes it hard to tell whether poor education gives way to poverty, or poverty negatively affects education.

    Who are stakeholders in education? Who’s making the decisions?

    And on and on….

    I guess I’ll be curious to see the film this fall. I agree that our system is broken, I’m just skeptical of all the great “fixes” that have been mentioned over the past year.

  2. There’s something seriously wrong with isolating education from a host of social problems like poverty, health care, criminal justice (not mentioned, of course), mental health, drug use – maybe SOCIAL JUSTICE should get mentioned? – and suggesting that the answer IS education, as if it does or could exist outside of a broader social context and was in fact the single determining factor in the bigger picture.

    That viewpoint is generally used to promote a bunch of things, not all of them awful, but generally not the sort of big picture solution that Geoffrey Canada tries to pursue with the Harlem Children’s Zone. While I disagree with some of Canada’s specific views on schools, I fully concur that neighborhoods and communities must be included in any attempt to build effective schools.

    I don’t know where these WAITING FOR SUPERMAN folk are going with their video, but to say that I’m skeptical that we’re going to hear something useful is putting it mildly based on what is said in this particular promotion.

  3. I’m not sure how I feel either.

    It’s pretty.

    But I don’t see a lot of content.

    Even the title alone feeds into the idea that all you need to fix education is a superhero or two. Haven’t we seen this story before?

  4. For a country where there are concrete problems with the system itself (I’m looking over the border at you, NCLB), this video spends far too much time talking about side effects which, as Michael points out, form a web of cause-and-effect. Never mind correlation’s inability to determine causation – these problems cause each other.

    I notice they did mention “30 students” in Ms. Hypothetical’s classroom. I kept waiting for that to be highlighted as part of the problem.

  5. Hey Dan,

    Why do you feel conflicted?

    I’m not an educator (or in education), but my wife is. I’m curious as to what your perspective is.


  6. the trailer on the movie website is more realistic:
    seems alot like “the lottery” which was recently released:

    michael, why can’t education be isolated? it seems like schools are burdened with issues other than learning..they’ve become daycare centers, vaccination clinics, social service centers, etc. school staff is spread too thin….they should focus their time and resources of teaching.

    i’m just entering the education arena this upcoming year as a parent. very disheartening, even though we live in what is considered a “good” school district (which actuall means good test scores). so i’m planning to homeschool until i find a better solution.

  7. “Why can’t education be isolated?”

    I thought my comment was clear. In brief, when public education is isolated from the many contexts in which it operates and various external and internal constraints put upon it with the express purpose of BLAMING public education for woes over which it has no or very little direct control, pretty much any conclusions drawn are likely to be less than useless.

    I don’t believe any of the things you mention above are particularly new, nor are they things that schools or staff have desired or asked for, by and large. So is the problem public education (from which you are opting to withdraw your child(ren), or some larger social and political issues and systems?

    Not that I’m opposed to parents having input in their kids’ educations, but I’m always amazed at how many Americans are convinced they can do a better job of doing a profession about which they know nothing than can those who do it for a living. Of course, some parents are likely quite gifted and knowledgeable, and some teachers are quite ignorant and incompetent. But on the whole, parents teaching their own children in isolation from the society in which those children will one day likely live is a rather interesting way to go about things (unless, of course, you’re of the mindset that you can protect your progeny forever from the rest of the world, a not uncommon wish on the part of all sorts of folks, I realize).

    I was raised in a public school. It wasn’t the best nor the worst. I had some marvelous, inspired, inspiring teachers and some idiots and dullards. I managed despite the worst of them to get graduate degrees in English, educational psychology, and mathematics education. I never swallowed what I was told (to the extent that I was paying attention to it at all) without some degree of skepticism. I assume most children could do the same, though it’s a fine line between healthy intellectual skepticism and denialism, a philosophy that needs not pay attention to any scientific or historical facts that conflict with received dogma, be that of a religious, philosophical, or political nature.

    Naturally, good test scores are not the most important or useful indicators of the quality or nature of the education students are getting: most likely they reflect the income and education levels of the majority of parents in that community. So it’s smart to be skeptical of said scores. But as the parent of a 15 y.o., I am pleased with my son’s ability to think critically about what he is asked to learn in school. Were I a wealthy man without the need to make joint decisions with a woman (my son’s mother) with whom I share virtually nothing except parenting the same child, I no doubt would have given my son some different educational opportunities than he had by going to public school in a nearly all-white community (where his mother, not I, resides). But if wishes were fishes. . .

    And of course the school system in that town is not isolated from the people who live there, the county, the state, or the nation. Everything makes a difference. And so, isolating our public schools in order to bash them, which is what I suspect may be up with the movie in question (or perhaps to offer some panacea which I will likely find severely problematic) is to make some very serious intellectual errors indeed. On my view, that is. Your mileage may vary and probably already does.

  8. I think I see Michael’s point about the difficulty of isolating education as a single factor. Correct me if I’m totally off the mark on this one.

    “Schooling,” which we traditionally call “education” cannot be isolated because it exists at the intersection of a myriad of factors, including, but not limited to, social contexts, historical contexts, cultural contexts, political contexts, and the like. Trying to separate schooling from what happens in students’ homes, neighborhoods, home countries, is extremely difficult, if not impossible. All of these factors interact with each other to a degree of complexity that, at least right now, we do not understand.

    I just checked out the Lottery trailer that a mom mentions above, and I found it a bit disconcerting that the voice-over claimed that a difficult schooling experience isn’t the fault of the parents or the children but a “system that protects academic failure.” While what is called “the system” may very well be part of the problem in education and its reform could indeed lead to sustainable solutions, we cannot, for a moment, forget the importance of local contexts (What are their neighborhoods like?) individual contexts (What are their home lives like? What were their lives like growing up?), and the like.

    Although they may prove elusive in the exact measurement of their influence, refusing to recognize these influences leads to an ignorance many issues which lie at the heart of the human experience. “Superman,” in denying the role of family, neighborhood, and culture, doesn’t seem like much of a savior to me.

    Even more troubling perhaps was the comment in the Waiting for Superman trailer that suggested that a school had done significant “damage” to a particular community, as if what the school was “doing” to the children existed outside the responsibility of the parents, community, governing bodies, etc. It’s not just our schools that are hurting our children. It’s all of us.

    I don’t know if it’s all about solving one “problem” that will lead to the solutions in the other social issues mentioned in the trailer. Solving key problems must occur simultaneously, if indeed the goal of this nation is the betterment of the future of our children. Of course we’re not going to solve them all at once, but we need to be moving all of them in the right direction together. Otherwise it becomes the blame game that I pray to high heaven this film will not be exacerbating and spreading across the public consciousness. We all have this responsibility, not just our schools, teachers, and “system.”

  9. Not bad, “e”. The notion that parents and/or have no role in or responsibility for educational/academic, is usually (but not always) an indication that the school critic is out to pin the blame for everything on public (never private) education. And of course it makes no sense to suggest that it’s all the fault of a given school, a given set of teachers, etc., without regard to the other educational stake holders.

    The flip side of this approach is to pin the blame entirely on bad parenting and lazy, dumb kids. I hear that one a lot from bad teachers, almost never from good ones (and from some administrators, too). But I also hear it from those who claim that given the “poor raw material” kids from poverty and their families represent, we’re wasting precious resources (particularly of the monetary kind) on schools in these sorts of neighborhoods, communities, districts, etc. I can almost hear the voice of Alistair Sim from the 1951(?) version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

    There’s plenty of blame to go around, of course, but it’s not merely the obvious folks and institutions that need to be targeted. The genius of American classism and racism is its ability to deflect blame on everyone but those with the greatest vested interest in maintaining the status quo, keeping the majority in poverty and ignorance, and ensuring that the have-nots and barely-haves fight amongst themselves for the few crumbs that come their way. US public education gets the blame for every failure, real or imagined, but NEVER gets credit for a single success. That says it all right there.

  10. A lottery selects by its nature the most motivated children. Compare their performance at the magic charter school with that of lottery losers. They are equally motivated and simply not as lucky. You will find little to no difference in the achievement of those children at their public school because they are highly motivated.

    Charters serve to concentrate a reasonable number of highly motivated children in a school building. Then, when they get results, it’s because the invisible hand of the market has unleashed innovation and glory in education. It’s never because they drain the better students from an area and cause the rest of the kids to be divided up among the neighboring zones. And when I say better, I mean more motivated.

    If the lottery is not enough of a selection mechanism, a principal can require an essay, an interview, a parent interview, orientation sessions, what have you. If some lazy child did manage to win the lottery, they certainly will not write an essay. If a child with uninterested parents does manage to win the lottery, their parents will certainly not show up for an interview.

  11. First, I’d like to see how the comparisons with other countries are drawn, otherwise I’m not sold. There have been a host of invalid comparisons made over the years between countries with vastly different educational systems and vastly different goals with vastly different student demographics.

    Second, as a math teacher myself I shudder when I see this as I suspect that this will not mean more art, more cooking, more school gardens or more time learning how to act locally, but rather I fear it will mean more algebra, more trig, more AP classes, more facts, more accceleration, less thinking.

    Dan has inspired me to find ways to bring something of value within a content area that generally does not serve students. But that job becomes harder if the pressure is directed at ‘more’ math, more topics, etc.

  12. Dan, I’ve been reading your blog off and on (mostly on) for the past few months. I consider myself an accidental blogger, as I began using a blog to communicate about a university course I was “tweaking”…with both supporters and detractors. Once the course was history, I just kept writing…and reading other blogs…and writing.

    The career change of my dreams is from university teaching to junior high teaching, as the best foundation for what–and how– I teach has to be laid much earlier than college.

    Please keep writing, so that I can keep reading.

  13. Jennifer Schewe

    June 22, 2010 - 6:50 am -

    I completely agree with Michael’s comment. Working with families in impoverished areas I have see many factors that effect a child’s ability to receive a diploma. What about the child who has six younger siblings and no father in the house? When one of the children gets sick, it falls to the oldest child to care for them if the mother needs to work to make ends meet. What about that same child who has to come home from school and cook dinner, from whatever she can find, clean the house, get the other children in bed, and then try and do homework, while her mother is out running the streets? What about the family that is constantly on the move following jobs and the child has to readjust to new situations and teaching styles? What about the child who has been told from the day that they were born that they were a mistake and/or stupid and that they will never succeed? What about the teacher who is overwhelmed and works until 2 or 3 in the morning trying to come up with ways to reach children who see education as a luxury compared to survival? Where are the people in the community who build these children up and tell them that they are worth something? The neighbor who volunteers to take care of the sick child so the older sibling can go to school and not fall behind? Instead of addressing the social issues, we are working to isolate our children from them and denying support for those children who do not get encouragement at home. I remember growing up, we always had several kids, that did not live in our house, over for dinner. Some of them every night. Some had situations that they didn’t want to go home to, others didn’t have anything to eat if they did go home. My mother always made them feel as if they were part of our family. Technology has given us the opportunity to connect with people around the world, but it has also caused us to disconnect with those around us. The old adage is true, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Whose village are you part of and whose children are you helping to raise?

  14. I have to say I feel wary after seeing this trailer and the other promotional materials for the film.

    I did my pre-service hours in a remedial algebra classroom at a school like the one in The Wire. As an outsider being suddenly immersed in their desperate, cruel, scary, hungry, and dangerous world, it was pretty obvious that improving their algebra skills were the least of their problems.

    Which is not to say that I will give up. But I will also not just shut up about the necessity of improving their social conditions as well.

    You can test him or her all you want, but an exhausted, frightened, hungry child has already been “left behind.”

  15. This movie has all the bells and whistles of being “socially responsible”, however, I beg to differ. It is a well-packaged, well-financed and well coordinated attack on the public school system. One needs only to check who financed this film to find that there is much more afoot than “social responsibility”.

    It seems to make a compelling argument that teachers are at the root of all of our educational woes in this country, but it fails to dole out the much deserved serving of criticism to the proponents of No Child Left Behind who instituted “unreasonable demands” upon local school entities and promulgated a toxic “culture of testing” that would irrevocable harm special needs students, children whose first language is other than English and students who do not test well for whatever reason according to educational historian, Diane Ravitch.

    Read Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System:How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education” before you enter the theater.

  16. As an educator, I am tired of hearing about “school reform” because I think it is a thinly veiled excuse to pay teachers less money. Government has created achievement standards that are unrealistic, AND unfunded. They then blame schools for poor scores so they can fire teachers and create charter schools that do not cost as much to run. School Reform is NOT about educating children, it IS about finding a way to educate children in a way that it will not cost as much.

    One problem I have with this theory is that it will not change the fact that 87% of my students are on free/reduced lunch. It will not change the fact that many students are unable/unwilling to speak English. It will not change the fact that schools have turned into psychological centers for disturbed kids. It will not change the fact that schools have to take responsibility for students getting proper medical attention, which frequently includes proper hygiene.

    With this in mind, I would like to also mention that I have a double Master’s degree to teach 7th and 8th grade students. In addition to having to do all the work to achieve this level of education, I also had to pay for it myself. When we talk about “school reform” I think part of the conversation needs to include parent education because the only qualification for having a child is a penis and a vagina.

  17. Involving the community has been brought up briefly in the previous replies, but the level of importance in community involvement is undersold. Communities and our schools need to be interconnected where our parents and teachers form a partnership for the betterment of the child. Aside from creating a sense of community in our school systems, many families are underprivileged and the lack of education becomes a generational pattern, making it difficult for students to reach the standardized bench marks. Standardized “knowledge” is another problem that I won’t get in to, but the key to efficient and effective learning is to adopt the curriculum to every child’s cognitive state. Example- If a kid gets in a fight at recess, his brain is not going to be prepared to learn long division. Schools need to focus on the ENTIRE individual. New curriculum technology is coming out where curriculum can be personalized from day 1, adapting to the child’s learning ability. There aren’t many schools implementing this philosophy, but there is one school out in Phoenix that has been doing this for quite sometime, and have proven that even the most difficult students can transform their own lives into being happy, productive, aspiring adults.

    The school I’m referring to is StarShine Academy in Phoenix (www.starshineacademy.org) who uses individualized learning plans and other innovative techniques to create a happy productive student through the development of every childs mind, body, spirit, health, wealth, and happiness. Holding the child’s fate in a lottery is so symbolic of the state of our school system. Only the wealthy, and lucky get the chance for a good education. Spreading quality charter schools through franchise opportunities is the only way to reach every child from coast to coast.

    StarShine’s curriculum works, which is why StarShine works closely with the United Nations and their Millennium Development Goals. As individual schools around the country work tirelessly to change our broken educational system, they also need support from our government. Hopefully this movie will wake them up, put their individual interests aside and work to make a difference.