So here's what the MacArthur Foundation has to say about the teacher, Amir Abo-Shaeer, who works at a non-charter public high school in Santa Barbara called Dos Pueblos High School.
Amir Abo-Shaeer is a physics teacher who is inspiring and preparing public high school students for careers in science and mathematics. Recognizing the potential for programs at the secondary level to encourage students to pursue science and engineering degrees, Abo-Shaeer left a career in industry to become a teacher at Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, California.
In 2002, he created the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy (DPEA), a school within a school with a rigorous applied science curriculum that integrates physics, engineering, and mathematics courses; hands-on building projects; and specialized competitions. The program culminates in the design and construction of a robot by the academy’s senior class and its entry into the FIRST Robotics Competition. Although often competing against larger and better-equipped schools, DPEA’s robotic teams have received awards in regional, national, and international contests. Abo-Shaeer’s ability to motivate students and his enthusiasm for science education have transformed the culture at his high school.
DPEA participants are highly regarded by other students, and young women now comprise approximately half of the academy’s students—a proportion considerably above the national average in advanced high school science courses. He is currently developing plans to expand the curriculum to accommodate students at different academic levels, as well as to establish a training program for educators interested in undertaking similar efforts at other schools.
Wait a minute. He created this academy in a regular public high school that has teachers represented by a union? Well, how the heck did that happen when we hear that only charters are doing innovative things because of freedom from the shackles of union rules? Waiting for Superman sure missed this school. Oh wait, that's right, they don't show a single good public school in the entire film.
Also, you want to see probably one of the most high-functioning high schools in the country? Check out DPHS's website. They have AP, IB AND a gifted program and a nationally ranked jazz choir, drama, visual arts, academic team championships as well as athletic ones. It's amazing. Their SAT reading scores are nearly 60 points higher than the national average; the math scores are nearly 80 points higher. One last thing, they are 24% F/RL and have 9.3% ELL.
From their website:
“Dos Pueblos High deserves a special word of congratulations because it had the highest combined SAT scores this year, the highest combined percentage of students taking the SAT's, the highest AP scores, and the highest number of National Merit Scholarship finalists of all schools in the county, public or private.”
Bill Cirone, S. B. County Superintendent of Schools
It can be done.