I knew going into seeing Waiting for Superman that I'd have issues with how it promotes the charter schools. I was pleasantly surprised during the movie that it wasn't nearly as pro-charter as I expected. It admitted there are charter schools out there that are not successful, in fact I think the statistic it used was 1 in 5 charter schools have students who earn competitive scores standardized assessments. That's not very good.
Still, because the movie follows families who are applying to charter schools, one could come away from the movie thinking that charter schools are the only answer to "saving education". There are a lot of problems with that, but the one that bothers me the most is that it overlooks the amazing public schools out there. And not just because those of us in successful public schools are looking to be patted on the back- but because it sends a message that public schools cannot be successful. Which isn't true- and that idea is harming education. Every student, regardless of whether or not their parent has the resources to apply to a charter school, deserves a wonderful education.
Every time I tell someone about the think-tank they ask if I teach at a charter school. I find this amusing and horrifying at the same time. The idea that outsiders would hear about my amazing co-workers, the inventive programs and the success we've had and automatically assume we can't be a public school upsets me. There's no reason other public schools can't be like us, but when the media only promotes 'good' charter schools and 'bad' public schools we all end up thinking that public schools are a waste of time and a drain of resources.. I know you're probably tired of me bragging about the think tank, but I think we're doing it right.
I think some of the ways we're successful include:
-We're focused on bringing parents in- our parent center and parent programs work to teach parents about how to navigate the American education system, our school, and how to help their children at home.
-We're a collaborative school. Officially we're a "literacy collaborative" school, a program based out of the University of Ohio, but it's more than that. Teachers solve problems together. Every teacher has a literacy partner, which means no one teacher is responsible for teaching a group of children to read. Collaboration means that two sets of eyes are watching, discussing, and helping a struggling reader. Waiting for Superman focused a lot on "lemon teachers" or teachers who just weren't successful. In our school, not that there are any "lemons", but if there were, that teacher would be working with another teacher. This means the children wouldn't be left to fail, the teacher is held accountable, and, maybe more importantly, the struggling teacher learns from his or her partner. The teacher's not left to struggle alone, and hopefully in the end he or she transitions from being a struggling teacher to a successful teacher by what's been put in place.
-Our administration doesn't say no. I've talked about this before, but when we come up with an idea that will help our kids and our families we are usually given the green light. So, early morning math groups are started, the library is open before school, teachers can conduct home visits, and try new instructional techniques. Because of this we have an innovative culture which pushes us to be scientists and researchers instead of simply teachers. We're not teaching to a script- we're looking for ways to better ourselves and our student outcomes.
Sometimes I wonder what would be different if we were a charter school. We'd still have a modified calendar, that's for sure, since our parents and our teachers were committed to it, but the district cut it because of the funding. Other than that? I wonder how our collaborative environment would hold up under a merit-pay system. Would we have the resources and funding to do what we do? I don't know enough about charter schools and where they get their funding to know if we'd be successful. I think the biggest difference would be our students- most of our students come from two sets of subsidized housing. Our parents love their children and want the best for them, but I don't think they'd understand a charter system. Most of them would attend a public school. We'd lose out on the families who need us the most.
I know there are "bad" public schools out there, and I frequently hear horror stories about the regulations being put in place inside "good" public schools. But I don't think it has to be that way. Successful public schools don't come from more regulation on teachers, but instead from promoting a collaborative environment.
Once again I don't think I fully captured my thoughts on Waiting for Superman- there's so much there that this is only a piece of it.
It is really interesting to think about how teachers have grown at the think tank. Teachers who struggled in their first and second years have grown into really good teachers (or they are no longer at our school). I wonder what would have happened to these teachers who struggled at first if they had been somewhere else.
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