That's what Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada said yesterday at the Clinton Global Initiative, which I'm covering for The Daily Beast.
In a breakout session, Canada spoke bluntly about overhauling the teaching profession, and was greeted with whoops and cheers from the crowd, a mix of political, corporate, and philanthropic elites.
“Here’s something that absolutely needs to be changed,” Canada said. “I believe that if you’re a terrible teacher, you should be fired. I know, it sounds harsh. People are thinking, ‘Oh my God.’”
The issues of teacher tenure and pay are increasingly under a public microscope. Earlier this year, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education grant competition rewarded stimulus funds to states that agreed to tie teacher evaluations and salaries to student achievement on standardized tests. But results of a major study of teacher merit pay in Nashville, TN, released this week, found that bonuses of up to $15,000 did not improve student test scores.
The new education reform documentary, "Waiting for Superman," features Canada and opens this Friday. It largely blames the achievement gap between middle class and poor children on teachers’ unions' protection of poor performers. The documentary elides other problems in American education, such as increasing racial and socioeconomic segregation and the lack of a national curriculum. And while the film cites Finland’s schools as the best in the world, it does not mention teachers there are unionized and awarded tenure. Instead, director Davis Guggenheim, of "An Inconvienent Truth," focuses mostly on the successes of a small group of non-unionized and high-performing charter schools, which admit students through competitive lotteries.
Canada referenced the controversy over "Waiting for Superman" Tuesday, and tried to find common ground. “One group in America wants to talk about [the Harlem Children’s Zone] as a charter network, and the other group wants to talk about the fact that we provide comprehensive services to children. And these two groups are at war. It’s really a war. They hate each other!”
Canada explained that the Harlem Children’s Zone includes both charter schools and intensive community outreach that begins with expectant parents who attend Baby College, a course and support group where they learn about the latest neuroscience on how children learn and develop.
“If you want to end poverty in America, you have to do more than just do schools,” Canada said. “You have to improve outcomes for an entire community.”