Public boarding schools? Better teachers? “Waiting for Superman”

In about a week, Dayton will join the rest of the country in being able to see the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” I couldn’t wait, so I left town to see it early.

It’s already been mentioned on the site, the DDN has already written an editorial about it and one of the “stars” – Geoffrey Canada, is coming to speak at UD in January.

While we don’t have lotteries for charter schools in Dayton, we do have a lottery in our kids’ graduation rates- and I’m not just talking about Dayton proper- it’s a number that has zero meaning because we don’t have a way to track kids from birth to graduation nationally- a national student ID number so to speak.

At what point do you consider a kid belonging to one district or another?

One of the realities of urban districts is that the kids are more mobile- moving more frequently- changing schools etc. This, along with economic status, is one of the two key indicators for graduation rates- and the kids do not measure up to either of them.

In my last post I asked if “orphanages” were what’s missing to put some of these kids back on track- and maybe, I just had the terminology wrong-maybe the answer is public boarding schools- like one of the example charters in the movie.

We don’t seem to have a problem providing post-graduate boarding schools for problem children- prisons, which are at least three times more expensive than what we would spend on solving the problems earlier.

The movie goes to great lengths to blame the teachers’ unions and tenure as the biggest stumbling blocks to improving educational outcomes. There is no doubt that bad teachers don’t teach, and somehow, bad teachers don’t get fired. An example from the movie showed where a school gave a student a concealed video camera over twenty years ago- and was unable to fire teachers caught on video not doing their jobs. This is nothing new- I took a photo in my junior year of high school of a horrible teacher, Liz Russo, sleeping in class. We published it in the yearbook- in the back of the book- behind the index- so the administration might not hang us out for it- but it was well known she wasn’t fit to teach- but was allowed to muddle on for years.

We all know at least one amazing teacher. I was lucky enough to have quite a few- (even though I didn’t know who they all were when I had them). The value they gave me far exceeded at least 5 of the ones I don’t remember- yet they were all paid the same.

The idea of pay for performance is a reality in the rest of the working world- and it would seem, it’s overdue in public education. DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee tried to bring it to a vote in DC and failed, and ended up out of a job as well.

Our school year is already one of the shortest in the industrialized world, and our ability to produce the workers of tomorrow is already in question.

The question is- how long will we continue to do the same thing- and expect a different result? We can all just keep waiting for Superman too.

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