Seven Times “XQ Super School Live” Denigrated America’s Teachers (And One Time It Praised Them)

At 8 p.m. EST on September 08, 2017, all four major television networks simulcast “XQ Super School Live,” a celebrity-filled stage show reminiscent of MTV’s recent Video Music Awards. Here is a primer on the event from The Washington Post. Here are the reflections of Steven Singer, the classroom authority on corporate education reform schemes. In case you missed it, save an hour of your time by reading the summary below.

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(1) The opening sequence flips between David Muir of ABC, Gayle King of CBS, Chris Wallace of Fox, and Al Roker of NBC all perpetuating the false narrative that American high schools are failing and stagnant. Steven Singer has already successfully debunked this myth. The rhetoric was so heavy-handed that it almost came across as irony. David Muir said that they “have all put aside any network competition to join together… on what needs to change in American high schools.” One minute into the broadcast, the message was clear, network television does not support America’s public high schools or its teachers.

(2) Cut to Bill Hader reporting live from a “real” American high school. “When students cross this threshold, they bring their hopes and dreams only to encounter a system that no longer helps them achieve these goals.” Hader’s deadpan sarcastic delivery of such an indictment must have been an attempt to soften the blow, because soon the camera pans to students and teachers singing a re-imagined version of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” an implication that our high schools have completely forgotten about their students.

(3) Chance the Rapper opens the live show with these words, “Everyone here tonight recognizes that the world around us has changed dramatically. But we look at our schools, and we just see the same.” This is the often repeated education reform narrative of public schools as the “status quo.” This was the moment in the show when whatever irony I was perceiving began to fade away, and it became clear that I, as a public school teacher, was the problem and not the solution.

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(4) It takes almost two more minutes of singing and dancing to flash all the names of the celebrities that are soon to appear in the show, be verbally introduced, and have their names on the screen a second time. Host Viola Davis then says, “We at XQ know that the days of hoping someone else will come along to do it for us are over.” This seems to be a nod to the highly problematic 2010 education reform documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” Cut to this video which is at the heart of XQ’s contempt for America’s public high schools.

(5) XQ uses such broad strokes to describe American public schools. To hear XQ tell it, there are absolutely no innovative classrooms or teachers in any public high schools. At this point in the show, you can feel that a punch line is imminent, but it is not exactly clear what the joke is. And then it hits you square in the face, a close up of XQ co-founders, Russlynn Ali and Laurene Powell Jobs, and the words, “Two years ago XQ ran a competition to create super schools across the country.” The message? American high schools are broken, but XQ can fix at least a few of them.

(6) At the very core of branding for XQ are phrases that begin, “Imagine,” and “What if?” With every phrase that begins this way, XQ is essentially saying, “These are the things that high schools are not doing. These are the things that America’s teachers are not doing.” Then, in the middle of a dramatic stage presentation, a faceless narrator drops the commonly used school choice phrase “regardless of zip code.” This is not a reference to funding equity, but an underhanded reference to the vouchers and Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) of the “School Choice” movement.

[1] The one praise that XQ gives to teachers is sandwiched between profiles of “Super Schools” to create some distance from all the negative comments about those teachers’ schools. XQ slightly tweaks the much better “Teaching Center” video from Key and Peele and turns it into a mediocre red carpet event for teachers complete with coverage from Melissa Rivers and Kevin Frazier. And Lin Manuel Miranda wants me to use the hashtag #thanksforteachingme? Didn’t XQ just spend twenty-three minutes convincing me that America’s high school teachers were not teaching anything?

(7) About eight minutes after the red carpet bit, “XQ Super School Live” cuts to a video called “I wish I learned…” featuring a host of celebrities including Hasan Minhaj, Cate Blanchett, Tony Hale, Christian Slater, MC Hammer, Joel McHale, Marshawn Lynch, Samuel L. Jackson and many others basically listing the ways that their high school teachers failed them.

Here is a brief description of each “Super School” profiled in the show. All of these schools have one particular non-traditional school policy in common. They all have some element of a selective admissions process:

Furr High School in Houston, Texas is part of Houston Independent School District. FHS is home to Mindful Exploration of Technology and Arts (META) Magnet Program and REACH Charter School.

Hunter College High School is a highly selective magnet school on the upper east side of Manhattan. The admissions policies at HCHS have been criticized by notable alumnus Chris Hayes, MSNBC journalist.

Da Vinci Rise High School is “a non-classroom based independent study charter school” serving about 30 students in Hawthorne, California.

Washington Leadership Academy is a charter high school in Washington, D.C. funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart).

Hume-Fogg Academic High School is a magnet school in Nashville, Tennessee. Hume-Fogg adopted a selective admissions process in 1982, the same year Nashville’s public schools were forced to desegregate.

Iowa Big is the cooperative effort of multiple Iowa school districts. “Each partnering district has slots proportional to their financial commitment to the program.”

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