Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Fixing America's Public Schools

Aired September 28, 2010 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a controversial new film rips America's public schools. Are they cheating kids out of an education?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to go to school.

KING: Betraying them with broken promises. And teachers who may be to blame.

Musician John Legend, actress Cheryl Hynes are here. They'll tell us what we must do now so that our children have a fighting chance. A chance to overcome a crisis that threatens this nation's future.

Next on LARRY KING LIVE.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Good evening. Musician John Legend is an education reform activist. He wrote the song "Shine" for the film "Waiting for Superman." His new album, "Wake-Up with the Roots" is out now.

Michelle Rhee is chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools and she's featured in "Waiting for Superman."

Ben Stein, the economist and former presidential speech writer, former college professor as well.

Steve Perry is a CNN education contributor and the principal and founder of Capital Proprietary, a magna school.

"Waiting for Superman," a fascinating new documentary, is drawing attention to the state of our public school, directed by Davis Guggenheim, who brought us the Academy Award-winning firm "An Inconvenient Truth," the Al Gore film. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be a nurse. I want to be a doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How come?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I would like to help somebody in need.

MICHELLE RHEE, CHANCELLOR, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think that most of the kids here are getting a crappy education right now?

RHEE: Oh, I don't think they are. I know they are.

GEOFFREY CANADA, EDUCATION REFORMER: Either the kids are getting stupider every year or something is wrong in the education system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just do my best at school and make my grandmother proud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Among 30 developed countries, we rank 25th in math and 21st in science. And in almost every category, we've fallen behind. Except one. Kids from the USA rate number one in confidence.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK, Michelle Rhee, simply put, what's wrong?

RHEE: Well, I think that if you sort of try to boil it down, it's two things. One, there is a complete and utter lack of accountability in public schools today. We don't hold the adults in the system responsible for ensuring that we have good outcomes for kids.

KING: Principals on down?

RHEE: Principals -- from chancellors and superintendents on down, really.

KING: And?

RHEE: And the second thing is that we too often let politics determine what's happening in schools instead of thinking about what's in the best interests of children.

KING: Do you agree, John?

JOHN LEGEND, MUSICIAN: Yes, and I think the great thing about this film is it focuses on the kids. It follows the lives of five kids and their families, shows what they want, the aspirations they have, and it shows the stark choices that we place in front of them.

And the fact that there's a lottery that decides where they're going to go to school and if they get into a great school, then they may have a chance to go to college. And if they don't, then they're very likely to drop out.

And so I think we need to focus on the kids and I think what's great about this film is that it does that.

KING: And you wrote the title song, right?

LEGEND: I wrote a song called "Shine," which is the end title song, and we also contributed another song from the new album to the film.

KING: Steve, in a public school system, why should one school be better than another?

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: They shouldn't, but they are.

KING: Why?

PERRY: The reason is because the schools are designed to support the adults. So they do what they are designed to do. The failings of the public school system have to do with the fact that we have not put children first.

When we put children first, children don't have the summers off. Children don't go home at 2:45. When we put children first, we create schools with high expectations and a high accountability. When a grown person doesn't do her or his job, they have to go. You have to find something else with their day.

What we've done is we've allowed the adult comfort to be what determines whether or not we keep a school going.

KING: Does this film give the other side -- later, we'll have the other side represented here, but does it give the other side, the teachers' viewpoint? Does it, Michelle?

RHEE: Well, you know, it's interesting because a lot of people are saying that this movie is anti-teacher, and I think it's exactly the opposite. I've talked to lots of teachers who have watched the film and they say finally there's something that shows that teachers are the most important factor in a school's success. So I don't think it's anti-teacher at all.

KING: Ben, what's your thoughts on all of this?

BEN STEIN, FMR. COLLEGE PROFESSOR: My thought is that the education crisis is a cultural crisis in this entire country. I don't see these kids in the low-income schools, I've never taught in one.

I taught for many years in universities with well-to-do white kids, and even there there's a crisis of learning. The culture just does not value learning, knowledge, self-discipline, rigor, as much as it should.

It values other things, but in much of the population, it just does not value learning and hard work. There's never been an educational system so bad that a well-intentioned, hard-working motivated kid could not get an education.

There are libraries, there's the Internet. But there's a cultural crisis where people are told that it's not worthwhile to be a learned and hard-working person. This is compounded by the problems that Miss Rhee, a genuine, genuine star of the American scene has just said.

KING: Steve, why are you shaking your head no?

PERRY: Well, I don't know that people don't care about education. I don't know that parents don't care. I just don't think that they have legitimate options. What they do is they move to communities that they think are going to give them access to a quality education. What they do is they select schools within those communities and sometimes take out second mortgages on their homes to send their kids to private schools.

I think they care. It's just the limitations of options. And we know -- I have yet to meet a parent -- I do work in poor schools. Our school has a 70 percent poverty rate, 85 percent are black and Latino, yet 100 percent of them go to four-year colleges.

That's not the issue. The issue is quite frankly in the lives of society in the suburbs who are getting their behind beating by other countries who have better academic options.

KING: Why is a private school, blessed by the nature of being private, John, better? Why is it better?

LEGEND: Well, I don't think it's just by nature of being private, but I think schools that are better -- some of them are public charter schools, some of them are regular public schools, some of them are private schools. But the schools that are better have high expectations for their kids.

They have accountability and flexibility for their teachers. And they are allowed to manage their personnel in a way that makes them be effective, because the people in the building are the most important factors to making a school successful.

And the schools that are successful are able to manage the people in their building effectively.

KING: Michelle, how do we judge a teacher?

RHEE: Well, you know, there's a question right now about this. And lots of people say, well, it's impossible to --

KING: How --

RHEE: -- to measure teacher effectiveness, but we disagree. So we have completely revamped teacher evaluation in the District of Columbia. And what we've done is we've set 50 percent of the teacher's evaluation is based on their student academic growth.

So kids start out at point A. How far do they grow compared to where we expected them to be.

KING: Well, if the teachers know that, they'll give more B's.

RHEE: No, no. This is based on test scores, standardized test scores.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: OK.

RHEE: So it's objective. KING: Just thinking like a kid.

(CROSSTALK)

RHEE: That's good, though. Forty percent --

LEGEND: That's what I said --

(CROSSTALK)

LEGEND: Another 40 percent of the -- of the evaluation is based on five observations of the teachers' classroom practice. And two of those observations are completed by external experts in the field. So they're not related to anybody in the school.

Five percent based on how the school overall does so then we both have an individual and team approach. And then the last 5 percent based on softer things, like their contributions to the school community. Do they -- you know, advise the debate team or coach the soccer team.

KING: Ben, you like that idea?

STEIN: I think it's a great idea. And I think that the culture of worshiping ignorance and worshiping violence and worshiping all kinds of things other than education can be corrected by fine teachers and fine attitude and a fine atmosphere in school.

So a great deal of the responsibility does lie on the teachers, but gosh, it's a hard job to be a teacher. It's a hard job to teach kids of parents who are broken -- come from broken families, where there's poverty at home. Where there's a lot of distractions. Where there's violence.

That's an incredibly hard job. And let's give the teachers credit. They come to work in very difficult circumstances every day.

KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Bob Woodward tomorrow night.

We'll be back with our panel. But here's another clip from the film "Waiting for Superman." Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 I do owe some tuition. I said, mommy wanted you to stay in your school. And she finished my sentence, she said, I know, but you didn't have enough money.

And I said, that's right, but that was mommy's choice to put you in that school and it's going to be mommy's job to get you in a school that's better.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That first quote, Michelle, there are teachers who are indifferent?

RHEE: Absolutely. I mean, first of all, please know that there are hundreds and thousands of teachers in our school system and school systems across the country who are absolutely doing heroic things for kids every day.

But I think part of the problem in public education is that we don't also want to talk about the other side, which is that we have some people in classrooms who are doing a disservice to children every day.

KING: Are you anti-union?

RHEE: I am not anti-union at all. I think part of -- you know, part of what people talk about all the time is that if you question the union and their practices, all of a sudden you become anti-union. I don't think I'm anti-union. I think I'm pro-kid.

KING: How does your charter school work?

PERRY: It's not a charter school, it's a public school.

KING: It's a magna school.

PERRY: It's a magna school. The way it works is we have students apply. It's a lottery system. And we don't have a public lottery because I couldn't -- I couldn't sit in a room with 1,000 -- with 2,000 people and apply for 100 vacancies each year.

I couldn't watch people feel like their lives were in the balance of a ball. But it's also important to note that good teachers can't be good teachers when they know that there's a bad teacher in the room next door.

Good teachers have a responsibility. Good teachers are quick to say, we as adults are quick to tell children, don't get into the stop- snitching thing. When you see something bad happen, do something about it. Well, you teachers who know that there are teachers who are not teaching in the room next door, you have a moral obligation to say something to someone.

KING: Why would someone become a teacher and not want to teach?

PERRY: I think people start out with the best of intentions. I have to believe that each person enters into this with the best of intentions. But just as there is with everything, not everybody's good at what they do.

Some people are just not good at teaching. They simply don't now how to take a concept, break it down, and deliver it in a linear way in which a child can understand it. They just don't have the capacity to relate.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called "Blink." And in it he talks --

KING: A good book.

PERRY: Yes. And in it he talks about a specific experiment in which children or students watch the teacher.

Every teacher that I've ever fired has been brought to my attention, not because I have certain certifications or capacities, because children said we need to vote them off the island.

KING: John, you don't have kids, right?

LEGEND: I don't have kids.

KING: What involved you in this topic?

LEGEND: I'm passionate about it because I have a passion for justice. I think it was instilled in me by my parents from reading about, you know, people who did great things in the past, and I've always felt like we should fight for equality.

That's just something that a citizen of America should be about. And when we talk about equality, when we talk about justice in America, we can't have it if there's no equality in the quality of the education that people receive.

KING: Ben, if all this is true, I know in medicine we don't rank in the top ten in the world. We certainly are not in education. One begins to doubt if we're a great country.

STEIN: Well, we are a very great country, but we have a lot of problems with the culture of the country. The culture of the country does not value things that are valued --

KING: How can it be great and have that?

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: Because some parts of it still do have that, but some parts don't.

Look, it's an interesting thing. Some kids come from poor backgrounds -- some -- long, long ago, there were some freed African-American slaves who worked and worked and worked and worked, and got into Harvard and got into Columbia and got into Princeton.

So those kids had the right ability to do that. Now there are white kids from the suburbs who don't bother to learn to read and write. It's all a matter of motivation. And one thing I noticed from this discussion endlessly is we blame the teachers, blame the teachers, blame the teachers, and I'm sure many of them deserve blame, but we don't ever say, why don't the kids wake up and smell the coffee and say, look, it's up to us to do some work. It's up to us to go to the library and maybe get some books out and educate ourselves.

KING: Let's take a break and talk about the parents after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think about 60,000 people have gone to this school in 40 years. Forty thousand didn't graduate. This is the damage that this school has done to this neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A child that doesn't finish high school will earn less and be eight times more likely to go to prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to go to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For these kids, their only chance at getting into a great school depends on whether their number is picked in a lottery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if Francisco doesn't get in, is there another chance?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What's the role of the parents, Steve?

PERRY: Parents have an important role. But the parents are often blamed for that which the school is responsible for.

I have a son. I have two sons and they play the piano. And I don't know how to play the piano. If my piano teacher ever came to our home and said, you know what, if you were a better pianist, your sons would be better piano -- players, I'd fire him so quick he'd forget he ever taught my sons to play.

I paid that man to do this. We are asking parents who in some cases haven't taken chemistry either in 12, 15, 20 years or if ever, to help a child with chemistry homework. What the parent can do is create an environment in which homework can be done, but if there's no homework being assigned, and the parent can't be blamed for the child not knowing.

KING: You fired a bunch of teachers, didn't you?

RHEE: I did. I did. And it was not particularly popular. But the thing that we have to remember is that, you know, we're not a jobs program. We are not here for the comfort and the security of adults. We are here to educate children. We have a responsibility to them and to them alone. And so if we have to take some actions that makes some adults unhappy, but it's going to benefit kids in the end, we have to do those things.

LEGEND: This is not an easy matter here. There's some -- you know, we have to really shatter the status quo sometimes, and Michelle, particularly, has taken some knocks for that for doing some unpopular things, but there are things that needed to be done.

KING: There's a new mayor in town, right?

RHEE: So my --

KING: And you supported the other mayor.

RHEE: My boss, who brought me into this job, he lost the Democratic primary.

KING: What happens to you?

RHEE: Well, that's -- that's still to be seen.

KING: You think they're going to let you go?

RHEE: I -- I don't know. I can't answer that question.

KING: Ben, you made a strong statement in favor of Michelle Rhee. Do you --

STEIN: She's one of the best. She's the best. She is the best. Washington, D.C. is my hometown. I love Washington. She has done miracles there.

I look at that city, there's one part of it that's called Upper Northwest, which is west of Rock Creek Park. That -- the kids there have parents who are rich, parents who can help them with their homework, parents who have a conducive study atmosphere at home.

She's working on the other kids, the kids who are east of the park, who have difficult home lives, who come from neighborhoods of violence. She's saying we care about you. We're going to save your lives.

I hope and pray she is kept on. She is an American saint.

KING: Steve, is there a tinge of racism in this? Why is a white school better than a black school?

PERRY: I don't think there's a tinge of racism in terms of -- well, you know, let me take that back. Yes, of course there is.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: Let me just keep -- let me just do what I do. Definitely. Because we have low expectations for certain people's children. We expect that it's OK that there's a 50 percent dropout rate.

There are some schools in which there's a 70 percent dropout rate. Would you get in a vehicle that has a 70 percent chance of not making it to its destination? We accept this as if it's OK, and then we start talking about the children who are in that schools as if it's their fault.

All they did was wake up today, come put on whatever uniform they were supposed to put on, come into the building with the expectation that they're there to learn. Say what you want about them, but they did come to school. Give them credit for that.

They made the decision to be there. Now that they're there, teach them, man. Give them what they came to get. But because of racism, we allow these schools to persist. We would not allow this to persist in other communities. I would think.

However, what we see is this existing all over the country. These low expectations have become a standard, which is bizarre, that we -- I mean, we're Americans.

KING: What came first, though, John, the chicken or the egg? Did the low expectations come first or did people do poorly and then we --

(CROSSTALK)

LEGEND: Well, for black Americans, we weren't deemed valuable enough to educate throughout the history of --

KING: So it's society's fault?

LEGEND: It's been society's fault. We were slaves for a long time. We were in segregated schools for a long time. And for a long time, black Americans weren't valued enough to think that we were worth investing in in this country. And part of this is a legacy of that.

KING: And that's hard to overcome.

LEGEND: Yes, but it needs to be done.

KING: Damned right.

LEGEND: Absolutely.

KING: More on the education crisis, how to fix it after the break. We'll show you another clip from this movie and then we'll present a little bit of the other side. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back. Let's take another look at a clip from "Waiting for Superman." This time the focus on the tracking system. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many families and their children are unaware that their academic future will be decided by a school official who will place them on a track. Lower tracks have lower expectations and often worse teachers. So students placed on lower tracks often find they are running fast, but following behind.

Look at Woodside High School. Out of 100 ninth graders, 62 will graduate and only 32 will be prepared for a four-year college. But at Summit Prep, out of 100 students, 96 will graduate and all of them will be ready for a four-year college.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Michelle, during the break, you were mentioning that nobody wants to fight. Is that everybody wants to please everybody?

RHEE: Yes. You know, in the last couple of days, we were at a conference and we actually started to get to some of the real issues, and John himself actually got into it a little bit.

And you immediately once that happened, where we actually started getting to the real meat of the problems, you heard a lot of people saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, we don't need to argue, we all just need to come together. We need to focus on the things that we agree on.

And I couldn't disagree with that more. I mean, we actually -- we've spent too much time focusing on the things that are going right and where we all agree. What we need to focus time on now is the things that we disagree about.

Because we -- there are serious disagreements between people who are responsible for educating children right now and if we shy away from those discussions, we won't see any progress in the next decade.

KING: But do they all, though, Steve, have the same goal?

PERRY: I don't know that that they do.

KING: No?

PERRY: I don't know that they do.

KING: I mean one has a goal of let's not educate?

PERRY: I think that one has a goal of making sure that their employees, that their union members stay employed. That their ranks stay swollen so that they can have -- they can be the political juggernauts that they are, so they can frighten local candidates, so they can control the way in which elections go. That's one group.

KING: More important than educating kids?

PERRY: Oh, no doubt. Because I can only speak about what is. The facts are what the facts are. If we're 18th and 24th in a race that only has 30 participants and we spend as much as we do these people are the individuals that the -- those who are in this organizations are the ones who swell the ranks of the schools. They have all the contracts. They're the ones who are in the schools. And since they're the ones in the schools, they have to accept some culpability.

KING: Ben, you agree with that?

STEIN: I agree they have to accept some culpability. But I'd like to go back once again to the families and to the children. I don't expect a first grader or a second grader to know to study and to know what's in it for him or her to study, but I do expect a high school student, even a junior high school student to say, hey, you know --

LEGEND: But Ben --

STEIN: Maybe there's something in this studying thing, maybe I should try to connect with the books and connect with this important subject matter and read the newspaper instead of doing things that are anti- social and counterproductive.

LEGEND: Well, Ben, we're creating these high school kids in first grade.

RHEE: That's right.

LEGEND: When I'm on the board of Harlem Village Academies in New York and these kids come to fourth grade, reading at a first grade level, they come to fourth grade having to count so they can do arithmetic. Do you think that's because they don't have the desire to learn?

And then what happens is that compounds, and by the time they get to high school, then they are frustrated. Then they do want to drop out. But we've set them up for that early on. And if we don't remedy it early on, then they do get to high school and feel frustrated and feel like they can't learn. And they don't see a future in learning.

STEIN: We have -- but I think if they have the right parents at home --

(CROSS TALK)

STEIN: We are going to require you to learn. We expect you to learn. Despite your environment, we expect you to learn and pay attention. I think these kids can -- look, I went to law school with kids who came from very unfortunate backgrounds and managed to get to very good law schools. It can be done.

PERRY: The right parents? What is he saying? The right parents?

STEIN: I'm saying parents who care about their kids' education.

(CROSS TALK)

PERRY: Listen, if one child goes to a school that's the equivalent of a buffet, and another one goes to the school that is serving corn, you can't -- STEIN: I'm not talking about that. You're totally making up what I said. What I said is even if a child comes from a poor family, and is in a poor school, if the parent is really, totally committed to that child's education --

(CROSS TALK)

RHEE: I totally disagree with that. And I think one of the brilliant things that Davis does in this movie is he actually violates people's expectations for urban inner city parents of color. Because these parents in the movie, they care about their kids. They are willing to do anything that they can --

STEIN: I just said that!

KING: Hold it.

RHEE: But, look, even for those parents who are trying to do everything they can, they cannot get their kids into a decent school. That's the problem.

KING: We're going to present another side of the picture. Ben will remain. We will do a lot more on this topic in the weeks ahead. Thanks to all our guests. By the way, don't forget John Legend's new album is "Wake Up." You keep up, you're going to make it.

Some teachers are not happy -- there's the cover of the album. Some teachers are not happy with this documentary, or being blamed for the state of our schools. We'll get their side after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually know how hard it is to be a good teacher. It took me three years to become a decent teacher, before I really learned my craft. And then in about five years, I was a master teacher.

When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art. You're seeing a master, and it is as, I think, unbelievable as seeing a great athlete or seeing a great musician.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're now joined by Randy Weingarten. She's president of the American Federation of Teachers. And Cheryl Hines, she's the Emmy- nominated star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." And she's the executive producer of "School Pride," which will premiere on NBC on October 15th, and Ben Stein remains with us.

Randy, you took a lot of flak, I think, in the first part of this show. What's the teacher's side of the equation?

RANDY WEINGARTEN, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Look, let me do both. Let me talk about teachers rather than the Teacher's Union, because the Teachers' Union is around to help teachers get the tools and conditions and the respect they need to do good jobs for kids. Because like everyone on your previous panel, including Ben, all of us who are involved in education want to make a difference in the lives of kids.

But like what Jeff said in the clip, a great teacher is amazing and unbelievable. And our job is to make sure that we have good to great teachers for all kids.

KING: Why are you against the measuring of them, though?

WEINGARTEN: We're not actually against the measuring of them. The issue -- we actually -- our union, actually -- in January, I proposed to revamp all of teacher evaluation, because we, like Michelle, and like Jeff, and like others -- no one wants a bad teacher in the classroom.

KING: But they say all you want to do is keep them in their job.

WEINGARTEN: Well, they're just wrong.

KING: So she was wrong?

WEINGARTEN: She's wrong about that. But the real issue becomes how do we help effectively assess teachers? And so what we've done, Larry, is that since January, when I proposed a total revamping of evaluations, 50 to 60 districts are now doing what we said we should do. New Haven, Connecticut, is one that started it last October. And they have a new evaluation system.

KING: And they get rid of teachers?

WEINGARTEN: They are -- what they're doing is that they are helping teachers either improve or they are saying that teachers need to be weeded out in a professional way. And then they are aligning due process with that. But the bottom line is, we need to help teachers become as best as they can.

KING: Cheryl, what do you think?

CHERYL HINES, ACTRESS: This is a -- it's a very complicated problem -- situation. I definitely think there should be a system where we can weed out teachers in a --

KING: No reason to have a bad teacher.

HINES: Right.

WEINGARTEN: It's fine. You have to. You're right.

HINES: Well, right now, it seems like there are just stacks and stacks of paperwork and this long, you know, system of trying to get rid of an ineffective teacher. So it definitely seems like there's a huge problem. And I think you're probably right, too.

I know I'm new to this whole education reform. But I have spoken to a lot of teachers who are very frustrated because they feel like they're just teaching to the test. That's what I hear. All they're doing is trying to get higher test scores, because of the way they're being evaluated. So it sounds like a complicated issue.

KING: It is. Hold it. Ben, do you see a solution here? If they have to do better on the tests, then, as Cheryl points it out, then they teach to the test.

STEIN: I think that is exactly what's happening. But it may be that teaching to the test is a way of teaching. For years and years and years, children learned by rote memorization. Yet, it turned out that we generated some of the greatest scholars, thinkers and writers, mathematicians of all time by rote memorization as the basic building block of school.

So it may be that teaching to the test is one way of teaching, period. Obviously, nobody, I'm sure, especially Ms. Weingarten, wants to have bad teachers in school. Nobody wants to have kids who aren't learning. We all want to do something about this crisis in the African-American community, and get the incredible potential of these kids realized.

We all want to do that. I think that is America's really giant crisis. We have got to get the minority members of this country, and get them educated and get them up to the standards that they are capable of. That is our big crisis in America right now.

KING: And we'll pick right up right after this. >

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kids look at the world and they make certain predictions based on the evidence they are receiving from their peers, from their parents, and from their teachers. From their perspective, the world is a heartless, cold-blooded place, because they realize they've been given the short end of the stick, and they don't know why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Before I have Randy respond to what Ben said, Cheryl, what is "School Pride?"

HINES: Well, "School Pride" is a show that we're doing on NBC on Friday nights starting October 15th.

KING: A sitcom?

HINES: No, no. It's a reality show. I like to call it a docu- reality show, where we went across the country and we would go into a school that needed a lot of help, a public school. We would ask the community if they would help us renovate the school. And with the help of the community, the teachers, the kids, the students, everybody got together and worked for seven days straight, day and night, and would renovate a school.

KING: How many have you done?

HINES: We did seven. We did seven.

KING: And this airs when?

HINES: October 15th, on Friday nights on NBC, at 8:00.

KING: Two weeks from tomorrow.

HINES: Yes.

KING: I got it. How did you want to respond to what Ben said?

WEINGARTEN: First of all, "School Pride" is fantastic and our folks in Detroit -- I was just saying this to Cheryl earlier -- love what happened to that school. And they just love it. So thank you, because what it does for kids and for teachers and parents is says it matters.

HINES: That's exactly why we did it. I know you want to talk about -- just to speak to what Ben was saying a little bit earlier. When he's saying, well, how come -- you know, the students need to be held accountable for not wanting to learn. I think it's very difficult for a child to want to learn when they go into a classroom and ceiling tiles are falling on their head and they can't use the bathroom. They have to hold it all day because their bathroom doesn't work.

So I would not be -- I would not care if I learned either in conditions like that.

WEINGARTEN: And look, we sued -- when I was in New York City, we sued the city because of the condition of school buildings. We won that suit. And I give Giuliani credit, as well as Mayor Bloomberg. They put a lot of money into trying to revamp and rehab buildings.

Let me just get back to Ben's point for a second, because this is also what makes this complicated. Absolutely, we have to focus, like a laser, on the kids who have been left behind. But what makes the challenge greater today than ever before is because it's not just about rote memorization anymore. It's about if kids are going to compete in our global economy, the key is problem solving and critical thinking. And most of the tests right now -- and this is why Secretary of Education Duncan is spending 300 million dollars to rehab these tests. Most of these tests are about rote memorization and about filling in the bubble sheet, as opposed to how do we engage kids in critical thinking?

So we now have 37 states who are doing these new standards. But we have to help teachers have the curriculum, have the preparation to do it. So let me just end by saying this: in lots and lots of countries that have now out-paced us, first of all, they're all union, and they all engage teachers in a very different way. Finland, for example, treats their teachers like we treat our doctors in terms of the preparation, the planning, and the conditions. Ultimately, the three or four states that do the best are very densely union. We can solve this.

KING: What's more important, Ben, than a good teacher?

STEIN: Good parents. But teachers are very, very important. You know, as I'm watching this show, I am very puzzled about something. And perhaps Ms. Weingarten could respond to this, or perhaps Ms. Hines, a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful performer, who I've enjoyed so much. Anyway, what I'm wondering is, what happened? When I was -- I graduated my school a long, long time ago. And I don't remember ever having a bad teacher in public school. Not one bad teacher. What happened? What happened?

WEINGARTEN: Well, ultimately, we do not have an epidemic of bad teachers. But what we are saying is that we have to make sure that nobody uses due process as an excuse to either not ensure that teacher quality is the best it can be, or ensure that people are managing.

So we all have to do more than we used to do. We all can't -- you know, the status quo is not good for America. We all have to change. And so --

STEIN: But what happened in the whole system? What happened to the whole system? We used to have the best school systems ever. California used to have among the best school systems in the whole world. What happened to the whole system? What happened to the whole system?

KING: Let me get a break in, and we'll have them respond. We'll be right back. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Randy, Mayor Bloomberg of New York has outlined a plan to do away with lifetime positions, and replace it with a system where teachers would have to earn tenure. What do you think of that?

WEINGARTEN: Teachers should have to earn tenure.

KING: So you agree with it?

WEINGARTEN: There shouldn't be -- the thing that I think teachers were so upset about in the movie -- and I've talked to many of them. A teacher at Central Park on Saturday stopped me and was crying about this movie.

KING: Which is --

WEINGARTEN: She talked about how she works -- she came into teaching after 9/11, took a 50 percent pay cut, comes into school an hour before she -- the school day starts, leaves when the janitor kicks her out, the custodian kicks her out, takes money out of her pocket all the time to pay for supplies. And what she said was I devote my life to kids.

KING: What did the film say?

WEINGARTEN: The film basically said that teachers are not who they ought to be. So she took that in a very demoralizing way. So when Mayor Bloomberg says we should earn tenure, absolutely. The tenure process is supposed to be only due process to say that after your probationary period of three years, you're a good teacher or not.

So we should earn tenure. It should be something that is a high standard. And we agree with the mayor about that. And I know that my successor in New York City has said he wants to work with the mayor on that.

HINES: I have to disagree with you about "Waiting For Superman." I don't think that's the message of the movie, is not to attack the teachers, I think it's really shining a spotlight on how we're failing our kids and how we as adults are failing --

KING: All of us.

HINES: It's all of us. It's the teachers. It's the parents. It's the decision makers, government officials, all of us. And this goes back to what Ben was talking about, where did we go wrong? Well, Ben, you know, when "School Pride" went across the country, we're going into schools -- and they don't even have to be inner city schools; they're all schools. There are chalkboards and that's what the teachers are writing out their -- they're teaching on chalkboards. And we're in a world of computers. There are schools that don't even have computers. So we --

KING: They don't have the equipment, the modern equipment of learning. That's ridiculous, isn't it, in a modern system, ben?

STEIN: Well, I don't know how much educational computer equipment did Thomas Jefferson or James Madison have? A child can learn --

(CROSS TALK)

STEIN: A child can learn to speak, to write, to do mathematics, to learn history without modern equipment. Obviously, Cheryl is totally, completely right. A school should be a clean, neat place with up to date equipment. But I just cannot avoid thinking to myself, somehow, some kids do learn. I think it would be worth the studies, since we're studying everything, why is it that some kids learn and some can't? Let's try to break that down and understand what are the factors?

KING: Do we know?

HINES: I think we do know. You were looking at what people like Jeff are doing. When they're giving kids a safe, stable place to learn, and really giving kids attention and care, and saying, I know you're going to succeed. I'm not going to let you fail. I'm going to see you through from Kindergarten through graduation from college -- if we said that to every kid, I feel they would learn and I feel that's what we're learning from all this.

WEINGARTEN: You have four things we have to do. And the world is more complicated than what it was even three or four or five years ago. So good teachers supported by good leaders, really robust, engaging curriculum, and thirdly, you have to have these kind of wrap- around services that Jeff does in Harlem, that Syracuse does, that Pittsburgh does, by promising every child a college education if they graduate from high school. We have to promise kids, particularly kids who are falling behind, that we are going to do things to level the playing field.

That's -- we have to do all three of them. And I agree with Cheryl. All of us have to take more responsibility.

KING: We'll be right back with our remaining moments. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Two quick things, Randy. Should Michelle Rhee keep her job?

WEINGARTEN: That will be for the new mayor to -- look. I think Michelle's heart is in the right direction. But this is -- when you have a mayoral control system, you need the mayor and Michelle to have -- the new mayor and Michelle to make that decision.

KING: You don't think it's going to work?

WEINGARTEN: You know, let them make that decision.

KING: Someone said to me earlier that the problem they had with the union was there's this teacher and there's a bilingual student, needs to learn more English. She has to go home by 3:20 by union rules, can't stay after school. Is that true?

WEINGARTEN: It's absolutely not true. There -- some -- you know -- like remember I just told thank you story about this teacher today who -- there's a contract in New York City. It says you're in school for the hours of seven hours a day. This teacher and so many others --

KING: So nothing prohibits them --

WEINGARTEN: Nothing prohibits them from staying there. The issue is we all have to take more responsibility.

KING: But they can work extra hours?

WEINGARTEN: Of course. We have to stop pointing fingers to others as the excuses. Should managers manage better? Of course. Should we make sure that tenure is a process that's not a life time guarantee but just due process? Of course. Should we engage parents and people like Cheryl more? Of course.

We all have to take more responsibility for our kids.

KING: Ben, are you optimistic at all? STEIN: I see a man who had a Kenyan father abandon him, a mother from the Midwest who abandoned him, who managed to educate himself and become president of the United States of America, even though he's a man of color, I think it can be done.

KING: Optimistic, Cheryl, after your --

HINES: I'm very optimistic. You know, what I was afraid of going into this project -- I was afraid I'd find a lot of people who just did not care about the schools or about the kids. And that is exactly the opposite of what we found. We had over 15,000 volunteers come out and help us.

KING: As we said earlier, we'll have you all back. Thanks, Randy. Thanks, everybody.

Bob Woodward is here tomorrow night. We're going to discuss his new book "Obama's Wars." That's tomorrow night. Right now, can't wait to hear the story about the guy in Michigan. It's Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?