Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Watching "Waiting for 'Superman'"

They gathered in a row at the Manor Theatre, talking about a movie that hurts your heart and makes you think.

It's a documentary called "Waiting for 'Superman,'" and it's causing buzz in education circles nationwide. It tracks five kids who are trying to get out of the public school system and into charter schools -- publicly funded schools that don't report to local districts and have freedom to try different approaches.

The people in the audience are invested in education. Nancy Guzman, principal of Sterling Elementary in Charlotte, has a history of turning around troubled schools. Randolph Frierson is a counselor who works with kids in high-poverty schools. Keith Burnam founded KIPP Academy Charlotte, part of a national network of successful charters. Marvin Hamilton is president of the parents' organization at KIPP Academy; his daughter, Rebekah, is in eighth grade there.

We get together Tuesday for a press screening (the movie officially opens at the Manor on Friday). Together we watch. The kids flounder in struggling public schools. Their families fight to help. Statistics show how bad schools defeat bright children, and how bad teachers are almost impossible to get rid of. Finally, the kids apply to charter schools, where so many people apply that the schools hold lotteries to get in. The movie implies that winning the school lottery might be the best chance these kids have to make it.

There was sniffling in the theater.

Afterward, the group talked about what they saw -- and didn't see.

"I thought it was powerfully moving, and extremely accurate," Guzman said. "One thing that impressed me was the passion those parents had. I wish we had that for all our children."

"All those kids (in the movie) had an involved parent," Frierson said. "That's just not the reality in the populations that we serve. In a lot of cases, that natural support isn't there. In those cases we have to beat the bushes -- volunteers, extra teacher help, trying to get some community support. It's hard to count on that."

"What jumped out at me was the importance of teachers," Burnam said. "At our school 70 percent of our staff is Teach for America. But with a lot of work and coaching and support, we've been able to create a setting where teachers are motivated to get better. And then they motivate the students."

"When Rebekah was in public school, one time she had 50 students in one class," Hamilton said. "She always wanted to just go to school and learn. But all this other stuff got in the way."

The movie is hardest on teachers' organizations; it shows a battle in Washington, D.C., over a plan to reward high-performing teachers and deny rewards to the worst teachers. The union wouldn't even let it come to a vote.

In Charlotte, Supt. Peter Gorman gives incentives to teachers who transfer to academically suffering schools, and he is installing a pay-for-performance plan for all teachers. But Frierson said that can cause resentment at schools.

"You get a teacher coming into your school making $5,000 more than you're making, and you're teaching the most difficult students..." he said. "In this economy, that's a hard pill to swallow."

"But if it's done correctly --" Guzman said.

"Sure, if it's done correctly," Frierson said. "But that doesn't always happen. I've seen it go wrong."

Everybody agreed on some fundamentals. Teachers ought to be paid more. Parents need to be more involved. The community as a whole needs to see education as an investment -- one that's a lot cheaper than supporting uneducated adults, or building jails.

The movie describes giving kids a great education as a series of simple steps that are hard to take.

"Great teachers, coming from great principals, can accomplish almost anything in a classroom," Burnam said. "Every child can learn if we provide the right setting."

"We know what works," Guzman said. "Why are we not doing it?"


Anonymous said...

"Why are we not doing it" because often times each person is waiting on the next person to do it..no one wants to personally take the first step in getting involved because we think "it's not my responsibility" and/or "I am not qualified". Unfortunately, I and others are a little lazy when it comes to doing proactive measures that will help others as a whole, we often times only get involved when it affects us on a personal level or when something negatively affects my child..we just have to keep talking and shedding light on these things because eventually I and others will step up and do something to help...

Anonymous said...

"Why are we not doing it" in many school districts may be explained by the late Albert Shanker, president of the Teacher Union who said "When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children"

David Waters said...

Great performance by a team/organization begins at the top. There can be a teacher of the year in the worst school, but overall, the administration has to get the ball rolling with the positive attitude and be infectious. Share the vision!

Where there is no vision, people perish.

Anonymous said...

OK. Want to do something and help these schools that have a high poverty rate? There is a website called donorschoose.org. It is where teachers ask for donations for a specific class project. There is a need for a Visual LCD Projector for a school in Bishopville (aka the corridor of shame off I-95). Lets make this teacher's wish come true by donating a little or a lot.


Anonymous said...

For some reason the whole URL did not save. But if you go to donorschoose.org and search for schools in Bishopville, SC you will see the "Visual Arts Projector" request. The teacher only needs $300 more. WE CAN DO THIS FOR THESE CHILDREN.

Anonymous said...

"In Charlotte, Supt. Peter Gorman gives incentives to teachers who transfer to academically suffering schools, and he is installing a pay-for-performance plan for all teachers. But Frierson said that can cause resentment at schools."

First, Gorman cannot "install" PFP and second, teachers will be given a vote to approve such a drastic change in compensation. No teacher is going to vote for PFP without clear-cut guidelines that specifically outline adequate compensation aligned with rigorous performance of duties.

The reality is that parents and the community are NOT doing their part to support the public education system of this country. This puts enormous pressure and overwhelming burden upon the teachers, who are then asked to be the only ones financially held accountable.

I think the first comment in this column says it all--I am not going to get involved until you make me get involved through my own child's negative situation. SAD!

Wake Up Folks, or we will be begging other countries to send their workers to fill our jobs because our own children cannot be employed or held accountable as contributing citizens because we could not adequately educate them.

wiley coyote said...

Strange, to hear Gorman tell it, we have quality teachers in all of CMS schools.

To hear parents tell it, why do we not have the best or quality teachers in high poverty, low performing schools?

Which is it?

In NC, it's very easy to fire teachers. We're a right to work state. If they refuse to go to schools and Gorman needs them there, fire them.

Oh, by the way. Ask Obama why HE doesn't send his kids to public school.

Here, I'll save you the time:

Obama says D.C. schools struggling now President Obama said Monday his daughters could not get the same quality of education from D.C. public schools that they get from the private Sidwell Friends school.

The president's comments came in an appearance on the "Today" television show as he was being interviewed in the White House by NBC's Matt Lauer.

By the way, during one of the meetings on the current fiasco happening within CMS, Gorman praised how well private schools in the area did with having K-8 schools that CMS is now advocating.

2+2=4, there are 26 letters in the alphabet and George Washington was our first President. I don't care if you're Black, White Red or Green, have a household income of $10,000 or $100,000, attend a charter school, magnet school or a neighborhood school, those facts don't change. Why can't you teach that?

The other sad fact is, nothing else has changed in public education for the past 40 years.

You can take this bleeding heart story and stick in the middle of 1983 and it would be the same. I know. I watched my ex-wife deal with the same issues then.

...and still, supposedly brilliant "educators" are running our schools today as they were in 1983.

Anonymous said...

We already beg foreigners to do our work.

Why do you think we outsource so much and also award a large chunk of our Ph.D's to foreign students.

And look at how many of our professors and instructors are foreign. Especially in the scientific and technical areas.

We are living on borrowed time already.

Larry said...

Any wonder why the fastest growing group of home schoolers in the country is African Americans?

It is called Bright Flight.

Hey Schools get back to the core of Education. The diversity and social issues can be taken care of by a very well educated and prosperous society in the future.

Anonymous said...

Why is the solution to our school crisis pay for performance, more tests, longer hours. None of that has worked. Perhaps everyone needs to take a long hard look at the schools in Finland which are the best in world and compare how we are failing to why they are succeeding.

Anonymous said...

While I understand that unions can cause problems, a fundamental flaw in the argument that teachers' unions hold back innovative education is that Southern states should have phenomenal, world class schools because we do not have these stultifying teacher unions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, southern states rank in the bottom nationwide. And as a teacher who is facing more and more requirements on my time without any more compensation or a reduction in other duties, I envy states with unions who will fight to maintain a livable balance for teachers. North Carolina is not one of those states, and it's going to start losing good teachers who will not or cannot meet the ever-increasing demands without any form of balance or compensation.

wiley coyote said...

Let's face facts here.

No one in CMS really has a clue as to who comes from what household income bracket.

Their own sample audit conducted a few years ago showed 60% receiving FRL benefits most likely did not qualify for them, as they made too much money. That trend has been verified by others in the state.

Yet, they toss around FRL numbers like they are without contestation and refuse to pursue the USDA to allow for in-depth auditing.

Anyone care to explain why Mecklenburg County is 64% White yet CMS is 33% White? Anyone want to tackle that one?

Anyone want to dispute that for decades, minorities have been coddled into the present state of affairs in public education?

When will CMS and other large school districts get out of the business of worrying about what happens off school grounds and put into place every possible resource to educate kids INSIDE the schools? That includes quality teachers, instructional materials, supplies, etc, and also come up with a very strict, ENFORCEABLE rules of conduct code. This allows teachers to then do THEIR JOBS!

It's time to let parents know the days of the status quo - their entitlement syndrome, bad parenting, bad manners and attitude are over and that your kids will come to school to read, write, do math and be prepared the best they can be to succeed in life.

Anything less and they're gone.

The time for playing games is over and has been for many years.

Eliminate the EXCUSES!

Anonymous said...

so after all the gem is the "private sector" the same thing obama is trying to destroy?

liberal hypocrites

Anonymous said...

So education is a race issue? I read and post on these blogs almost daily and race has a way of snaking its way into the conversation. I have tried to ignore it.

Truth be told, whites have had at least a 400 year head start on blacks as far as education is concerned in this country.

Stop complaining about black folks and their children! Their ancestors built this country for
FREE! I wonder how/why???

The answer IS a competent superintendent and competent principals who hire competent teachers. These people need to actually give damn about the kids they are serving not just their 6 figure paycheck. OKAY!!!

Furthermore, blacks and whites (all races really) are like cousins. Or maybe like the Hatfields and the McCoys, but even they I believe have buried the hatchet. It will do us all good to educate all children.

If you don't like black people and their ways, then your ancestors should have picked their OWN cotton! Same thing is going to happen with the Latinos. You bring them over for cheap labor, then you don't want to educate their kids or provide them with health care.

Stop being lazy, do your own work, and you won't have to deal with these issues. Let's not even talk about what happened to the poor Native Americans. This sea to shining sea WAS theirs, but it was STOLEN from them.

And listen, stick to education and DO NOT bring up race AGAIN or I will tell you a little bit more about yourself.

Anonymous said...

Just like NBC and their education week fiasco you've left both public and most private school teachers out of your movie party. Tommy, get a group of teachers in there to critique this film and feed you some real information. You might want a few lifers to fill you in on the sordid details of the mass of make work software that takes away instructional time for Pete's numbers.

Anonymous said...

So... why is 70% of the staff at one school Teach for America? If we are laying off REAL teachers, why are the scabs populating the schools and putting our kids at a greater disadvantage due to their lack of experience and expertise? Just look at the mess Gorman is creating with his lack of classroom experience. I'm sorry, I would pull my kid out of a school with 70% TFA. Yes, there are some traditional classroom teachers that suck, but 70%? And you want us to BUY the layoffs when you are shipping in teachers... give me a break!

While I am sure this film is eye-opening in many respects, the BUZZ is just that...BUZZ. What is created in that film is not the vast majority of schools in our nation. What is created in that film is an excuse for the politicos to do what they want in the name of change and for people like Michelle Rhee who only spent 2 years in the classroom herself to rise through the ranks of Pub-Ed. I am going to see the film, but at the same time don't put the blame on just the teachers for what is wrong in education--- The teachers are one of the few things that is RIGHT!

Anonymous said...

Children are not "products" to be measured but souls to be nurtured. Until we get that right you can forget meaningful reform.

Anonymous said...

For everyone who donated via donorschoose.org the teacher at a HIGH POVERTY SCHOOL in SC got their Visual Arts Projector fully funded!!! As an FYI, my children go to a great public school which has great parental support, but I am still willing to help children elsewhere in the country because it is the right thing to do. Thanks to everyone for helping!!

cltindependent said...

@5:57, President Obama would be CRAZY and a negligent father to send those girls to public school in this political environment. I don't put anything past the people that hate his guts and resent his election. He and his wife have the financial ability to send them to private school. Why shouldn't he?