I stopped by Redbox last night and saw that Waiting for Superman was available.  Since I’m interested in education and I knew this documentary dealt with education reform, and since the other choices I found wanting I rented it.

My summary of the documentary.

  1. Education saves – hence kids are “waiting for Superman.”
  2. Public education in the United States stinks, big time.
  3. Teacher’s unions are largely to blame (along with “the blob” – tangled mess of local, state. and federal regulations/benchmarks).
  4. Kids today will be not equipped educationally to do tomorrow’s jobs. (Bill Gates testified before Congress stating as much).
  5. Charter schools are the answer.
  6. There are too few charter schools with too few openings, and many have their educational fate determined by a lottery that takes place to see if they get in.
  7. So kids are still waiting for Superman.

It should go without saying that Jesus saves, not education.  Education can help, but without a moral foundation for it be laid upon; it can be for naught.  Public education is in trouble.  Kids are advancing to the next grade without the proficiency that they should have at that level.  They noted that in California, the public university system is set up to take the top third of high school graduates, but yet they have to do remedial work for 50-60% of incoming freshman before they are ready to take college level classes.  That’s a travesty.  Our student are falling behind in reading, math and science proficiency compared to other nations, but yet we lead the world in student confidence.

Wow, that’s encouraging.  This documentary mainly laid the blame at the feet of teacher’s unions.  I certainly think they are culpable when you consider their opposition to merit-based pay, their involvement in making it difficult to fire horrible teachers, and backing tenure in some states.  The very idea of tenure which was focused in this documentary is incredible to me… why should anyone expect to have their jobs for life?  In colleges and universities there has been a rigorous process for this after professors have been teaching for years, not so in K-12.  Teacher’s unions are an anathema when it comes to educational reform.

Poor teacher performance and public school systems inability to address the problem is certainly one major factor, but it is not the only one.  No one mentioned all that schools are doing beyond teaching the basics?  A poor curriculum also needs to be addressed when from my point of view it seems like there has been more indoctrination than education going on with public schools in terms of promoting multiculturalism and watering down civics education.

Also parents are complicit as well.  I appreciated some of the parents that were highlighted who did take responsibility for their children’s education.  I believe that attitude is lacking in much of society however.  There is a prevailing attitude that it is the “state’s job to educate my child.”  Too many people have bought the meme that it is natural and right to hand our children over to the state at age 5 or 6 (or younger!).  No, as parents it is our job to educate our children and public schools are just one tool to do that.  That is why drives me nuts with the whole debate in Iowa regarding universal pre-school.  Who should be teaching kids their ABCs and preparing them for school?  Parents.

Whether you send your kids to public school, private school or you home school, you must be involved in education of your child and engaged.  So parents can’t just shift the blame.  If you’re child’s educational environment is not suitable, then it is on the parent to change it.  Explore options, make sacrifices if necessary, and it seemed like the parents highlighted in the documentary tried to do this, but unfortunately many don’t.

Which leads me to my ultimate problem with this documentary.  While there are some excellent charter schools out there, the documentary shared only one in five are truly successful.  It seemed by watching Waiting for Superman that the only option were public school or a public charter school, and if your child couldn’t get into a charter school then they were toast.  Well, certainly for some families, especially lower income ones, choices are limited.  I’m curious why not talk about private school options?  Why not discuss school vouchers (or better yet tax credits)?  The documentary looked at D.C., but didn’t even bring up the voucher program there (which I believe was still running when the documentary was made).  In Iowa we allow for a personal tax credit and then up to 65% of a donation made to a school tuition organization in Iowa can be counted toward their taxes.  This helped bolster tuition assistance to private schools.  Then there is the home school option.  There are many families who can’t afford private school, but decide to home school instead.  What can be done to encourage families who make that sacrifice.  In Iowa there isn’t even a tax credit for home educators to claim for their curriculum purchases, that is appalling.  There are also growing opportunities for online education why not discuss that?

So while Waiting for Superman was excellent in pointing out the problems inherent with public schools in general, and teacher’s unions in particular if offered little for the way forward.  Options can’t begin and end with charter schools.

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