Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There are No Dancing Lemons

The other evening I was invited to watch Waiting for Superman with Long Island University Education Department admin and a few students. Because all in the room had viewed the movie previously, we could ask the person controlling the DVD player to forward to a particular scene.

In short, the group was displeased with stated and implicit messages. For example, the national teachers unions were so strong that observably incompetent teachers can't be fired; rather, principals within a district or another one would trade their so-called "lemon" to another school. This trade was in the hopes the "new lemon" would be a bit better than who they had before. Can you believe that after two or three switches, no principal realized that an incompetent teacher would not improve under his watch? This film wants you to believe that hope springs eternal; that an experienced principal would know anyone worth having would be kept.

More interestingly, someone in our small crowd explained that you can't stop someone from his working profession (teaching), so a principal may reassign someone out of the classroom into a clerical or administrative duty, in the hopes the person looks for another school. An alternative is to have the poor performing teacher to agree to find another teaching post rather than go through disciplinary procedures.

Another segment described tracking children for different roles and occupations. First track students were headed for executive-leader positions; second track students were headed for clerical jobs or small business; and third track were prepared for factory or farm work. The US economy made a significant shift into the information age and office environment in the 1970s. If tracking still exists or neighborhoods are designated to produce low academically perform students but most factories have moved out of the US and family farms have been taken over by agribusiness, what is the rationale for the type of education given to American children in the 21st century?

The production explains the need for charter schools as a counter to the strong teachers unions. If bad performing teachers can't be fired then the US will allocate public dollars to schools that aren't controlled by these unions. On the US east coast, we find charter schools' with total pupil seats anywhere from 100 to 350. How do these small schools meet the needs of large and medium-sized cities? It becomes even more intense when a charter school is placed in a low income neighborhood. 500 or more applications may be submitted to a charter school with 150 seats. The solution is school lotteries. Waiting for Superman allocated ten minutes to watching five young children in different parts of the nation go through the anxiety of participating in a lottery. The five weren't the lucky ones the day of their respective lottery dates. Both parents and children were so crestfallen. One little boy was later selected for a seat at a sleep away school.

It was a great experience listening to these sharp minds analyze and synthesize the statements and images of Waiting for Superman. I took away the need to understand what motivates the positions anyone may energetically advance to the public. Is it money? Is it a vision? Is that vision in line with values of a society as a whole?

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