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Friday, April 1, 2011

"Waiting for Superman": One Mom's Take

A few weeks ago I decided to watch "Waiting for Superman."  I had heard a lot about the documentary, saw a few discussions on various TV shows regarding the eye opening take it had on education, and was intrigued enough to watch it.

I should point out my mother is a retired teacher who started college at 40 because all she every wanted to do is teach.

I am also married to a teacher.

My son attends public school as will my daughter next year.

My husband works in and my children are zoned for one of the worst performing school districts in the country.

Our state is notoriously one of the lowest rated for education.

My city, Las Vegas, was recently voted the dumbest city in America.

Those are my disclosures.

This is my opinion.

This movie was ridiculous.

Here's what I got from it:
  • 25% of charter schools perform better than average public schools when children, teachers and parents are motivated.
  • Some teachers suck.  This is entirely the fault of the teacher's union.
Wow.  Thank you for that insightful observation.  Maybe my insights will get me a spot on "Oprah."

When 75% of charter schools perform exactly the same as regular public schools, that means that they are no different.  There are a lot of great, non-charter public schools that are getting the job done.  I'm sure the low performing schools pull the average down.

Granted, I am a just a mom who volunteers for a few hours every week.  For the three years my son has been in school, every teacher has been not just good, but exceptional.  His school, whose scores are just "adequate", offers additional after school activities- such as chess, dance, Spanish, science clubs, etc.  They are at a minimal cost (less than after school care).  They have a great reading incentive program.  They use the same math program as a very prestigious private school in the area. They have science days and encourage every student- whether it's required for their grade level- to participate in the Science Fair.  There is a great art program.  The music activities are impressive for an elementary school.

And yet they are barely hanging on to "adequate" some years on the testing.

What you don't see is what I see as the problem-

My son was the only student in the entire kindergarten program to participate in the Science Fair.  In first grade, there were maybe 4-5 kids.  In his second grade class, there is 1 other student in his class- not sure about the whole second grade since the 6 week projects just started.

The Principal's Advisory Committee (PAC) meetings usually have 8-10 people attend- often the same ones.  Granted, they are held during the day so those of that work have some challenges (and they get cancelled or rescheduled about 50% of the time).  The school has approximately 700 students.

In a class of 18, I am one of about 3 parents who volunteer.  I am one of the only ones who volunteer regularly.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Where are the parents?

The schools aren't waiting on Superman, they're waiting for Mom and Dad to show up.  And not with excuses.

Today I helped review spelling with the kids.  I asked if their parents gave them any tips.  Half the kids had tips to share.  The others had no idea because their parents never reviewed their spelling with them.

Half the kids in the class are doing well.  The other half, not so much.

Guess which kids had help with their spelling?

In speaking with the kids, you can tell who have engaged parents.  The kids make eye contact, they listen, they have ideas, they are present.  They are respected by their parents and in turn, respect their peers and teachers.

Some of the other kids have no idea how to behave.  They interrupt in order to be heard.  If you give them any attention, they are overwhelmed.  They never have a real opinion because it's apparent no one has ever asked them for one.  Rather than speak coherently, they babble, excited that anyone is listening.

When I do something as simple as read a story to the class, half the kids pipe up "Oh, I read that at home with my mom/dad/grandma." 

Guess which half?

By the end of third grade, it's pretty much done.  Their learning patterns are pretty much set.  Their self-esteem established.  Their labels given.

And as for blaming the teacher's union, I am befuddled.  The union doesn't hire and train teachers.  I do agree, however, that it does appear to be difficult to get rid of bad teachers.  I honestly think it's a very small percentage that are truly so bad that they need to be removed from the classroom.  From what I can see, most teachers- especially elementary- work extremely hard to meet their students' needs.  I've seen some pretty spectacular things in 3 years.  I don't think measuring teacher's "success" on student's test performance is the answer, but I absolutely agree that there needs to be a better way to help burned out teachers get their spark back and to get incompetent teachers out of the classroom.  I also think expecting a teacher to dazzle every single day is ridiculous.  Do you?  It's not a circus show.

I've seen my husband stuck in conferences/e-mail discussions, with parents who insist that their child's poor performance is the school's fault, not the child's. But hey, at least they show up to complain.  For the number of students that drop out (nearly 50% in Clark County), you would think he'd be in conferences non-stop.  Not true.

And increasing classroom size to save money is NOT going to help the situation.  Or cutting salaries or pensions.  Not just for the school system but for the future.

I jokingly say that maybe if parents were taxed on their child's grades that fall below a C for wasting our tax dollars,we'd see a huge increase in test scores.  Sadly, we'd probably only see an increase in lawsuits.

So my solution for education is simple:
  • Parents, read to your kids as often as possible.
  • Parents, talk to your kids and listen when they talk to you.
  • Parents, be involved in their school, even if it's 30 minutes a week to read a book.  Or 10 minutes.  Or sending extra supplies or treats.
  • Parents, when your kid gets a bad grade, ask why and how you can help.
  • Parents, make sure your kid gets to bed at night. 10 pm is too late for a 2nd grader.  11 pm is obscene.
  • Parents, feed your kid a healthy breakfast so they can pay attention during school. 
  • Schools, make the parents feel welcome.
I can only imagine next year at my son's school.  I am horrified at the cuts that are being made.

But what horrifies me most, is that we have become this type of society- one who accepts no responsibility for its actions. 

It is not the school's job to raise your child. It is yours.  Parents, step up.


mgeihs said...

You are so right, Lori! Parental involvement is the key to success most of the time. I am also amazed at how many kids I meet who seem so clueless about the world. No one talks to them!! As a high school teacher, I see that confusion about life continue for many kids. I find I have to explain things I believed "everyone" knew.

Vicki said...

I would also add, that adults in general need to "step up" because to wait on parents only means there are boat loads of kids falling behind every day. People need to get back to the "community" mindset and volunteer, regardless of whether they have a child in school or not. I've heard of churches, soroptomist groups, boys & girls clubs, etc. "adopting" schools to volunteer their time and makean investment in kids in general. I think it's pathetic to say the school "system" doesn't work without at least starting from the ground up - and that would be the home. I think the most disturbing part of that movie was the room where all those "teachers" sit every day while getting paid to do nothing - ridiculous and embarressing as a society that we allow that kind of thing to go on.

Rita said...

I am "that" parent. I'm the room mom, chaperone the field trips, help out in the classroom, show up at the meetings and take an active roll in my children's education. I'm also now a parent that pays private tuition and has no hope of having disposable income any time soon. The public school we attended isn't the "worst" school, it isn't the the most unsafe it doesn't have the worst test scores. And that is scary. In one year it had a profound and negative effect on my child. I showed up. I spoke up. I was motivated and ready to help. I was told to get every school administrator and government official I appealed to.

I'm not giving parents a pass. I agree, the schools are not responsible for raising our children. We are! Taking money away from the school certainly won't help. Giving teachers the support, training and tools they need to deal the the very real problems caused by parents not parenting would. Seems everyone is measured by a standardized test score but the parents. Well, that doesn't seem to be working.

I had a different take-away from the movie. I'm happy to hear anyone talk about what is going on in our classrooms that isn't followed by that shrug of the shoulders - what's a person to do.

I failed to make a change for my child or anyone else in the public school. What I did so is go back to school myself, to be a teacher.