Donor's Choose had a screening last night of Waiting for Superman. The tag line of the movie is "the fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom." That sums it up right there. It should be mandatory for every American to see this film.
The movie follows the lives of five children and their parents on their quest to get a better education in one of the charter schools vs the local school that they are attending. It is an incredibly powerful film. The filmmaker Davis Guggenheim does a brilliant job of defining the issues of why the system is a mess.
There is no doubt that we can educate anyone from any background. It takes good teachers and a curriculum that works for the students in the classroom. If the students in inner cities can memorize rap songs but have a hard time with arithmetic tables then teach them in rap. Be creative. Unfortunately with the unions we have tenured teachers who are terrible and we can't get rid of them. One good teacher can change the lives of many. We spend a significant amount of each states education budget on administrators (fat) instead of spending the majority of the cash on teachers and students. Unions have forced the system to be focused on adults keeping their jobs regardless of their ability to teach the curriculum. If you are a lawyer or a sales person or a manager and you aren't doing your job, you are fired. In the school system, you can't be fired. That is one of the biggest problems. Statistically if we got rid of the bottom 10% of all our teachers, that would be the one's not teaching to the level that they should be, our educational ratings as compared to other countries around the world would put us on top. That statistic alone blew me away.
Michelle Rhee, who is currently running the DC public school system, is someone I have been following since she became chancellor. She is absolutely hellbent on disrupting the entire system in DC. Get rid of all the layers of employees in the school board and fire the bad teachers. She attempted to negotiate with the union in DC. She proposed that if they got rid of tenure that they could then pay teachers bonuses based on accomplishments. Some teachers could see their salaries double. The union would not even present it to the teachers. Perhaps she should do what the unions did from the very onset. Stand in front of every school and talk to the teachers directly. Get them to force the union to make the changes that would benefit their pocket books. Teachers don't want to work with other teachers that aren't pulling their weight either. It affects the entire school.
Why can't we pay teachers bonuses based on kids getting to the next grade and being able to read, write and do math at the level they are supposed to. If they get to the next grade and are up to par, the teacher who taught them gets rewarded. Reward teachers for making an impact on the kids. Don't we reward people in other industries for affecting the bottom line?
Charter schools are not the only solution. We have public schools through out this country in urban areas as well as suburban areas that are still teaching the same way we did 50 years ago. We have to get rid of the unions, support creativity for new curriculums with cash incentives. Make cash and creative work places be an incentive for more people to think about being teachers.
I could talk about this until I am blue in the face. Our kids school, although a private school, has a union. I have seen first hand how it works. It doesn't. There are some seriously terrible teachers at our kids school. The kids are not learning at the level they could be if the teacher in front of the classroom sucks. You can't get rid of these teachers because they are tenured. You can write them up for years but the process to get rid of the teacher is completely stacked against the administration. Who wins, not the kids. Who should always win when it comes to education? The kids.
Go see the movie. It is powerful, disturbing, astonishing, frustrating and depressing. Read John Heilemann's article in New York Magazine. He does a great job writing about the movie and why our system is failing.