For months I avoided watching the documentary “Waiting for Superman." Why? Because I am an education junkie and I knew it would make me angry. And guess what? I was right. Maybe if you knew more about my background you would understand why I get so angry about the subject of education. Let me explain: my mom is a teacher. Well, actually my mom is an master educator. Not only did she teach special needs kids for 31 years, after she retired she returned to help new teachers master their classrooms. Yep, she kinda rocks. I remember sitting in the car as she went inside a home to talk to a parent. (It was the 80’s… you could leave a kid in the car.) I remember her buying clothes and school supplies for students. So our home was not only filled with educators but talks about education.
Then there is the fact that by nature I would rather spend my time in a museum or library than a mall. I am the person that checks out 20 books at a time. I am the person who knows their library card number by heart. I love the library. And I love museums. Free knowledge is always a good thing, right? So basically I'm a nerd.
Add that to the fact that I have an M.Ed. and two kids in public school, and boom! You have an education stalker. I follow great school programs the way others follow Beyonce. I really do.
So now that you know why I am an education stalker, let me tell you what pissed me off about “Waiting for Superman.” When it ended, I still had some questions that I needed answered and there were no action steps given. Let’s start with my questions:
If you have a charter or magnet school that has a proven success rate – and I am measuring success by kids competing on or above grade level – then why are those programs not replicated. Just last week I asked @DrStevePerry a question about this subject. I asked “Does school reform have to be done school by school or district by district?” His answer, “School by school.” I partially agree with that statement. In my opinion, schools have to be reformed on a case by case basis because the needs of students vary depending on where they live. But if you have a magnet/charter school that is doing so well that the lottery process is overrun with families, then create a second campus that is a mirror of the first. There was one example in the documentary where 700 parents tried for 35 slots. If the community is that committed to the school, then why not create 20 more just like it. The number of applications are a sign that parents want it. I’m sorry but that seems like common sense to me.
My second problem with the documentary is that it ended without action steps. I watched the movie, so now what? I can’t stand work that gets you enraged and ready to act but then doesn’t tell you where to direct the anger. Do we need to lobby to get rid of tenure for teachers? Do we need to write letters to congress? Do we need to attend a school board meeting? What do we need to do? The documentary never told us. So, let me help you. My suggestions are not for everyone. These are only for people who have kids, or will have kids, or own a business and want a workforce that can read, or want co-workers who can read, or want to have nice stuff in your home without it being stolen, or if you don’t want to be carjacked, or if you don’t want to visit your nieces or nephews in jail. If you don’t fall into one of those categories then you are exempt and can sit back and do nothing. Here we go:
1. Watch the news and read the paper. Know what education issues are facing your community. Do research and be informed about YOUR community first. That is not selfish at all. On planes they tell you all the time to put on your mask first!
2. Visit a school. Actually ask for a visit of your neighborhood school. See the school for yourself. You can’t say “schools suck” or “schools are great” if you haven’t been in one since you left 8th grade.
3. Talk to a parent about their feelings about your school system. Get feedback for the actual stakeholders.
4. Attend a school board meeting. Learn about who is making decisions for your school system. If possible, ask for a meeting with your school board member. And if you don’t like their decisions, vote them out of office.
5. Donate to a school. A book bag, pencils, dry erase markers, giftcards, computer, something.. everyone can donate something.
6. Mentor a child. Help support a child that may not have parental support.
7. If you are a parent, show up! Don’t just go to basketball games or plays. Go to parent teacher conferences. Go to academic events. Volunteer in your child’s classroom.
8. Parents, read with your child. Do math with your child. Take your child to the library or a museum. Invest in your child.
9. If you have a great school in your area – be it public, charter, or magnet – ask the leader of that school, what will it take for it to be replicated. Then follow through with their suggestions.
10. Do something. Do it now. Do it today. Write a letter. Call a congressman. Cheer for teachers as they walk into school. But do something!
I know I am not the only person passionate about this topic. I really want to know what do you think? What are your suggestions? Or what are you doing to improve the school system? Because while we can’t wait on Superman to come in and save us, we can form our own Justice League and save ourselves.