*Waiting for Superman* Vs. *Bad Teacher*

I saw both these movies at some point this summer. My now weeks-old impression: the fictional but illustrative *Bad Teacher* is in many ways “truer” than the ostensible documentary *Waiting for Superman.* I am concerned about the existence of drop-out factories and sad to think that Jonathan Kozol might still have a lot of work to do in parts of the country. But I really don’t think most teachers start slacking off as soon as they get tenure, the way WfS seems to imply. It’s always been my experience that teachers are a lot more like the earnest and caring –if a little goofy (hey, it was a middle school where they spent their professional lives really trying to engage, instruct, and encourage young adolescents)–teacher characters that were the majority of the cast in BT. When the Bad Teacher realizes she could get an extra monetary incentive if her students perform best on the standardized tests, things get strangely focused. Throwing balls at students who answer incorrectly just seemed to me like an over-exagerrated satirical statement on the inanity of some test-prep approaches.

What has happened to us? Meritocracy has made parents so competitive that WfS even features someone who would appear to have all kinds of advantages for school–a blonde female athlete–thinking she has to flee her beautiful suburban public high school to get what the charter is offering. And these parents shown in WfS at the charter school lotteries; only one of them had the sense to leave their child at home! For whatever reason several children shown in the movie are now convinced their school is not good enough and the good school didn’t choose them.

I just want to point out that public education started in Massachusetts Bay colony when the Pilgrims decided to tax themselves to hire a teacher. It was a cooperative effort to avoid duplication of the effort each family normally had to make to teach their children to read. Now I have to got to find a screening of Race to Nowhere. Because it’s not a race; it’s supposed to be about giving children the tools they need to live a good life. Note that the grown-up Geoffrey Canada decided to stop waiting for superman and be superman.

I know I am only skimming so many surfaces, but that’s what I do here, because it seems that’s what blog readers read, and hey, maybe it’ll be controversial enough to generate some comments… 🙂

Are Charter Schools Disruptive Innovations?

I don’t think so. They don’t necessarily provide consumers with a similar experience for dramatically quicker delivery or lower cost.

I think a real disruptive innovation would look more like the learning community of Udaipur, India, that Shilpa Jain talked about at a conference I attended last June. Links are in my June 16, 2010 post.

UNICEF had two different projects that kept bumping into each other. One was trying to provide schooling for all children in developing nations and one was finding that it was just too expensive. Our current system of public schooling is very expensive; we are quite privileged to support it and yet contrary to the metaphorical meaning of “support” many folks make a hobby (or a career) of criticizing its effectiveness and value. True disruptive innovation would make our education system both cheaper and more effective.

But I do not mistake charter schools for the answer; they are mainly a way for alert groups to siphon public money into private, less accountable hands. Still I think public school districts would do well to deal with them to some extent in a proactive (not defensive) way as if they were.