Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 232 - Waiting for Superman

Waiting for Superman (2010) directed by Davis Guggenheim

Imagine your kid's future being decided by random luck. If your kid gets chosen he or she will be able to attend a charter school that does better than even the glitziest private school. He or she will graduate high school, likely go to college and get a good job and exceed in life. If your kid doesn't get picked he or she will have to go to the local public school where, in some schools in America, have an astronomical 80% drop out rate. He or she will be exponentially more likely to wind up in prison, die at an early age, or live at or below the poverty line his or her entire life. Your chances of winning this lottery? About 1 in 20. That means 19 in 20 will wind up at the mercy of a public school where the odds are stacked against them to succeed before they even set foot inside. The fact that we even need these lotteries just for our kids to have a chance at a decent education is indicative of just how far America's education system has fallen. In Waiting for Superman we follow five kids who enter the lottery in hopes of getting into a better school. I won't say who gets in and who does or if any do at all. That is sort of besides the point, their stories are just one of many all across the country. The ridiculousness of the lottery, despite being fair and unbiased, just goes to show that our school system does not work.

If there is one thing to take away from this film, I would say it is the power of teachers. There is no greater impact on a kid's education than a teacher. A really good one can improve a kid's proficiency by several grades in one year. A really bad one can actually lower it. This is partly why charter, private and prep schools are so successful, they can handpick their own teachers, whereas public schools are stuck with their teachers basically forever. For as much as people talk about how little teachers get paid, they actually have it pretty good in another way. They are virtually impossible to fire once they've gotten tenure, whose only requirement is to teach for a certain amount of years regardless of how good they are at their job. It takes nothing short of being a serial killer to get fired once you've gotten tenure. There have even been instances of child molesters who could not be fired. (A teacher at my elementary school was still teaching while he was under investigation for child molestation.) The teachers' union as a whole would like to keep it this way to protect the bad and ineffective teachers, but at the same time it actually hurts the good ones. Everything in the union is based on seniority rather than performance. Teachers would be wise in the long run to abandon this tenure system and actually reward their good teachers and cut off some dead weight.

If I ever have kids I think I would like them to go to a private school. Taking a vested interest in their education is the best thing you could for your kids. For more on the subject of America's education, I'd suggest That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, which has a very informative and logical section on why education is so important to our future.

Grade: B

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