Waiting for Superman

A fellow teacher candidate, whom I respect tremendously, posted his thoughts about the the film, “Waiting for Superman,” and the spotlight it cast on the two opposing camps in today’s educational crisis.  After replying to his post, I decided to update and expand my reply, which follows.  I’ve also added several links further below to sites that address points made in “Waiting for Superman.”

I want to make one point perfectly clear:  our educational system is a mess and leaving it as is, or making minor improvements will not fix it; massive change is required.  However, massive change must be shown to be effective, equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and affordable (within reason and the availability of the source of funds) before we implement, in knee-jerk fashion, one or more dictates of those holding the purse strings, public or private.  As I posted earlier today, the essential elements of effective schools are clearly defined.  We just need to start the hard work of addressing each and every one of them.  A system will not work if one or more parts are excluded; its as simple, and complex, as that.

If you do not have time to read my post below, but are interested in a learning about the unspoken motivation behind those that champion charter schools, read Ira Shor’s comments at:  http://www.notwaitingforsuperman.org/Articles/20101004-IraShor

Also, read Diane Ravitch’s book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” which provides the most comprehensive perspective I’ve found to date about the issues plaguing education today.  http://www.dianeravitch.com/

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I believe the crisis in education today is presently framed as charter vs. public which misdirects precious resources and debates away from fixing our existing system to advocating for the privatization of public schools, with all associated financial benefits accruing to those that have the money to invest in this sector.  To be clear, if these folks truly knew how to fix our system, I’d be all for shoveling taxpayer money to them as opposed to those that have misused it to date.  I do not want to keep on doing the same thing over and over expecting new results, that is the definition of insanity.  However, these advocates, many of them foundations, think tanks, and others funded by the ultra-wealthy like Bill & Melinda Gates, do not have a magic recipe, and are madly turning over every rock in their attempt to find it:  problem is, one does not exist.  I welcome their attention, participation, search, and investment, but not their “poison the well” strategy of casting teachers, unions, and others who are not on-board with their views as villains, defaming all since they have the money to do so, and their egos demand that they be victorious in their latest quest.  One other point, many in the privatization camp claim that use of business models, techniques, etc from the corporate world will save the day; I do not agree and believe it is another example of pointing at something as if it held the key to the kingdom.*

The myriad of foundations, charter school movements, and other think tanks, do not have the recipe to fix our ailing school system since one does not exist!  There is no single set, or even multiple sets, of steps, people, pedagogy, training, or curricula that will magically turn around an educational system serving our great nation.  As I included in an earlier post, and copy below, the following captures the essential elements of effective schools.  The hard part is addressing each of these sufficiently so positive progress occurs.

The essentials for good schools are willing learners, a safe and supportive environment, excellent teachers, fine administrators, quality support staff, small classes, adequate facilities, the necessary tools, involved parents, and strong community support. Stephen Blum

A true, effective solution requires nearly everyone to get involved (in every element in the above quote), to roll up their sleeves, to stop looking for someone on high to fix our troubles, to make a personal commitment to our children’s future, to get involved in our world beyond soccer fields and our career.  However, doing so requires us to call into question our very way of being and living, as Americans, and what we truly value.  Reality reveals that we do not have enough time to allocate among our job, family, self, community, etcetera to maintain our current way of life and fix the school system, or anything else that needs fixing in our country but that’s a separate blog site someday, but something must give.  Yet, our tax money is not yielding the expected “return on investment” (aka results) we expect, or need.

Mr. Guggenheim, the media and others who jump on the “charter schools are the path to salvation bandwagon” do believe there is a magic recipe.  In rallying around charter schools, some under the umbrella of choice, they are grossly oversimplifying, sadly biasing, and surreptitiously manipulating the story while hiding many, many facts that would weaken their claims that charter schools hold the key to the future of education.  As an example, many charter schools’ attrition rates are huge, sometimes exceeding 50% – they simply counsel poor performers to leave the school or formally remove them per the agreement parents signed to have their children attend the charter school (not all charters require or do this). This is not to say that the status quo is acceptable; it is not, but radically rallying around one cause celebre is not acceptable either. Shame on those that seek to further their own parochial view over those in the trenches everyday giving their heart and soul.

The following excerpt from The Nation (see link below) which quotes Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and the villain in Waiting for Superman, says it best.

When I spoke with Weingarten in late August at her office on Capitol Hill, she was livid about Waiting for Superman, referring to its charter school triumphalism as an example of “magic dust.” “There’s always pressure to find the one thing that’s going to be the shortcut,” she said. But she was ecstatic about improved relations with Gates and angry that, in her view, the mainstream media have ignored the news of their rapprochement. “The media want conflict,” she said. “They don’t let us tell our story.”

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The following link discusses a shortcoming in Diane Ravitch’s excellent book, The Death and Life of the American School System.  In short, this author points out 1) that using Milton Friedman’s economic model, while charter schools’ educational outcomes might be the same as the public schools’ outcomes, they do so for 90% of public school costs; and 2) neighborhood public schools are not a bastion of success, they are failing today so not offering charter schools does not solve the problem (I do not believe Ms. Ravitch thinks our public system, as is, works.  I believe she advocates that they be fixed, as opposed to having charter schools siphon off the best & brightest from public schools in a death spiral for the neighborhood schools, who cannot turn away students for behavior problems, etc, unlike the charter schools.

http://blog.american.com/?page_id=11275

I’ve included a few other links here for your reading pleasure. I’d love to discuss this with any and all, especially those in my cohort as we learn how to be effective teachers of change ourselves.

http://www.thenation.com/article/154986/grading-waiting-superman?page=0,0

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-09-17/waiting-for-superman-randi-weingarten-education-films-villain/

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/25_01/25_01_dingerson.shtml

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-legend/wake-up-we-know-how-to-fi_b_748608.html

http://www.aft.org/NotWaiting/

http://notwaitingforsuperman.org/

Dozens of outstanding perspectives about our educational plight, why we got here, how we can get out, what works, what doesn’t (sometimes the same item is discussed for both), etc are available at the following site:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/education/

* I spent 25 years in the corporate world and I do not believe it is an effective model for our educational system, or any institution which values its mission above blind allegiance to capitalism.  In the best of circumstances, a corporate model provides vignettes to consider regarding operational efficiencies, leadership, vision, initiative and teamwork; and these should be explored thoroughly.  However, in the worst of circumstances, the corporate model gives too much power to the crafty, rewards the vanquisher, stifles the collaborator, and serves simply to keep the organization, as a financial entity, alive sacrificing any and all on its altar of doing what’s best for the investor; which blindly adopted and implemented is hogwash, by the way.  But it keeps things simple which is good for business, and the select few who own the majority of the company.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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