“Superman” and Education Reform
Just this past week, my wife and I took the opportunity to watch the movie Waiting for "Superman," which takes an in-depth look at the current state of public education in the United States and the impact that it is having on our children.
This is a fascinating movie that takes a personal look at the lives of five children who attend under-performing public schools around the country. The movie explores the plight their families face to get their kids out of their traditional local public school and enrolled in nearby public charter schools.
The deeper issue that is touched upon asks the viewer to consider the how and why there are so many under-performing schools. It digs into the issue of how teachers' unions around the nation continue to embrace job guarantee through tenure and strongly oppose the concept of merit pay for results-oriented performance.
Director Davis Guggenheim creates such a compelling story as he introduces the viewer to several education reformers who have been in the trenches defying the odds through the development of amazing charter schools and by challenging the unions to embrace true accountability practices. These are only two of the many issues that are investigated in the search of real education reform.
Before I get into more detail on this topic, the United Way of Frederick County is offering a free showing of this incredible 2-hour film at the Holiday Cinemas at 100 Baughman’s Lane in Frederick on Wednesday, March 30th at 7 P.M. For more information call 301-663-4231.
Consider the results of a 2009 international study released in early December 2010 by The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This organization, through the participation of 65 economies, administered standardized assessments to 15-year-olds in schools. During the course of the four different assessments that have been conducted since 2000, the students in the United States have consistently shown below average to average scores.
An ABC News video news clip shows that the 2009 study revealed that U.S. students ranked 17th in reading, 20th in science and a miserable 30th in mathematics, well below those in China (Shanghai), South Korea, Japan, Canada and Finland among many others.
It also reveals that while U.S. students spend only 180 days in the class room each year, other countries invest up to 220 days per year in their students.
Additionally despite a per-pupil increase in education spending of over 123% in the U.S. from 1971 to 2006, reading test scores in U.S. have not changed. It costs over $129,000 to educate a child from K through 12 in the U.S., while the rest of the leading countries average $95,000 per student.
USA Today reported in a December 7, 2010, piece that even US college graduation rates fell between 1995 and 2008 from ranking second to 13th in the international study.
Guggenheim's film introduces the viewers to a number of experienced leaders in education reform. His website features a series of videos with a Q&A session including Guggenheim, Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee.
Mr. Canada is the founder of the Harlem Children's Zone and New York City Public Charter School, which was also the topic of a December 2009 program on 60 Minutes. He set out to disprove the common belief that children from poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods are not capable of achieving high performance in local public schools.
MS. Rhee is the former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools and the currently CEO and Founder of StudentsFirst.org. Her "mission is to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world." The Cornell Daily Sun quotes Ms. Rhee: “There is a complete and utter lack of accountability for the job that we’re supposed to be doing, which is producing results for kids, [but with the unions] it all becomes about the adults.”
Here are a few videos clips featuring others who have addressed education on major television network news programs:
Joel Klein, who was New York City schools chancellor for eight years, speaks with CBS News about the debate on teacher performance and accountability.
Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has written a recent article on How teacher development could revolutionize our schools in The Washington Post. He has spoken any number of times urging America to take the lead in education.
Zeke Vanderhoek, the founder and principal of The Equity Project school in New York City, was featured on 60 Minutes last month regarding a charter school founded on the idea of hiring the best teachers by paying them $125,000.
John Stossel in his 2006 ABC News Special "Stupid in America" discusses teacher union monopolies.
Under President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion educational reform grant requires school systems to reform professional development, technology uses, data collection and teacher evaluation methods.
In response, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley championed the Education Reform Act of 2010 which tackles the touchy issues of teacher tenure, student growth through the evaluation of teachers and principals, and differential pay.
The Carroll County Times reported in October 2010 that "only two of the 24 unions in the state – Baltimore City and Prince George's County – signed onto the Race to the Top application, which asked for a signature from each jurisdiction's superintendent, Board of Education president and union leader." Frederick and Montgomery County unions both refused to participate.
In an effort to find a compromise, Governor O'Malley established the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness. This appointed group of teachers, administrators, education experts and elected officials was given a time line to find common ground with the unions to create a model for teacher evaluation.
From a review of the most recent minutes posted on the council's website, it appears that they are already behind schedule.
Other states are moving forward with legislation to reform education. Just last week Florida passed a sweeping bill that tackles many of the same teacher reform issues.
Despite resistance in some places, reform is happening.
The road ahead is long and steep, but with the engagement of citizens who desire to return American schools to the top of the heap, reform can and will take place to achieve that goal.
Even in Frederick County, the possibilities of reform are taking shape with last fall's election of new faces on the Board of Education who have shown strong interest in school choice and greater accountability to the public which it serves.
The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate. He also writes for TheTentacle.com where this article also appears.