I have a couple of things on my mind this morning, all somewhat connected. Before I am through, I am going to recommend a bunch of websites, all worth a look in my humble opinion. So here goes.
The publicity train for “Waiting for Superman” pulls into the station this Friday, when the movie opens, and its cross-country trek has been a marvel: fulsome praise on Oprah, the cover of Time, and so on.
I have already reviewed the movie but want to reiterate my point: the bleak picture of public education that the movie paints is a huge disservice to millions of kids and teachers.
Because I ran the meeting where charter schools were born (1988) and have been following the story ever since, I resent the movie’s endorsement of charter schools as the solution.
That’s wrong and misleading and may lead to the creation of more for-profit charters that will exploit the very kids that Oprah wants to help. While many charter schools are terrific, an equal number are disappointing. The point to remember is that the name ‘charter school’ tells you nothing about what’s happening inside. Here’s a useful analogy: the word ‘restaurant’ on a building tells you nothing at all about the food—you have to have a meal or two, talk to customers leaving after they have eaten, or read the reviews. But Davis Guggenheim’s movie presents charter schools as the magic bullet, no questions asked, no doubts raised.
I know Guggenheim and Paramount want to make a buck, but their message is superficial and dishonest. The real debate ought to be about something more fundamental. We need more schools and teachers and education policy types who ask (metaphorically speaking) “How is this child intelligent?” instead of the test score version, “How intelligent are you?”
That’s the more promising approach, not wholesale damning of public education and teachers that is the message of the movie.
At some point in the near future I hope to review three other movies about schools. One of them, “August to June”, is not yet available for public consumption because the producers are negotiating distribution arrangements, but I urge you to keep an eye out for this uplifting portrait of what a classroom can be.
Education Week, that invaluable publication, has a compelling interview with Michelle Rhee, conducted right after her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, suffered a humiliating loss last week. It’s worth your time.
Last night PBS NewsHour aired our exclusive coverage of the new merit pay study conducted over the past three years in Tennessee. If you missed the piece by my colleagues John Tulenko and Cat McGrath, watch it here (or below). As always, we have companion podcasts, digging into the issue in greater depth.
This weekend I will be in Houston, speaking at the annual joint meeting of TASA/TASB, the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Association of School Boards. Emmitt Smith, the Cowboys’ Hall of Fame running back, and Daniel Pink are headliners, and I am eager to hear both of them. I’m going to tell my audience about my one (failed) interview for a school superintendent’s job, among other things.
For education wonks, Texas is (take your choice) Mecca, Jerusalem, or Lourdes, because “No Pass, No Play” and, later, “No Child Left Behind” originated there. One could argue that modern school reform, for better or worse, has its roots deep in the heart of Texas. (And Texas has also given us three of the nine U.S. Secretaries of Education, Lauro Cavazos, Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings!)
Next week I will hang around Education Nation, the 2-day NBC event that is bringing together a huge number of leaders in New York City. Rumor is that there will also be some real teachers in the crowd. Let’s hope they have a voice.
Speaking of teachers, I’d love to hear directly from classroom teachers (and parents too) about how this school year has started. I read and read lots of scuttlebutt about crowded classrooms and disappearing art and music classes, but what’s happening in your building? Thanks.
Schoolwork by Nicholas Lemann [New Yorker, 09/27/10]
Waiting for Superman? Or Just Another Clark Kent Dressed Up? by Alistair Bomphray [Teacher Revised, 06/30/10]
A Review of Waiting for Superman [Taking Note, 08/31/10]
August to June [Official Website]
Teaching for Dollars: Race to the Top, Part 4 [LearningMatters.tv]
Pay for Performance: Interview with Nashville Schools Superintendent, Jessie Register [LearningMatters.tv]
Texas Association of School Administrators [Official Website]
NBC’s Education Nation [Official Website]