Waiting For Superman
Davis Guggenheim | USA | 2010
So this is related into the education Q&A I went to last night with Michelle Rhee and (her husband) Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The Mayor of LA was supposed to be there, but he was meeting with Obama because he was just appointed a major position at the DNC this summer.
I’ve put off watching “Waiting For Superman” for a long time because people always told me it was garbage. Going to UC Santa Cruz, the Master’s program was definitely very very pro status quo when it came to schools. Pretty much every staff member was 100% behind anything that AFT or NEA did, and had VERY little good things to say about any type of reform school—whether it be charter, magnet, etc.
As a liberal, I’ve always felt a certain uneasiness with the education reform movement. Why? Well, because of its, at times, anti-Union rhetoric. I’m a big supporter of labor. I have thoroughly enjoyed my Marxist theory, and thinkers such as Zizek and Chomsky are definitely important to me.
However, as a member of the ‘charter school movement,’ I’ve seen first hand that it’s not some closed doors operation run by shady businessmen trying to steal something from our children. I’ve heard horror stories about poorly run charters. I’ve heard about cutthroat principals who fire teachers for not growing the API by x%, as if the school was an underperforming stock.
That being said, there are FAR more horror stories in the traditional public school system. It’s called…nearly every inner city school nationwide. These “dropout factories” are not sustainable for the growth of our country, and we need to break them up and/or change them drastically.
Past policies have not worked. It will not work to slightly modify this or that. We ultimately NEED to change the entire school cultures, and that’s not going to happen by protecting ANY of the burnout teachers, ANY of the burnout principals, and so on.
Measurement is challenging. Obviously standardized tests have flaws. However, as a stats person, I do see the value in certain types of “growth” measurements. They don’t look at test scores absolutely, but only relative to other students at that position. For example, if your students are reading 5 grades below grade level, they are being compared to similar students, not some absolute measurement at large. It’s all about bell curves.
My point is, this is not a black/white scenario. If teachers think we can wait until some literally perfect system is designed, they are deluded. There will never be a ‘perfect’ measurement tool that is 100% fair. But we can get close, and in the meantime, change things for the better.
I’ll use a basketball metaphor. We need to use our pivot foot to get a step forward, and then we can pivot on that newly planted foot—-always remaining somewhat grounded, but constantly moving forward down the court.
I know what the establishment thinks, and I sympathize. Teachers are professionals. No one wants a cutthroat working environment. But allowing rigorous evaluations and cutting down various problems in the bureaucracies can lead to MORE of a professionalization of the field—-not less.
I know this doesn’t make me popular with a lot of teachers. I’m not an iconoclast, or a Randian Libertarian or a pro-business goon. But no honest teacher can tell me that Last In, First Out policies are good for the profession. Tenure should be like it is with universities—an EXTREMELY rigorous process akin to National Board cert. It should not be handed out to the average joe or joe-ette.
Again, I hope not to offend, but I’m tired of the teacher echo-chamber that defends the status quo while kids’ lives are literally getting destroyed around us.