Dad, Does Superman Exist?
Last night (September 15th) I had the opportunity to join several hundred government, education and community leaders in the DC area at the Red Carpet Premiere of “Waiting for Superman”, a documentary on the state of education in the United States. I didn’t sleep well afterwards. The message of this film kept running through my mind.
The film talks about several of the challenges that face public education, what should take place to correct these challenges and highlights some successful practices in communities related to educational environments, like charter schools. More importantly, this film shows viewers the challenging stories of five students (and their families) who want to attend a high quality school. It is a blunt, to the point film that calls it like it is; which I like!
Now you are probably asking, “What kept me awake last night?” Easy, the stories of these students and more specifically why their families are placed in such a position that they are pinning their educational hopes on a lottery, not for money but for one seat in a school that will provide a quality education.
I also fought in my mind the question of, “What does a quality teacher look like?” That’s not easy to address because it is a tough question. First, anyone who is willing to serve as a teacher should be respected for their desire to help children succeed; but teaching is a profession and not a job. There is no time clock, the production line is a mind; a child’s future. Second, not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. That’s just a fact of life, so what do we do to address that issue? Pay for performance? Eliminate tenure where it exists? Do teachers unions help or hurt? And more importantly, “When will parents get off the couch and get engaged in the conversation?”
PTA has long been the leader in helping see that teachers and schools have the resources they need to be successful, but even with millions of members there are still millions more who don’t care or don’t believe they have the time to get engaged in this conversation. Why? More specifically, “What are we going to do to get these parents involved in the conversation?”
The rules must change! Our elected officials need to step up and provide the regulatory support, not just the funds, for school districts to attract the best teachers; and deal with those who should explore a job elsewhere. We should pay quality teachers a salary commensurate with quality performance. We should also have a school building that is safe, secure, healthy and technologically equipped to meet the needs of students today. No parent should be placed in a position of passing three public schools (that they see as failing) to enroll their children in a private school. That itself sends a sad message. So what is it going to take? When are our parents, and others, going to get off the couch?
My first suggestion is to see this film when it arrives in your community. If you leave the theater without a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye, you have bigger issues to address. And more importantly, begin frank discussion with all stakeholders about how we provide every child with a quality education.
This film should touch your heart and more especially, make you think. The time has arrived for parents and the broader public to ask these critical questions. The time is now to get off the couch and stop waiting for Superman?
Check to see when “Waiting for Superman” opens in a theater near you.
Yours in PTA!
National PTA President