Monday, April 11, 2011
Waiting for Superman
The film failed to point to other, equally important causes of failure, and directed our attention toward lower income families whose children we find ourselves rooting for as they await word about whether they will win spots in various charter schools as lotteries are held. These tender young children really grab our compassion as we see them, bright eyed with dreams as big as any middle class kid's dreams. It is hard not to get drawn into the drama, and the disappointment one feels when some of the children get "left behind" when they are not able to secure a spot in a preferred school is touching.
However, the film seems to see charter schools as the panacea, but a quick search through Wikipedia garners information that shows that while charter schools do reflect a little improvement, overall the results are still abysmal. Check out this chart from the Wikipedia article:
While I do think there are charter schools whose success is well above the norm, overall charter schools are obviously not the perfect solution either. Those charter schools whose results are far superior usually rely on a model where students are in school many more hours a week, including Saturdays, and have little time to pursue other interests beyond academic.
Another key point that "Waiting for Superman" failed to make was that many students come from homes where learning is not supported, where parents simply don't care enough to read to their children, to encourage them with homework, or where lives are stable enough that learning is able to take place. The families shown in the film were hard working, decent American folks who desperately wanted their children to succeed and were willing to work extra hours to earn tuition money or were shown spending time with their children and helping with homework. If only this were the norm, and not an exception in many communities.
Teachers can't teach children who don't come to school ready to learn, and to omit this key component from the movie is leaving out a very critical point. Sitting in my own sons' classrooms many mornings, it was clear which kids would be able to succeed and which ones would be dropping out eventually, even if you hated to classify them that way at 9 or 10 years old. It was almost impossible not to see it, as clearly there were kids whose learning was supported at home, and there were those for whom Cheetos and hours alone with the TV were the daily routine. That doesn't even begin to tackle the more difficult home lives of some children where drugs and alcohol were rampant, where Dads were in jail and moms were trying to hold it together, where children were sleeping on Aunties couch or were being raised by grandparents because parents had dumped them there or were incapable of parenting any longer.
To blame teachers 100% for the failure of our children to learn would be unfair.
After viewing the film, I was curious what the standing was for our local schools. How were they doing? Was I imagining it that it was as bad as I had thought it was? Five minutes and I had my answers thanks to the internet. Want to know why we are homeschooling? Let me share, and I'll bet for many of you this is no surprise for your own local public schools just might be in the same shape.
Olathe High School, where our children would attend, has a graduation rate of 89%. Doesn't sound half bad, does it? But let's see exactly what the performance level is of the students they are allowing to graduate...
I checked the state CSAP scores for 10th graders for 2010 for Olathe and Montrose High Schools, which is the last grade level required to take the annual state achievement tests. These are the tests our kids just finished taking a couple weeks ago. The percentages provided reflect the percent of students considered proficient at their grade level...so able to read, write and compute at a 10th grade level. Our kids would have attended Olathe High, but we had the option of moving them to the "better" school in Montrose should we have so desired. Here were the scores:
Olathe High School Montrose High School
Reading 59% Reading 73%
Writing 34% Writing 48%
Science 41% Science 53%
Math 30% Math 33%
Stunning, isn't it? 70% of the 10th graders at the school our kids would have attended are incapable of calculating math problems at a 10th grade level, and 66% are incapable of writing at a 10th grade level. Even the highest score in reading is sickening. No wonder it is said that the average news article today is written at the 5-7th grade level, it is because we as a society are incapable of reading anything of a much higher level! When Matthew told me that more than half his class couldn't read and he was bored because things were moving so slowly, he was not exaggerating at all. Any child working merely at grade level and not being a gifted reader would find it hard to remain engaged with classes filled with kids who can't read or write at the most basic level.
Even if we were to look at the stats for our other high school option, it is unfathomable to see how poorly overall these students are performing...when 52% of the children from the supposedly "better" school still can't write at grade level and their math and science scores are so low it is pitiful...and that, my friends are the options we have before us here. Oh, I almost forgot, we have the charter school option for pregnant teens. that's it.
So, our local schools are graduating the vast majority of their students, but what exactly do those students know upon graduation? It is no surprise that colleges are now reporting they have to offer remedial classes to most of the incoming freshmen.
This is proof of exactly what we encountered with Kenny, an unwillingness to STOP and make sure our child knew how to read well, even when we asked two years in a row for him to be held back. What I thought would happen is reflected in these statistics. Kenny would have graduated high school, but he would have been functionally illiterate. The girls? I shudder to think of it...
Looking at this, I must admit, is a confidence builder, because there is no way I can fail at teaching my kids compared to this. The next time someone asks me why I would think I could possible be qualified to teach my kids, I will find it hard not to laugh out loud. How can I do worse than this??? Every time I feel concerned that we aren't teaching enough, aren't making enough progress, etc. I am going to remember these statistics and realize that we are not failing our kids by bringing them home, we just might be saving them.
What are the answers? I don't have them, but someone needs to look at our system and start over. Public education is not effectively teaching our children anymore. Public education is a massive failure. Notice I do not say the teachers are a failure, because I do think there are outstanding teachers in a system that is broken, as the movie suggests. Good teachers are stifled and not rewarded, bad teachers have a free ride to retirement. Materials used in classrooms are flat out bad and don't work, new fangled textbooks are created every year and test scores continue to drop. And let's not leave out families who don't support learning, who don't value education, who don't care.
"Waiting for Superman" is only a starting point, a good one, but it doesn't dig deep enough. We decided not to wait for Superman any longer, as are millions of other families who are desperate to see to it that their kids can, at the very least, read and write when they graduate high school. I never imagined having to take it into my own hands, but our sons and daughters are NOT going to graduate high school unable to to read or write at a 12th grade level, they will NOT be pushed through a system like cattle even when we beg to get help. We are blessed beyond measure that somehow we are able to have me home to take on this challenge, but what about those families for whom homeschooling is impossible? What about the hard working folks who love their children deeply and want the best for them, who spend night after night helping with homework and reading to their kids in an effort to provide them a better education? What about those who have kids like ours, who are English language learners but whose parents are incapable of teaching them the skills they need in English? Those families don't want their kids to fail, but they have no options.
I think the time has come to forget about Superman, and recognize that the entire Justice League itself would have a difficult time saving the educational day.