JOE SCARBOROUGH: Good evening. Mika and I want to welcome you to this special hour. We're here at the site of our education nation summit launching today at NBC News and MSNBC. And the audience in this room just finished watching an extraordinary powerful film called "Waiting For Superman" which opened just a few days ago.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Take a look at some of the reactions from just a few minutes ago as people watched this movie. This isn't some Hollywood drama or a romance flick. This is a documentary about our failing education system and the tears we saw in this room are about our children and how our schools are leaving them behind.
Joe and I saw the movie a few days ago and we literally walked up Broadway, I think it was, in complete silence, both feeling very twisted and angry about what we had seen.
SCARBOROUGH: We really had. What's amazing about these tears, I knew about the film for months and just knowing the system, I knew how it was going to end. I knew what the final scene would look like and I still broke down three times.
BRZEZINSKI: It was still painful.
SCARBOROUGH: Crying uncontrollably because it is unbelievable, some of the conditions that our kids are forced to learn in right now.
BRZEZINSKI: And the reaction that we saw just moments ago was the same, these are people who know. There's a problem with our system and who know that there are children in this country who are falling behind.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. We’re here to talk about the movie, to talk about education. We're going to do it with a man who made this film and some of the people who were in it.
BRZEZINSKI: Please help us welcome founder and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, Geoffrey Canada, Washington D.C.'s school's chancellor, Michelle Rhee, American Federation of Teacher's president Randi Weingarten and filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. Come on out.
And while our guests enter the stage, let's show you a little clip of the movie, because "Waiting For Superman" is about our system, but what really gets to you in this movie is the individual stories of each child. One of these amazing children is a boy named Anthony.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY: I want to go to college, get an education. If I have kids, I don't want kids to be in this environment. Like around here, I mean, I want my kids to have better than what I had.
GLORIA: I’m just so afraid for him. I cry for him sometimes. Because I know he's easily influenced to do things he shouldn't do.
ANTHONY: I stayed back one grade. That was in the second grade, because my father had passed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next year, Anthony’s class will move up to junior high. Most will go to John Phillip Souza, which the "Washington Post" called an academic sink hole. If Anthony goes to Souza, odds are he'll enter high school three to five grade levels behind. Anthony's class visits the Seed School, the first urban public boarding school in the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To come see, geography and love, that’s it. You have to live in the district. You have to pull out a bingo ball and call your number.
ANTHONY: It’s bittersweet to me. If I get in, they give me a better chance in life. If I don't, I’ll just be with my friends.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see the cages up here. It's a random selection. You all have your numbers, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let’s get started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRZEZINSKI: And there are kids that don't make it. Many of them. Most of them.
SCARBOROUGH: Davis, let's begin with you. You are not exactly what some would consider to be a conservative filmmaker.
DAVIS GUGGENHEIM: No.
SCARBOROUGH: Not a Bush apostle. Your last really big film was "Inconvenient Truth." Why did you pick this topic?
GUGGENHEIM: When the media asked me to make the film, I originally said no. And the next morning I’m driving my kids in the minivan to school and they go to a great private school in Los Angeles.
I started to count the public schools that I was driving by. And it started to haunt me, the idea that kids in my own neighborhood, and I live in a pretty good neighborhood, aren't getting what my kids have. I said what I if I made a different kind of movie from a parents' point of view? What if I made a movie that gets people to care about other people’s children and fight for other people's children as much I fight for mine.
SCARBOROUGH: Right. It’s so interesting you say that because Mika, Chris, our EP, myself, everybody that’s seen this movie says first of all, they break down and cry at the end of this movie and then when they go home and they look at their children, children who can go to really great schools, they look at their own children differently. And it's just -- it changes your perspective.
GUGGENHEIM: We’ve won the lottery. The lottery in this movie is a metaphor. My kids have won the lottery. By the nature of who my family is. And this is not America, the idea that one kid could have a great education and one kid can't. There are winners and losers. We as a country have to get together and have a conversation like this and say how do we let every kid win? How do we let every kid --
SCARBOROUGH: There are two Americas. There are two Americas right now when it comes to education. I want to ask you another really quick question and then go around to the rest of the panel. But when I saw you after the film, and I would -- being macho, hey, Davis, how you doing, man? Trying to hide the fact that I had been balling my eyes out, I said I can't -- I knew how this was going to end and I was still crying. You said, you still cry every time you see it.
GUGGENHEIM: I’ve seen the movie hundreds of times. And I always -- I’m at screenings all across the country. Walk in and I still want every kid to win. When you put a face on this issue, as we talk about the details of it, that's the thing I keep saying to myself, let's not forget as we argue and discuss and learn about this, let's not forget the kids.
GUGGENHEIM: And the stakes for them.
SCARBOROUGH: Geoffrey Canada, some remarkable things are happening in Harlem. I went up there, Jeff Zucker pushed me to go up there one day. I was really tired. I went up to a school up there. I said I don't want to go up. Don't make -- I’m tired, man, I wake up at 3:30 in the morning. I went up and I saw a revolution, a revolution that you helped start. How do we spread that from Harlem across America?
GEOFFREY CANADA, PRES. & CEO, HARLEM CHILDREN’S ZONE: I think the real important issue for us to face as Americans is if we don't fix this, we will not remain a great country. It is impossible and we can fix it and I think that's what this movie gets to. There are answers and people want to say the answer is this. The answer is we need great public education for all of our schools. And what we're finding in some schools we should spread throughout all the schools in this nation.
SCARBOROUGH: How do we do it, Geoffrey? Because I seen what you do, I’ve seen what Deborah Kinney has done, I’ve seen what a lot of people have done out there and it seems to me, the model is find an extraordinary person, put them in a school, let them run that school. But can we really get Geoffrey Canadas in every public high school across America?
CANADA: Well you know what? That’s just one of the great things that we see. We’ve seen some innovation spread more than one place. If you look at what the Kipp schools have done or the uncommon schools, they've been able to replicate this model over and over. There are core values we have to have. This is where the work gets tough, because innovation, this is about innovation. It's about places that have failed for 30, 40, 50 years, we can't do the same thing this year that we did last year. So we've got to open up this issue of innovation and we've got to make sure that in those places we allow real educators to come in and redesign this thing so it works.
BRZEZINSKI: All right. Let's go there and talk to the president of the American federation of teachers, Randi Weingarten. You do not come off as the hero of this movie. In fact you come off quite badly.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks a lot, Davis, way to go, man. I'm joking. First of all, can we start by, we want to thank you for coming here. Because we do understand if we're going to fix this problem, we're going to have to figure out how to get you guys together and make this work.
BRZEZINSKI: Exactly. We applaud everybody for joining us on this stage. You don't come off well in this movie. Do you think it has characterized you fairly? I'd like to follow up by asking you, that on "MEET THE PRESS" this morning, you said the union has taken steps to make teachers better, taken concrete steps. I want to hear what some of those steps are, specific ones.
RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRES., AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Sure. So look, all of us on this stage, whether it's Geoffrey or Michelle or Davis, myself, the two of you, we all care passionately about the children. Some of us have spent our lives working on behalf of children and teachers who teach children. But I do think though Davis even though we may disagree there wasn't a public school or a public school teacher that was pictured in this film, people have done amazing jobs. So even though we may disagree about that, what this film does, it creates a moment in time. And it says that if all of us are actually committed to fixing this, we will follow the evidence of what works, follow it, be innovative, be creative but follow the evidence of what works and we will all work together to fix this so that every single child has access to a great public education, not by chance, not by privilege but by right.
BRZEZINSKI: How do we get to what you're saying, though? Even during the MSNBC town hall today, there were teachers who say I don't care about tenure. I want the system to be better. So there are teachers who are having this debate within the spectrum of your organization.
SCARBOROUGH: What we hear, Randi, morning after morning after morning from progressives, from conservatives, from Republicans, from Democrats, from independents, seems to be the same thing. There is a perception out there that is the union that is standing in the way of principals firing bad teachers. And it's more about a jobs program than it is about the kids. How do you get past that?
WEINGARTEN: Let me get to both of these issues, let me see if I can conflate them. First, I loved that town hall today. That was teachers talking to each other and talking to the world about what teachers needed.
Now, a couple of years ago, an independent group called Ed Sector actually surveyed a whole bunch of teachers and asked teachers the question about whether they needed or wanted a union. Seventy-eight percent of them, this is not our survey, this was their survey, said a union was absolutely essential to them to try and stop school politics or principal abuses.
Having said that, we have all done too much about focusing on bad teachers. The union itself has instead of focusing on good teachers and how we need to help them, give them the tools and conditions, we have always focused on, you know, the due process protections.
And what teachers have told us is that focus instead on the tools and conditions we need to do our jobs. Make sure the tenure is not ever construed as a job for life. Yes, there should be fairness. But we need to have real evaluation systems, which is what the union has been focused on, so that teachers are really judged fairly. And systems that actually help create continuous improvement. And at the same time, have some due process so that we guard against our arbitrariness. That's what our union has been trying to do for the last two years.
SCARBOROUGH: Michelle, let me ask you this. Randi was talking about instead of focusing on bad teachers, focusing on good teachers. Obviously at the end most people watching this movie teared up. One of the most disheartening moments of the movie for me is when you were driving away from the meeting, your meeting, with the teachers, and it just showed your face. You fought the law and the law won.
Where you tried to focus on good teachers in Washington. You said OK we're not going to penalize bad teachers. All we're going to do is pay good teachers more money. And that still scared the hell out of the Washington union. Why? Why is that such a frightening concept?
MICHELLE RHEE, CHANCELLOR, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Well, I think you should probably ask the union folks that question. I mean, from my perspective, it really seemed like what was scary to people was this idea of beginning to differentiate folks. So we're going to differentiate and we're going to recognize and reward the highest performing teachers and we're going to look at the lowest performing teachers and we're going to remove them from the system. And that is a concept that is so necessary. I mean, not all teachers are created equal.
So let me say, because I get told a lot that I’m teacher bashing. I love teachers. I think that teachers are not the problem, they are the solution to the problems that we face. But as long as we try to pretend that all teachers are the same, and that there are not great teachers and not so great teachers, then we are never going to be able to solve the problems.
CANADA: Can I just say this -- [ applause ] this is the one area and I’ve heard, I’ve heard this suggested. I actually have teachers in my family who really think is this is a terrific movie because it exposes for them how complicated it is, how important it is to get great teachers in the classroom and what a difference they can make.
But this is the issue that I think I’ve been hearing that I just want to get clear. Michelle and I love great teachers. We love hard-working teachers. We love good teachers. We even tolerate mediocre teachers. We just don't want lousy teachers to be able to keep their jobs and kids not get an education. And when you say that, people say you're attacking teachers. We're not attacking teachers. We're just saying --
BRZEZINSKI: What are you saying, Randi, what is he saying? Because what is wrong with what he's saying?
WEINGARTEN: There’s nothing wrong with what Geoffrey just said. No one wants lousy teachers.
BRZEZINSKI: Why not inspire them with pay?
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. You say no one wants lousy teachers but there are a lot of really lousy teachers who are protected by this current system.
WEINGARTEN: No one, you know, teachers in at least our union would be the first to tell you, we rail against this system in some ways as much as Geoff and Michelle. In some ways when we fought for sources for kids like my union did, we were fighting to help kids get what they needed.
The issue is, and we saw it and heard it in the town hall today a lot, we need to have instruments like they do in every other business to effectively judge and assess teachers. Because what's happened in so many instances, is that the evaluation system is what's broken.
I think if we actually got to what constitutes a good teacher and had that kind of standard we'd all be in the same place on that and there are about 50 or 60 districts right now, I made a proposal in January about how to overhaul evaluation.
WEINGARTEN: Michelle and I may disagree on the particulars of this, but there are about 50 or 60 districts that are using the proposal that we made and ultimately we think if we do that, if we fix teacher evaluations so it's about teacher development and evaluation, we can fix this problem.
SCARBOROUGH: OK. You talked about it. Davis, I want to go to you on this one. You talked about evaluations like every other business. That is the problem. It seems to me, Davis, that you done get -- teachers don't get evaluated like every other business.
GUGGENHEIM: The issue is not just lousy teachers. It affects good teachers, too. I just heard a story, I met a teacher the other day. She was a teacher in Indianapolis. She was assigned in January. By the end of the year she only had half a year of teaching. After half a year of teaching, I talked to her yesterday, she had brought her kids a year -- more than a year and a half ahead.
And the city of Indianapolis said you're the most effective ninth grade reading teacher in our city and we're going to give you a great reward, five days later they had to fire her because the contract said she's the youngest teacher and she has to go
Now, there's no one -- bad person in the process. A teacher wants to stay. The principal wants her to stay. The superintendent wants her to say. The contract says she has to go.
SCARBOROUGH: Last in, first out. We have to go to break. Randi we'll let you get a response in here and also, Mika, what we're going to do is figure out where everybody agrees. Because we talked to Randi before. And we're going to figure out, we're going to get people together here. You believe it, don't you, Michelle? You believe it.
BRZEZINSKI: I’ll tell you right now, Randi, I want to know after the break why we can't use pay to inspire teachers. Why not? We'll hear from the audience as well. That's when we come back as we dive into the issues presented in "Waiting For Superman."
RHEE: You wake up every morning and you know that 46,000 kids are counting on you. And that most of them are getting a really crappy education right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think that most of the kids in D.C. are getting a crappy education right now?
RHEE: I don't think they are. I know they are. There's a complete and utter lack of accountability for the job that we're supposed to be doing, which is producing results for kids.
SCARBOROUGH: We’re back with our panel, Michelle, one of the stunning parts of many stunning parts in this documentary, in this film, was when Davis showed the proficiency numbers state by state. You get to the nation's capital, the nation's capital, only 16 percent of students are proficient in math.
RHEE: It was actually 12 percent that were proficient in reading but he picked the better statistic because actually, only 8 percent of our children were proficient in math.
SCARBOROUGH: The nation's capital. You tried to change things and chances are good, because of it, you're going to get fired.
RHEE: Yes, that's right. I mean I think that's what this whole debate is about in many ways. You know, in Washington, D.C., under Mayor Fenty who arguably I think is the most courageous politician we have on these education reform issues, we did everything, arguably, that people wanted to see. We increased student achievement levels. We increased graduation rates. We increased attendance rates. We decreased violent crimes that were happening in the schools. We spruced up -- modernized the building.
SCARBOROUGH: Why are you going to get fired?
RHEE: What I think it comes down to, people underestimate we did from the school system side everything we need to do. This is about changing the political environment that we're operating in. Because politically, these -- the things that we were doing, closing down schools, firing teachers, moving principals, those were not politically popular things to do. They were the right things for kids but they made the adults incredibly uncomfortable.
CANADA: This is why I think this is such an important movie. Because you would think that the parents of those children that Michelle was in there shaking up the system to save those children, if those parents would have rallied, but we have gotten so used to failure, we tolerate failure in places like D.C. and central Harlem and Detroit, we just tolerate that failure and we've got to say to this nation, no more. We have to fix this thing and it means the adults have to take leadership.
SCARBOROUGH: Why is it -- [ applause ] why is it that you have an area like Washington, D.C. that is 12 percent proficient in math? It's shameful. You try to make reforms and it causes a problem.
CANADA: Can I just tell you this? This is why. Because there is no downside to failure. You could fail those kids for another 20 years, everybody keeps their job, nobody gets the go.
SCARBOROUGH: It’s about jobs.
CANADA: Look, no business in America would be in existence if it ran like this. We can't have our school system running like this.
BRZEZINSKI: These are compelling arguments that we all can agree on but, Randi, let me just put it to you this way. I know you have to say your side of this and this is hard for all of us. But do you think Michelle Rhee was trying to improve the performance of the teachers in her district, was she trying to make the schools better?
BRZEZINSKI: What was wrong with what she was doing?
WEINGARTEN: I think look, again, we had a moment in time where we actually got to an agreement. It took a little while to get the money straightened for this green light and 80 percent of the teachers voted for that agreement. I think what's happened in places like Washington and I saw it compared to New York City.
New York City on a bad day outpaced Washington on a great day. There was, as Geoff said, a sense that failure was tolerable, as opposed to a focus on success. And what the teachers wanted in Washington were the tools and conditions for them to do their jobs. I think the point of departure between Michelle and I may be that I see, just like in Finland and Singapore and other places, that we need to all actually work together, focused on instruction, focused on how we help people do the best jobs they can and then --
BRZEZINSKI: Wasn’t that what she was doing?
WEINGARTEN: A collaboration issue was where we disagreed at times.
SCARBOROUGH: Okay, Michelle --
WEINGARTEN: We agreed at times.
SCARBOROUGH: Randi said the teachers wanted the tools to get the job done.
RHEE: We wanted to give the teachers the tools. But I think it's quite frankly a little disingenuous for the union president to stand up and say we liked what Michelle was doing, we wanted it to continue to happen, when the national AFT poured $1 million into the campaign in Washington, D.C. a million dollars in a local mayoral race you know clearly sends a message that they didn't want things to continue as they were.
SCARBOROUGH: You mean against --
RHEE: Against Fenty, my boss.
SCARBOROUGH: The reformer.
RHEE: That’s correct.
BRZEZINSKI: Is that a fair shot, Randi?
SCARBOROUGH: Why would you spend a million dollars to defeat a mayor?
WEINGARTEN: The issue in terms of the D.C. election was our members and others really like Vincent Gray. It was not simply about education. It was about a whole range of other issues. The issue here in terms of education --
SCARBOROUGH: Wait. You think it was about -- let's be respectful.
WEINGARTEN: Let me --
SCARBOROUGH: If it wasn't about education, I mean, what was it about?
WEINGARTEN: There’s lots of -- look.
SCARBOROUGH: It was about education.
WEINGARTEN: I live in New York --
RHEE: You put $1 million into a mayoral campaign. I'm just wondering.
WEINGARTEN: The issue in terms of education is there's no turning back on reform in education in Washington, D.C. Our union is committed to it. More importantly than our union, the new mayor is committed to it.
The issue is about how we create the best environment for kids. The only disagreement that I think our union has had in terms of the way in which things have gone, is that our folks have desperately wanted to have a voice in how to do reform. But the issue in terms of the election, went far further than education. All you have to do is listen to people in Washington about it.
BRZEZINSKI: You can hear the distrust here.
RHEE: I'm just wondering, if the AFT was putting a million dollars into mayoral campaigns all across the country just based on who the teachers liked, I would buy that argument. But I think that's false. I think they put the money into this mayoral campaign because it was a symbol of reform in this country. And I don't want to make this about the presumptive mayor. I think he wants to do the right thing. I just think --
SCARBOROUGH: Do you really think he wants to the right thing?
RHEE: I do.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you think he's going to do the right thing now that the teachers union is giving him a million dollars?
RHEE: Here’s the thing. I think he actually wants to do the right thing. I think the question about whether school reform can continue at as an aggressive rate under him is whether he’s going to be able to stand up to the fact that …
SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you this Michelle. Will they give him a million dollars for re-election if he keeps you in your position? The answer is no.
Geoffrey, let me ask you this question. Randi said something that was fascinating. She said Washington, D.C. even on its best day, wasn't like New York City on its worst day. Of course, Washington has problems going back decades. I want to talk about New York for one second.
SCARBOROUGH: Because we've been up to Harlem, we've seen what's happening up there. It is a revolution. I've never seen anything like it in my life. Kids coming into middle school and fifth grade with first grade reading abilities, leaving in eighth grade with a 100 percent proficiency, outscoring kids in Scarsdale, New York. That's amazing.
That's not the case with all charter schools across America. There are really, really bad charter schools across America. So the question is, what's New York City doing right? What's Mayor Bloomberg doing right? What's going on here?
CANADA: The thing I think Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have done, they really looked for people to come into the city who had a proven track record. They said, look, this work is hard. And I’m not going to pretend that you can just come in and snap your fingers and things are going to get better overnight. There are people who have figured out systems of improving education and the mayor was very aggressive in bringing those folk into New York City and saying to them, we're going to remove the obstacles for you all to do your work.
I am the first one to say, that charter schools are not the answer. That you’re not going to look American with our 15,000 school system and say we're going to charter them, that's just not going to happen in my lifetime. They do allow us to figure out what's working and we should replicate it and what's not and we should close those charter schools that aren’t working so that we actually develop a science in our business about what works in what kinds of environments and in what kinds of communities.
GUGGENHEIM: What’s really -- people -- when I hear this conversation, I want to bring it back to parents. When they hear this back and forth, there's the sense of like, you know what, put my head in the sand, take care of my own kids because this debate has been going on for generations. So it's important to understand how this is locked down here in D.C. and in New York. But it's not just Harlem -- if my movie, I call it, they're breaking a sound barrier. Geoffrey Canada has done it.
SCARBOROUGH: He’s like Chuck Yager of the classroom.
GUGGENHEIM: Absolutely. People couldn't believe you could do it. Now it's happening in Houston. It's happening in D.C. It's happening in Los Angeles. These high-performing charters are going in and they're reaching every kid and they're sending 90 percent of their kids to college.
SCARBOROUGH: And you also, your movie talks about how what's happening in some of these schools is demolished a lie, a bigoted lie that some kids are incapable of learning.
GUGGENHEIM: Those kids can't learn.
SCARBOROUGH: They can't.
GUGGENHEIM: Those parents don't care. Or it can't be done. And the idea that we now can do it means that we have a very moment right now to say let's take those things, let's take those ingredients and bring them into mainstream schools. You can't do it with the district rules and the union contracts as they are in most districts.
BRZEZINSKI: Randi, really quickly.
SCARBOROUGH: 15 seconds.
BRZEZINSKI: You’re outnumbered. Take a moment. Go.
WEINGARTEN: Look, we have schools in New York, like the school that Steve Barr and I run, which has a union contract, we're 100 percent of the kids path the math regions. 100 percent of the kids pass the science regions. There’s a lot of schools that I want to take you to Davis, great public schools where we are breaking the sound barrier, too.
The issue is we have to all do this together with good contracts, with all of us on the same side, getting to help good teachers, getting supportive principals, getting a curriculum and the wrap-around services that Geoff does that cradle to college service. That's so important to help level the playing field for kids who may be disadvantaged.
SCARBOROUGH: Fantastic. I'm feeling it. Are you feeling agreement?
SCARBOROUGH: Maybe next segment.
BRZEZINSKI: When we come back, we'll be joined --
SCARBOROUGH: One thing we do agree on --
BRZEZINSKI: We have to go.
SCARBOROUGH: Really quickly. It's not about charter schools. It's about figuring out what works in charter schools and exporting that across America.
BRZEZINSKI: When we come back, we'll talk more about that. We'll be joined also by Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter John Legend and our friend at "MORNING JOE" as well. He wrote "Shine," the theme song for "Waiting For Superman."
DAISY: I want to be a nurse. I want to be a doctor and I want to be a veterinarian.
LESTE BELL, DAISY’S TEACHER: She chose her college and she wrote a letter to the admissions and asking them to allow her to attend their college.
DAISY: I want to go to a medical college or a veterinarian college because I really want to become a surgeon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think she can do it?
DAISY’S GATHER: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daisy’s path to medical school begins with eighth grade algebra which she'll need to take when she moves up to Stevenson Middle School. By the time she leaves Stevenson, only 13 percent of her classmates will be proficient in math. Stevenson feeds into Roosevelt, one of the worst-performing schools in Los Angeles. Only 3 out of 100 students at Roosevelt will graduate with the necessary classes for admission to a four year university. 57 percent of Daisy’s classmates won't graduate.
Have your mom and dad told you about the lottery?
DAISY: Isn’t that when people play and they win money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daisy and her parents have found one other option. Eighth graders at Kipp L.A. Prep get triple the classroom time in math and science. By the time they finish eighth grade, they will have doubled their math and reading scores. Judith and Jose have decided to enter Daisy into the Kipp lottery.
DAISY’S FATHER: Go like this. Cross your fingers. I have a good feeling about this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The space with the Xs is for all of the fifth grade students moving into the sixth grade for next year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vergosa, Andrew.
DAISY’S FATHER: Come on, Daisy, cross your fingers.
SCARBOROUGH: I tell you what, that was the part of the movie where Daisy, you saw her crossing her fingers and write physically got nauseated. I knew -- as Davis said, I knew what was going to happen before she knew what was going to happen.
BRZEZINSKI: You also knew that a little girl like Daisy can be a vet or a doctor or anything she wants to be if she's given the tools to do it.
SCARBOROUGH: If she's given the chance.
BRZEZINSKI: It’s very hard to watch this movie.
SCARBOROUGH: It really is. Somebody who's fighting for kids like Daisy is John Legend. He's a Grammy award winning songwriter. He wrote "Shine," the theme song for "Waiting For Superman." John leads the show me campaign which is dedicated to raising awareness and highlighting successful schools. John, tell us how you got involved in this.
JOHN LEGEND, SONGWRITER: Well, it's an interesting story because I was making this album "Wake-Up." It just came out this week. One of the things we were thinking about, we were covering songs from the civil rights era, from the '60s and '70s and people who fought for justice and equality. 40 years later we're still fighting for equality and one of the biggest barriers to achieving quality is the fact that so many kids in our country can't get a great education.
SCARBOROUGH: This is a civil rights issue?
LEGEND: This is a civil rights issue.
SCARBOROUGH: First and foremost --
LEGEND: If we care about justice, if we care about equality in this country, we have to care about fixing education. We can't achieve equality or humanity and justice for everybody if we can't make sure that every kid gets a good education.
SCARBOROUGH: What have you learned since getting involved? What have you learned as somebody who isn't a professional educator on what we need to do?
LEGEND: Well, it's been quite a learning experience because I get to meet great educators. I get to meet all the wonderful teachers out there. I get to spend a lot of time with the kids. I've been amazed by what's possible. And I think seeing what's possible in this film is very inspiring. But it's also frustrating when you know what's possible can't be replicated because there are barriers in the way.
SCARBOROUGH: You were on the board for Harlem Village Academy. It's the school that Deborah Kenny runs. We’re going to talk to in a second and that’s where Jeff Zucker told me I needed to go. When you have kids from Harlem going there with first grade reading proficiency and science proficiency and they leave three years later with 100 percent proficiency, it just -- at some point it becomes a moral issue.
SCARBOROUGH: If you're going to lock kids in Harlem out of that process and let a few see the light and see the -- that seems to me to be immoral.
LEGEND: We need to be clear, you know, sometimes it sounds like everybody is on the same team up here because we all sound like we agree. A lot of times, the unions, for instance, were fighting to -- fighting the right to have more charters in New York. So they were trying to impose a cap on the number of charter schools that could be had in New York. We're seeing all this great success in Harlem, there were forces that were trying to make sure that that couldn't be replicated on a larger scale.
SCARBOROUGH: You also told me that there was a split in the civil rights community, that older members of the civil rights community sometimes fought younger members of the civil rights community who were reformers.
LEGEND: Well, you know, there are plenty of constituencies that usually align with the union, for instance. And a lot of times some of the older civil rights organizations have historically aligned with the unions. But that isn't something that can't be, you know, worked out.
LEGEND: I think there needs to be an understanding in our community when we fight for our kids we're fighting for our community. I think sometimes there's a disconnect between them.
BRZEZINSKI: All right. I want to just ask Randi, you've been taking pot shots from everybody here on stage, including us at times. But I’d like -- I think there is a disconnect here that John Legend talks about. Where does the union take some responsibility in this? Where has the union misstepped to help us get to where we are today? Is there any give here?
WEINGARTEN: Yeah, of course. I think that we've all – I mean Davis said it when he said he passed three public schools. I think we all need to take more responsibility. I want to say something about what John just said. Let me answer your question first. I think we all have to look in the mirror and say, what have we done wrong up until now and what do we need to do better? I like to follow the evidence. When I see from my own experience as a school teach are for six years when evaluations didn't work and less than 20 percent of them think that evaluations work right now. You know that process has to be fixed. Teachers in this country want to make a difference in the lives of kids. Ultimately they want the tools and conditions in order to do that. They want to know what good teaching looks like and they want to emulate it. That's why --
SCARBOROUGH: To John's point, though --
WEINGARTEN: So we never --
SCARBOROUGH: Unions fought like hell against these successful charter schools being able to expand in New York State. Why is that?
WEINGARTEN: Look, what the unions actually talked about was as part of lifting the cap, as part of lifting the cap, they didn't fight against lifting the cap --
LEGEND: Yes, they did.
SCARBOROUGH: As far as -- well --
LEGEND: Why is there a cap?
WEINGARTEN: John. As part of lifting the cap they wanted to make sure that there was accountability for everyone. There's a cap in New York State because ultimately when George Pataki and I and others started to work on having charter schools in this state, there was an issue in terms of the economics and what would happen with moneys in terms of other districts.
WEINGARTEN: I’m just -- that's why there was a cap from the early --
SCARBOROUGH: We have a lot of people that want get involved here. We have to go to break right now. We'll come back and continue this.
BRZEZINSKI: I’m sorry, we have news for our audience as well. We've been talking about the teacher town hall hosted by Brian Williams earlier today. Coming up, right after we're finished here, MSNBC will re-air the two-hour town hall. It is must-see TV, from 9:00 to 11:00 Eastern Time right here on MSNBC. We'll be right back.
BRZEZINSKI: Welcome back. In this incredible movie, "Waiting For Superman," Davis Guggenheim introduces to us some of the heroic parents who struggle to provide a better future for their children. One of them is Nakia. Take a look.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP:
NAKIA: I grew up in the public school system. We had at least 40 of us in one classroom and the teacher refused to teach.
When you hear, well, I get paid whether or not you learn or not, it sticks with you. And that's something that no parent wants their child to ever be a witness or to hear when they're going to school. I don't care what I have to do, I don't care how many jobs I have to obtain but she will go to college.
Today is her graduation, and she's not allowed to go because do I owe some tuition. I said mommy wanted you to stay in your school and she finished my sentence. I know, but you didn't have enough money. I said that's right, but that was mommy's choice to put you in that school. It's going to be mommy's job to get you another school that's better.
END VIDEO CLIP
BRZEZINSKI: All right. Nakia joins us here tonight. Thank you so much for doing this and also sharing your story in the movie. You went into the lottery system for your daughter.
BRZEZINSKI: When the results came down, we watched you respond, we watched her respond. What were your thoughts when the number did not come up?
NAKIA: I was disturbed. And I was hurt. And I couldn't understand that why did it take this much to go through all of this? It was so heartbreaking to see her upset and all of the other children around her not being called and not being picked.
BRZEZINSKI: Why didn't you want her to go to a regular public school in your neighborhood? Wouldn't that have been better?
NAKIA: The public schools in my neighborhood don't add up to what I want from her. If I want something for her and I can’t get it from there, I'm going to find an alternative.
BRZEZINSKI: Why didn't they add up? What happened there? Why were you frightened to send her to school.
NAKIA: The schools in my area don't measure up as far as the reading is concerned, the math is concerned. The attendance and the schools itself.
BRZEZINSKI: When the number came down, what was that telling your daughter, what was that telling you?
NAKIA: She felt it wasn't fair that other children were being picked and she was just as smart as they were and why not her. How do you explain that to a child?
BRZEZINSKI: How old is she?
NAKIA: She’s 7 now.
BRZEZINSKI: Nakia, thank you. We're also joined by Deborah Canny of the Harlem Village Academy. You've done an amazing job there in Harlem. What were the results of the kids who came in and were about to graduate this June, late May, what is the change that has happened with these children? What have you been able to do with them?
DEBORAH KENNY, HARLEM VILLAGE ACADEMY: Well it’s what we're doing and a lot of the schools around the country are doing when they're given the freedom, which is what the charter gives you to accomplish these results.
BRZEZINSKI: They were picked off the street in a lottery.
KENNY: Right. Yes, first or second grade skills.
BRZEZINSKI: What happens to these kids?
KENNY: We catch them up to basic level and we accelerate them to proficient. So the kids who came to us in 8 plus 3 they would couldn't the like this. They couldn't add basic first grade skills, they couldn't have it.
BRZEZINSKI: They were underperforming it.
KENNY: Now studying Shakespeare, passing the regions in physics, passing the regions in chemistry, 100 percent in U.S. history across the board, all of them are going to go to college. The reason is because we're allowed to give our teachers freedom and then hold them accountable for results. So people keep talking about accountability just in terms of firing teachers but what I think people need to understand is how accountability allows you to unleash teacher passion by setting on fire all the teachers in the school because you're allowed to give them the freedom to teach the way they see fit. You don't have all sorts of external rules. We can run the school the way we want, which is to give our teachers the power to teach.
BRZEZINSKI: It’s worked for you and for hundreds of kids in Harlem. A reminder for everyone, coming up right after this program, MSNBC will re-air that teacher town hall that was hosted by Brian Williams, that's from 9:00 to 11:00 Eastern Time, right here on MSNBC.
Final words with our panel, next after a short break.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to our education nation special on "Waiting For Superman." Michelle, you have been on the wrong side of the debate over here. We're turning to you now. What are your thoughts?
RHEE: First, I think I would be remiss if I did not point out to everybody that there's been a lot of talk about public schools, public schools. Charter schools are public schools, public dollars, public school children and to talk about them as if they are not public schools, I think does a disservice to that movement. That's the first thing. The second thing is, I think the frustrating thing to me about panels like this, when we get going we have to stop. But I think we have to get a layer deeper than just the platitudes that remain on the stage. The bottom line is, you cannot say that you support removing ineffective teachers when then I fire ineffective teachers and you slap me with lawsuits and you slap me with the grievances. You cannot say -- you can't say, well, the problem with charter schools is they only serve some of the kids when in fact you are advocating for caps on those effective charter schools. You cannot say we want more resources to go to kids when in fact in this city, Joel Klein is spilling $100 million a year to pay for teachers you saw it in the movie, who aren't actually teaching. I get why that's good for the adults. Explain to me how that is good for children.
BRZEZINSKI: If you leave Washington, D.C. are you going to Newark?
RHEE: You know what, here’s the thing. I actually don't -- I think we could continue one city at a time.
BRZEZINSKI: Is there a possibility?
RHEE: We’re not going to be able to solve the problem going one city at a time. We actually have to change the political environment.
BRZEZINSKI: Okay. Didn't get an answer on that. We should let Randi respond.
WEINGARTEN: This is not about the adults. This is about the kids in the movie, and this is about how those of us on this stage help kids. It is about working together to create problem solving contracts and ultimately, Michelle, it's not about you or I. It's about those kids. And we need to have good evaluation systems. We need to have great curriculum. We need to do a lot more of what Debbie Kenny is doing in that school but we need to do what’s going on in lots and lots and lots of public schools because at the end of the day, every single teacher I know wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Geoffrey Canada.
WEINGARTEN: We need to help them do that for all of our kids.
CANADA: There are two things. All of my kids have gone to public school. I have a 12-year-old that goes to public school. I support public schools. We're in a crisis. We can't wait and talk about this another seven, eight, ten years. We're going to lose our nation. There are a couple of things leaders, in which we all are, could do. We could say to everyone in education we have to give a couple of more hours. Let's give five extra hours for all the teachers in America to help kids right now and have the unions lead this charge of saying this is an emergency, we need to help these kids. Let's do this right now and let's look at the best contract in the nation in terms of eliminating ineffective teachers and let's make that the standard across America. The union leaderships could take this on as a platform and say this is something we're going to commit to and give our membership behind this so we can show progress in taking on these issues.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Davis, Davis, you said at the beginning you didn't want to get involved in this project. But you did. What did you learn? What's the big takeaway from "Waiting For Superman"?
GUGGENHEIM: The dream of making a movie like this is conversations just like this, the fact that you and NBC and Viacom and Paramount and Get School bring a movie to the table and let people in this room have a real conversation about to fix our schools is essential. People -- but this room needs to get bigger. Everyone in this room is feeling something powerful tonight. We're feeling a real sense of commitment. No one can go home and stick their head in the sand. There's a lot of people in this country that aren't feeling what we feel. They have to go see this movie and have smaller conversations like this. And we have to have everyone, even parents, recommitted, you know, even school officials, district heads, superintendents, unions, all of us have to move off a position of self-interest like I do with my own kids, sending them to private school, like the unions do, I think, preserving the status quo. We all have to move off self-interest.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
GUGGENHEIM: And fight for these kids.
SCARBOROUGH: John Legend, final thoughts?
LEGEND: My last thing I would say, we have to realize that these kids are our kids. We have to take ownership. These are our communities. This is our country. And that means get involved. That means politically get involved. That means in the midterms. It's not sexy to vote in the midterms but it matters who, you know --
BRZEZINSKI: Oh, yes it is.
LEGEND: Who your state senator is. It matters who your local representative is. These people are the ones making the decisions. We need to get involved and take ownership over this and go to the schools and tutor, go to the schools and mentor. These are your schools, your communities.
SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much. Thanks to all of our guests.
BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: You guys were great. Davis, god bless you. Thank you so much.
Coming up next, MSNBC's going to re-air the teacher town hall hosted by Brian Williams. It's must-see TV. Tomorrow morning Joe’s going to be live from Learning Plaza. Our guests will include Governor Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Corey Booker and U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan.
BRZEZINSKI: On Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. from this very stage, General Colin Powell and his wife on "MORNING JOE." They'll talk about this issue. Thank you for joining us.
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