Producer Davis Guggenheim discussing his latest documentary, Waiting for Superman It's hard not to look at the statistics and not come to the realization that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to education. For a country that likes
October 4, 2010

Producer Davis Guggenheim discussing his latest documentary, Waiting for Superman

It's hard not to look at the statistics and not come to the realization that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to education. For a country that likes to yell "We're #1!!!", we don't even come close in terms of education:

You might have heard the dirge of depressing education statistics: The United States has dropped from first to 18th place in high school graduation rates among developed nations. First to 14th in college graduation rates. First to 35th in math. First to 29th in science. First to 32nd in reading. Oh and 30 percent of our kids -- much higher among poor and minority children -- aren't graduating from high school during a time when a college degree is increasingly required to earn a living above the poverty line. And we spend more per student than any of the countries that are beating us.

And while I applaud Davis Guggenheim and John Legend (the author of the quote above) for calling attention to this problem, I question their solutions.

First and foremost, I feel that far too much emphasis is placed on blaming teachers. Sorry, I can't go there. Teachers have to be one of the lowest paid professions relative to the mandated education out there.

My brother is a sixth grade teacher, and paying off school loans for graduate school (and he's working on his doctorate now) is hard on a elementary school teacher salary, and pay a mortgage and other life expenses. Further, this amorphous notion of getting rid of "bad" teachers is frustratingly vague. Based on what standard? My brother is a fantastic teacher. I've seen him in the classroom engage children and watch their faces light up. He used to come up with these amazing worksheets for kids to use and they'd have so much fun, they weren't even realizing how much they would learn about history or science. But those days are gone. Now in the days of NCLB, my brother must downshift to teaching to the test. The test that determines whether his school will get the same shameful amount of funding as they did last year. Those kids aren't taught to think; they're taught to answer questions, not ask them. If they don't do as well this year, does that make my brother a bad teacher? Are you sure? Could it be due to the downturned economy has caused these kids to struggle at home? My brother's school is in a lower income neighborhood. Most parents of his students do not speak English in the home. Most work multiple jobs, leaving these kids home alone in the evening. Most of the students in his class qualify for free lunches. My brother has taken to buying apples and oranges out of his own money to feed his students. He also buys them books when they express an interest in a subject to encourage them to feed their curiosity. But when that test score comes out, will my brother be labeled a "bad" teacher and have his job threatened?

And the answer that Guggenheim and Legend appear to be advocating is charter schools.

Don't get me wrong. Charter schools can be a wonderful thing. My kids go/went to a charter Montessori school and I LOVE the education they've gotten. But my kids' school is a not-for-profit, parent-run charter, which is all too rare and points to the larger problem with charters--putting the profit motive ahead of our children's best interests. Here in the Bay Area, one of the larger for-profit charter organizations has stats that are frankly frightening and far worst than traditional public schools. And the thing that skews in favor of charters in terms of testing isn't factored at all: charters can drum out low-producing students, public schools cannot.

Which brings me to Naomi Klein. I said that reading The Shock Doctrine changed how I perceived news. Likewise, I look a the response of the Very. Serious. People. on how to fix the state of education and I realize we're looking at another Shock Doctrine.

When I saw the roster of invited guests for NBC’s week-long “Education Nation summit” that began Sept. 26, I sensed that viewers would not be getting a fair cross-section of perspectives. The “top leaders in education” that NBC rounded up primarily included CEOs (from AOL, State Farm, Netflix, Teach for America, Inc.), politicians, charter school operators, and representatives from the ed reform-pushing foundations of billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

Where were the panels of parents? The panels of unscripted teachers?

In her overview of NBC’s corporate, one-sided reform-fest, “Education Indoctrination,” Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters and member of Parents Across America (PAA), wrote: “Indeed, the vast majority of panelists appear to have been pre-selected by the Gates and Broad Foundations, Education Nation's co-sponsors, who by spending billions have been able to impose their rigid prescriptions on the nation's urban public schools.”

This eloquent post by Bronx teacher Stephen Lazar confirmed my worst suspicions: “Education Nation: I Should Have Known Better,” as well as this summary by professor and author Marc Bousquet: “Education Nation: Policy Summit or Puppet Show?”

Parents protested and asked for a seat at the table. Some of us asked for NBC to include genuine national experts on education like Dr. Diane Ravitch and Professor Yong Zhao. Ignored, some parents turned to NBC’s “Education Nation” Facebook page and posted criticisms there. NBC then censored them and deleted those comments.

The lauding of "business" solutions to education and charter schools/vouchers are straight out of Milton Friedman's playbook. None of it actually benefits the kids. They merely stay pawns for corporations to make money, and deprive them of critical thinking skills.

Sure, they'll be able to take a NCLB test and pass it, but ask yourself how helpful that's going to be when they're the ones in charge and we're relying on them to care for us in our dotage. Will they invest in us the way we're investing in them?

Can you help us out?

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