Waiting for Superwoman, or Batman

It wasn’t a movie that I would have chosen to see, but my OLLI Film Discussion Group assigned Waiting for Superman.  It was provoking.   One reason is that the director, co-writer and narrator Davis Guggenheim, states, at the beginning of the movie, that he drives past three L.A. public schools and drops off his kids at an expensive private school.

The American public school system is in crisis, failing millions of students, producing as many drop-outs as graduates, and threatening our economic future. By 2020, the United States will have 123 million high-skill jobs to fill—and fewer than 50 million Americans qualified to fill them.

Educators, parents, political leaders, business people, and concerned citizens are determined to save our educational system. Waiting for “Superman” offers powerful insights from some of those at the leading edge of educational innovation.


I taught in and believed in public schools and thought that if we wanted to improve the schools, we should work with them.  (I was on the board of my children’s non-profit preschool and, when they were in elementary school, was president of the public school foundation, which raised money for extra projects.)

Here is a ranking of the United States against other countries in science by OECD (behind Croatia, Iceland and Latvia!):

1 Finland 563   16 Switzerland 512
2 Hong Kong-China 542   17 Macao-China 511
3 Canada 534   18 Austria 511
4 Chinese Taipei 532   19 Belgium 510
5 Estonia 531   20 Ireland 508
6 Japan 531   21 Hungary 504
7 New Zealand 530   22 Sweden 503
8 Australia 527   23 Poland 498
9 Netherlands 525   24 Denmark 496
10 Liechtenstein 522   25 France 495
11 Korea 522   26 Croatia 493
12 Slovenia 519   27 Iceland 491
13 Germany 516   28 Latvia 490
14 United Kingdom 515   29 United States 489
15 Czech Republic 513        

Range of rank on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2006 science scale.  (Data for the assessment which took place in 2009 will be released on 7 December 2010.)

Now that I am retired, I signed up for The Reading Seed (http://www.readingseed.org/).  I attended a half-day training workshop last spring, and was fingerprinted so that they could be sure that I was not a child molester.   The beginning of October I went to an introduction for volunteers at Tolson Elementary, which is about a mile from my house.  I was told that permission slips would be sent home with the two children to whom I would be assigned, so that the parents could approve my tutoring of their children.  Six months since I signed up and I am still waiting to help these students.

Tucson‘s Tolson Elementary School serves grades K-5 in the Tucson Unified District. Based on its state test results, it has received a GreatSchools Rating of 4 out of 10.
Parents have reviewed this school and given it an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

This points out one set of statistics from the movie.  Although the school only rates 40%, parents rank it 80%.  Americans think we are better than we are, which makes us complacent.

  Reading Writing Mathematics
  08-09 09-10 Change 08-09 09-10 Change 08-09 09-10 Change
All Grades % Mastery 65.4 64.4 -1.0 87.2 76.2 -11.0 64.2 42.4 -21.8

I would think that if over 30% of the students are reading below grade level, the school would work a little harder to have volunteer “coaches” helping the kids. 

First of all, they could get the permission for tutoring slips filled out the first week of school.  If the parents didn’t return the forms, someone from the school should call on the parents and find out why and/or get the form signed.  Who should visit the homes?  Legal problems with having the volunteers doing that?  Then the teachers.  Sure, it would be extra hours, but are they working for themselves or the students?

Second, more volunteers should be engaged.  There is a retirement/ golf community one mile from the school.  Door-to-door recruitment might work, not only for reading tutors, but for math tutors, as almost 60% of the kids are performing below grade level.

But in my research I discovered that Tucson had made a Top Ten list! 

Each year, NEWSWEEK picks the best high schools in the country based on how hard school staffs work to challenge students with advanced-placement college-level courses and tests. Just over 1.600 schools—only 6 percent of all the public schools in the U.S.—made the list. This year’s rankings have some fantastic new interactive features. We’ve teamed up with a data company called Factual to create individual profile pages for each school where students and faculty can comment and contribute.

(E&E = Equity and Excellence: the percentage of all seniors who have passed an AP or IB test.)

Rank School City State E&E
1 Talented and Gifted Dallas TX 100
2 Jefferson County IBS Irondale AL 100
3 Stanton College Prep Jacksonville FL 100
4 Science/Engineering Magnet Dallas TX 100
5 Corbett Corbett OR 73.9
6 BASIS Charter Tucson AZ 100
7 Signature School Evansville IN 84.9
8 Paxon School for Advanced Studies Jacksonville FL 76.1
9 Suncoast Community Riviera Beach FL 87.1
10 City Honors Buffalo NY 95

A bit of positivity contrasting with the complacent We’re number 29! status quo.

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