Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim's documentary feature Waiting for 'Superman' has been generating much talk for its portrayal of the public education system in the United States.
In a previous post, I talked to LA elementary school principal Donald S. Wilson about the film and the current public education crisis. Now, Carol Markham-Cousins, principal at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, MN shares her views:
What are some things about the film that left an impression on you?
Carol Markham-Cousins: "I thought it was intriguing that the young girl in the documentary (eighth-grader Emily) wanted to leave her nice suburban school and go to a charter school that did not track. The film did a fabulous job explaining what it meant to put a child on a track. Here at Washburn, it is an experiment about absolutely not tracking. To me, that's at the crux of what this opportunity gap is about."
Are you pro-charter schools like the documentary?
Markham-Cousins: (President and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone) Geoffrey Canada is an amazing man, he's an amazing educator and he's doing amazing things. But there are many, many, many charters that are not (amazing). Here in Minneapolis, we are one of seven urban schools in the area. I open my door to every single solitary student. It's my job and the job of my teachers to figure out how we are going to work with these kids. I don't say 'We're gonna have a lottery.' I don't say 'If you don't meet the conditions here, then you're outta here.' Those are two things that the public needs to understand about what goes on with charters. Having said that, there are some really positive things with charters in terms of the freedoms they have and not having the restrictions that we have sometimes with staffing. That was brought up in the film, but not as much to the extent as I would have liked."
The film points out all the problems with tenure. Are you for or against it?
Markham-Cousins: "Tenure should be taken away. Schools are not employment agencies. I don't want a teacher dumped in my building because he or she deserves a job."
Should student test scores be used to evaluate teachers?
Markham-Cousins: "No, that should be an aftermath. But we as principals and leaders need to be accountable to how we're evaluating teachers. Principals, should be evaluated to. It's not an 'I Gotcha!' It's about support. And if someone is not doing their job, we need to move on. A fish rots from the head down, which means I need to be a role model. My supervisors need to hold me accountable for doing my work in a very public and transparent way. I need to do the same with my teachers. Again, we have to look at tenure. We need to can it. And we need continued evaluation because our job is changing all the time."
Are teachers unions the enemy the film makes them out to be?
Markham-Cousins: "The hero/villain dynamic portrayed in the film is way too simplistic because it depends on the school district. I've worked in some where it was a well-oiled relationship between the two. I believe we need to be in collaboration with our teacher's union. The only way we're going to move forward is to work together, but there are some definite things that must change. And the dynamic teachers want change."
What is the key to a good teacher?
Markham-Cousins: "Teaching is both an incredible skill and an art. If you're a good teacher, you love what you do, you know the content, you know your students, and you know what your students are anticipating. You've anticipated ahead of time where the problems could be. You understand what it means to differentiate what each student is doing and that it's not a 'one-size fits all."
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