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Sneak Peek: Finding Superman Excerpt


Waiting for Superman shined a national spotlight on the major problems facing education while painting a bleak picture of public education and glorified charter schools.


The upcoming book Finding Superman reveals the reality behind the claims in Waiting for Superman and explores the untold stories missed by the film with the help of today's leading minds in education. Dr. Watson Scott Swail and company also recognize the flourishing public schools, the failing charter schools, and the unlauded success stories of educators.


This chapter of Finding Superman's shares ways to stop waiting for Superman and find him in our schools.

  • Newsflash: Superman Has Arrived! And He’s Brought an Army
  • From Finding Superman
  • Chapter written by Milton Chen
  • Learning Becomes Internet-ional
  • Today’s students are enthusiastically embracing learning about the rest of the globe. Thanks to the Internet, they are accessing differing sources of knowledge from around the world, from BBC World News and Al Jazeera newscasts to chatting with their peers over Skype to share lifestyles and learn languages. With these international experiences, in person and online, earlier in their childhoods, they will be our first truly global generation. The Internet has made learning Internet-ional.
  • Starting in 2004, Edutopia created a partnership with the Asia Society to document some of the best American schools leading the way to students’ global futures. Documentary films, articles, and two DVDs were produced to document schools such as:
  • Walter Payton College Prep High School in Chicago, where students study one of five languages, including Chinese, for all 4 years. A distance-learning center enables live videoconferencing with students around the globe, such as in South Africa, and students participate in home stay exchanges. The school has the only Confucius Institute at a high school, typically placed at universities and funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education, to support learning of Chinese language and culture.
  • San Antonio’s International School of the Americas, whose curriculum includes visits to local museums, trips to Mexico, and competing in the Model United Nations. The Edutopia film showed how one enterprising teacher, confronted with the cost of buses for field trips, obtained her bus driver’s license to enable her to use the city as her students’ classroom.
  • Choctaw students in Mississippi sharing stories with indigenous students in Thailand and Australia through IEARN’s First People’s Project. Thanks to their teachers and tribal elders, students learn Choctaw stories, history, and sports, and share them through the Internet with the larger world. Upon learning of the impoverished circumstances of Thai students, they organized a drive to donate blankets to their Internet pen pals.
  • Portland, Oregon’s K–12 Japanese Magnet Program. This Japanese immersion program is based on research that young children’s brains are wired for language learning and that second-language learning may encourage cognitive development. In fifth grade, students compose email using Japanese word processors, host Japanese students, and visit them near Tokyo. Eighth graders go to Japan for a 2-week residency to complete an interdisciplinary project.
  • High Tech High in San Diego, where students learn DNA testing procedures on meat samples to confirm poached meat in African markets. They and their teacher traveled to Tanzania to hold a workshop for local game officials on the identification of bushmeat. Team teaching between humanities and science teachers is common, such as in the Waterways to Peace project, where study of African politics related to the scarcity of water led to creating a model plant for water purification.
  • Documenting Research Outcomes of Innovative Practices
  • While our work at has spanned more than 15 years of telling the stories of project-based learning and cooperative learning in classrooms, as well as in informal and after-school settings, we understood that for these “islands of excellence” to scale to more places, their effectiveness must be demonstrated in educational research. Importantly, policymakers investing funds in these new curricula, technology, and teacher development want to base their decisions on documented outcomes.
  • Our Foundation supported Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, to review the literature on practices such as project-based learning, cooperative learning, and specific instructional strategies in literacy, mathematics, and science.4 Their analyses took advantage of important new developments in cognitive research, such as the landmark 1999 volume, How People Learn, published by the National Academy of Sciences. They identified high-quality studies of the effectiveness of these strategies, more numerous with cooperative learning than with project-based learning. They also underscored the most important finding of all: that the effect of these innovations relies heavily on the quality of the teachers—and the professional development provided to them—who have to implement new practices. They also called for investments in new forms of research designs and measures to study these practices.
  • Listening to the Public About Public Education
  • While the voices of governors, legislators, and national leaders of unions, school boards, and the business community often are heard loudly in debates about the future of our schools, we rarely hear from the public itself. For more than 40 years, Phi Delta Kappa, the education honorary society, has surveyed a cross-section of Americans about their opinions regarding public schools.5
  • This survey should be read by every elected official, school board member, journalist, and educator. The American public is resoundingly clear—consistently about 70%—in its convictions about the importance of teachers and giving them more “flexibility to teach in ways they think best.” The public, using its own common sense, knows that teacher effectiveness is a stronger determinant of academic achievement than class size. However, close to 70% also say they see and hear more negative than positive press about education. We could improve our schools more quickly if we told ourselves more stories about our best teachers and students.
  • The public also believes that access to the Internet for education is now the civil rights issue of our time. With as near unanimity as our diverse public ever achieves, 91% believe that providing all students with access to the Internet is important. They see its benefits in leveling the playing field of course offerings for smaller and rural schools, improving students’ motivation, and preparing them for college and career.
  • So, Superman has indeed arrived, in the form of an army of supereducators across the country and an intelligent public. Our collective job should be to spread the good news of the innovative classrooms in many communities and invest in better research on their modern forms of digital learning. Together, perhaps we can make this the first decade of the 21st century in education.

Recognize the Supermen and Superwomen in your school in the comments section!

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Adapted with permission from the Publisher.  From Swail, Finding Superman: Debating the Future of Public Education in America, New York: Teachers College Press, ©2012 by Teachers College, Columbia University.  All rights reserved.

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