Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why "Waiting for Superman" is Bullshit

This month I'll be part of a panel discussion at the University of Alabama after a screening of the documentary "Waiting for Superman."

Here is a general overview of my feelings about the film:

- The film does an excellent job of documenting the utter desperation low-income families feel when it comes to a lack of good options for their children's education.

- The filmmakers interview a billionaire (Bill Gates), a multi-millionaire (Geoffrey Canada), superintendents, principals, parents, and students. The one group not represented in the film? Teachers.

- The average person (i.e. my mom) leaves the theater thinking two things: 1) Unions are the problem. 2) Charters are the solution. The film quickly glosses over four significant facts related to these two issues:

  1. Only 17% of charters are more successful than their corresponding public schools. Most charters perform worse than their corresponding public schools.
  2. Unions give teachers basic protections that they need and deserve. If unions were the problem than Mississippi, a right to work state (no unions), would be first in the nation when it comes to education. Instead, Mississippi is dead last.
  3. The teachers of Finland, which the film accurately points out is the highest performing country in the world when it comes to education, are 100% unionized.
  4. The director of the film belongs to a union.

- The film bashes the idea of "rubber rooms" where teachers facing a disciplinary review get paid a full salary while sitting around reading the newspaper. Why is this a bad thing? You should have a review before getting fired (as many of our MTC teachers who have been summarily non-renewed can attest) and you shouldn't be in the classroom while waiting for said review.

- The film makes it seem that the process of firing teachers is second only to climbing Mt. Everest. In fact, the process is fairly simple. Several observations and a plan of improvement. How is this unfair? A principal should not be able to arbitrarily fire a teacher (as many MTC teachers who have been summarily non-renewed can attest) and a teacher should be given the chance to improve.

- The problem IS teacher quality but the solutions are not more charters and breaking unions. The solution is to pay teachers significantly more money (starting salary of $100,000 and a ceiling of $250,000). This dramatically increases the talent pool of incoming teachers and allows a district many more options when hiring teachers. How will states pay for this? Easy. Increase taxes.

- A few other solutions while I'm at it...
  • A National Curriculum with national standards.
  • A huge bonus (say $30,000) for veteran teachers to teach in critical-need districts.
  • A longer training model for new teachers. Simulate the residency component of medical school with new teachers interning for two years in veteran teachers' classrooms.
  • Universal Pre-K for all families starting at age zero.
  • Universal health care for all.
  • Get rid of standardized testing (although I reserve the right to change my mind about this).
  • Schools run as a partnership where the teachers elect their principal. Teachers and administrators should be equals.
If you want to hear more come out to the Honors College at the University of Alabama on March 23rd.

More on why "Waiting for Superman" is bullshit:


Ashley said...

Great comments.. have to say I disagree on one thing...we need standardized testing but it should be a minimum of what is taught

Um..a thought.. I guess if we have the best/better talent in teaching we will not need the standardized tests as much.

The Teacher said...

Oh, Ben. So angry. So young....

Anonymous said...

You're not?

Carey said...

"Waiting for Superman" was total bullshit.

Sad fact? I took a couple of my first-year education students to see it, and I asked them to do some critical thinking about it.

The result?

Critical-thinking FAIL.

Kwame A. Mensah said...

I just saw the documentary and yes it was total fecal matter. Not only was most of it just not true, it specifically made some statement that could reaaly be harmful to the profession of teaching. In Saint Louis the worst schools are the charter schools. I know because I teach at one of them.

Anonymous said...

united shit of america is the worst country to have education anyways. other countries are way better. look at your workers dipshit. more foreigners and your own goddamn ppl. so it only means one thing. your ppl are stupid. now die.