In my previous piece, I gave an overview of the need for education reform in the United States, as well as a stated-thesis to describe education generally. Because I believe the need to do something about our education system is so dire, I will continue to write about it.
In the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim gives a tremendously insightful look at education reform in the United States. Guggenheim hits many different topics. I will discuss some of them here. By visiting this website you can learn more about this educational piece as well as finding out what you can do to help. The best part of the website is that it seeks first to inform others, and then suggests ways to take action. If true reform is to happen in our locally-structured educational system, then it is going to take a real push by all the stakeholders involved: parents, students, teachers, unions, administrators, school boards, and community leaders. These stakeholders can be the true super heroes we need in the United States. I refuse to believe that America is in a state of decline; however, if we do not make real strides towards better educating our students, then that is the reality we face.
Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the District of Columbia's School System, is featured prominently in Waiting for Superman. While Rhee's tenure was controversial for many different factors, eventually leading to her resignation because of the confrontation she had with teachers' unions, she has been a true pioneer in the field of education reform. Rhee has started "Students First" since her ouster as Chancellor, showing her commitment to education reform. One of this organization's main objectives is the definitive end of teacher tenure. Rhee believes, as she attempted to do in D.C., that teachers should be paid for student achievement. As Chancellor, Rhee gave that choice to teachers in the nation's capital. If teachers chose to give up their tenure then they could more than double their salary under a new contract proposed by Rhee. If teachers wanted to keep their tenure, they would receive a substantially smaller raise, but a fair raise nevertheless. The teachers' union never let it come to a vote.
I believe Rhee points out one issue, among a myriad of issues, which need to be addressed if student achievement is to go up in this country. Getting rid of teacher tenure is a way to be able to get rid of teachers who simply do not teach. The students in these classrooms are unfairly not able to access the same education their counterparts are. This is unfair and unacceptable. Education is publicly funded in the United States by local property taxes as well as state and federal dollars, so every student should have equal access to the "good" or "product" of education. Sadly, they do not.
However, so-called "bad" teachers should not be used in order to avoid addressing other issues. Throughout the documentary, different profiles are used to show parents struggling to ensure their children are not only receiving a quality education, but able to attend a quality school. These parents' local public schools are often located in neighborhoods which simply do not have a good property tax base from which to draw. The parents, who are from all different parts of the country, attempt to get their children in some kind of alternative school. The urgency of this is clinched for the viewer towards the documentary's ending, when each of the parents attends a lottery at the alternative school to see if his or her child may be picked to attend the given school. Imagine, a lottery, a chance, to ensure your child may have access to a quality version of something our country already ensures access to for everyone. What's the problem? The "free" version is porous. When will our public and private sphere super heroes fix it?
Education is directly linked to American power. It always has been. As the United States attempts to maintain its waning uni-polarity in the international arena during the 21st century, the reversal of that trend begins with addressing fully, among other tactical policy areas, education.