Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting for Superman...and believing in change

On Thursday, October 7, the Central Dallas Ministries public policy department will co-sponsor a showing of the Waiting for Superman documentary. Though we made the decision before all of the controversy, there is now a firestorm of strong opinions thrusting themselves into the media on both sides. It seems there really are no lukewarm voices.

I'll publicly admit that I was one of the major advocates pushing our public policy committee to show the film...and I am still strongly in favor of showing the film. I watched the Oprah segment and I must say, I was very impressed. No, she didn't have teachers on her panel...but she also didn't have parents. What she did have was socially conscious voices who are concerned about our children. See the film below:

What I truly appreciate is Guggenheim's willingness to recognize that he takes his own children past all of other other schools to ensure they receive a quality education. Because he can. And he recognizes that ALL children deserve the same quality of education that he is able to give his own children. His film forces us all to acknowledge that our education system is not fair and opportunistic for every child (believe it or not, some people don't know that)...and we need to change that.

I have read arguments that the cost of schools like Harlem Children's Zone and KIPP and other charters are exorbitant and not sustainable over time. To that I would say, if there is success there and that is what it takes, then we need to figure out how to make it sustainable! Why should we provide mediocre or less than mediocre education to all children because that's all we can (or are willing) to do??

I am not advocating for firing good teachers who have a bad day or two along the way. That doesn't make any sense...and I don't believe that is Michelle Rhee's purpose or mission either. I have taught teachers at the graduate level. I have had some plead with me not to "give" them a "C" because they've never received lower than an "A" (yet their final paper is filled with grammatical errors and shallow thoughts). In our After-School Academy, I have seen spelling lists our kids are supposed to practice laden with mis-spelled words...and I have challenged the school for the sake of the children in her class. I have seen teacher's "give" an 11th grade student a perfect 100% on a research paper that could have been written better by a 3rd grader. I am not saying that good teachers should be fired. I understand that we all start off at a place and continuously learn and improve. What I AM saying is that some people are not academically ready to be teachers and some teachers lower their expectations to the extent that it hurts our children. I do not want those teachers teaching my child.

I understand that the next thing a teacher will say to me is, "But the parents have to play a role." I completely agree. And I think we have to work on that as well. But I also understand that some parents do not have the academic background needed to help their children. I know parents who put their faith and trust in teachers and schools because they feel those are the people who have what they can't offer. No matter what a parent does or doesn't do does not justify a teacher to enter a classroom if they are inadequately trained or have lowered expectations of our children.

Believe me, I do understand this is NOT all teachers! For those who have entered the education field because they truly believe that children deserve the highest opportunity to succeed and are working 10-12 hour days making sure their students have new, innovative opportunities to learn and grow, THANK YOU! Keep pressing on...and I believe you do deserve a break and deserve to be compensated and you shouldn't be expected to be super-human just because you have chosen to enter a field that is often valued less than it should be.

Fifteen years ago, when the charter school movement had just gotten started here in Texas, I thought about starting my own charter school. After toying with the idea for a little while, I couldn't bring myself to pursue the idea. I grew up in public school and I believe in the concept. I wanted to do what I could do help make public schools better. I still do. However, in the meantime, too many of my kids are falling through the cracks. The large majority of my kids who go off to college have to take remedial/developmental classes. When I assess a pretty bright 11th grader and find out she is at a 2nd grade reading level, my heart drops. I believe in public education, but something has got to change...FAST.

"With all deliberate speed..." in 1954 comes to mind. This isn't a new problem and nothing seems to be changing in a way that seems to be closing the gap for so many children and families who want to see a better life but are stuck in school systems that are overburdened systems too difficult to change.

Yes, charter schools probably attract more parents who take the initiative to get their children in. People with money have been leaving public schools for years. Poor parents who want something better for their children deserve that same opportunity...and make that quality available for everyone! And I would argue that even "unengaged" parents are being engaged when they are standing up to say, "My child deserves better!"

To me, opening this discussion may be exactly what we need to challenge everyone to start thinking about our children and working toward dramatic changes to an agrarian public school system that desperately needs dramatic changes.
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