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Schools are designed to be a place for achievement and success, lead by a sound administration and great teachers. They are set up to promote a positive learning environment, to embrace all diversities, and to build the future of America. But in reality, public school systems across the United States are struggling to achieve what they are designed to do. It should be an easy task for schools to excel at all levels, given great teachers to deliver content and abundant material resources. What we are finding as a country is that our schools are fully aware that the successes of their schools are declining rapidly and we are failing to do anything about it. If the schools do not have the resources to make any changes or lack the drive to do so, then it is almost as if they are waiting for Superman to come and save their school.
Karl Weber is an all-American parent who only wants what is best for his children when it comes to their education. Every morning Karl drives his children to school and, on their way, they pass three public schools to attend a private school. He feels that the local public schools do not measure up to the standards of being a thriving institution so, in result, he pays money to send his children to a private school. Weber does this because he feels like he is guaranteed a great education for his children. This fact bothered Weber to the point that he felt he should do something about it. He realized that other parents do not have the financial abilities to send their children to private schools. Instead, they have to settle sending them to the local public schools where everyone knows they are doomed to fail but still hope and pray they will beat the odds.
Being unsettled with the failing of his local public schools, Weber developed an idea where he felt he could voice the opinions of experts of public school education. His hope was to enlighten the nation about our failing school systems and show what we can do to help build them back up. With the help of Muhammad Yunus, Weber created an educational documentary that touched upon the critical issues, challenges, and opportunities facing America's school systems called "Waiting for Superman." (Birtel, Chilcott, & Guggenheim). This documentary highlights the American public school systems, along with their millions of failing students, which will eventually produce as many high school drop-outs as high school graduates. The high drop-out rates are leading to threats on our economic future as a nation. Educators, parents, students, and political leaders express their concerns for the students and the determination to make a change. Collectively, they are building a stand against allowing education to fail, and they are beginning to produce ways in which we can achieve success.
No Child Left Behind
A development that has affected all students and school systems around the country and amplified the percentages of failing states, especially in mathematics and language arts, is the No Child Left Behind Act. The NCLB act is a bill proposed by George W. Bush and his administration concerning the education of children in public schools. Under the NCLB act, all government-run schools receiving federal funding are required to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students focusing on mathematics and language arts. Although standardized tests may be the most efficient way to test the knowledge of students, this type of test does not include the differentiation needed for the diversities of our students. For instance, students with learning disabilities or students who have English as their second language are given the same test as those who do not have these differences. This sets many students on a path to low self-esteem and failures. How does this promote student success? Where is the equity in standardized testing? Living in the United States, we are given the right to have equal opportunities. How is it that the factor that is most essential to our development as a country is not of equitable opportunity?
In the documentary, Weber breaks down the percentages of the pass rates in mathematics and language arts for each state. Along with the requirement of all individuals in a state taking the same test, each state is expected to have 100% pass rate in mathematics and language arts by the year of 2014. It is shocking to see how low the percentages are in 2011. One of the most disturbing facts is that Washington D.C., our nation's capital, has the lowest passing rates in the nation. It is a sad statement to say that the city that houses our political heart has the absolute lowest educational passing rate. With these low of percentages and such high expectations, it is clear that there is more to be done than just standardized testing for each student. One individual, such as George W. Bush, cannot make a sole decision on what is best for our educational future as a whole. There needs to be collaboration among educators, parents, students and the communities to help develop a plan of action against low pass rates. We need to come together as a group of concerned and educated individuals to promote equity and success for all students.
Leveling of Students
In the past, schools were designed to set forth a career path for each one of their students. According to "Waiting for Superman," public schools used to have three tracks for their students, one for lawyers, doctors and highly specialized professions, one for factory workers and mid-level careers, and the last for farmers and low-level careers. The schools prepared students for the particular path on which they were to embark. Nowadays, public schools have debated back and forth about whether having the option for a vocational degree versus a college-prep degree was beneficial for all students. Do we prepare all students for college, even though we need individuals to work in careers that require no advanced degree? Do we educate students for their desired future, as opposed to assuming they will all follow the path to higher education? There are no great answers to these questions. We do know that the world continues to progress due to the diversities of its workers. The United States is run on various types of degrees and skills that one has obtained from different levels of schooling. Without the ability to have the option of what our students would like to be successful in, then there is no equity in what one wants to become.
Emily, an eighth grader documented in "Waiting for Superman", has decided to attend a public charter school. Emily fears going to her neighborhood public school due to the fact that the school tracks their students. The major problem with the tracking system is that if the school feels Emily does not hold up to their standards, she will then be placed on a lower track resulting in fewer opportunities. Not only will Emily be given less opportunities, but the expectations from her teachers will be lowered as well. Both of these will contribute to Emily being much more likely to fail. By attending a public charter school that does not level, all students are given the same high expectations to prove they can achieve at a high level.
The topic of tracking has been a hot topic in our nation for several years. Who decides within the school system to either track students or not to track the students? Who is given the power to determine the level of expectations for the students? Who controls what type of opportunities they are allowed to be given? Evidence is shown in the documentary that students who have attended a public charter school with no tracking are more likely to graduate high school. Furthermore, among those who graduated, more students went to college. This idea of no tracking also provides equity for each of the students. Summit Preparatory Charter High School, where Emily wants to attend, provides each one of their students an equitable opportunity for the highest success by not tracking. All teachers work collaboratively to set high expectations and standards for each one of the students. It is up to the student to grab on to the chance and run with it. The idea of eliminating tracking is promising for our current national education system. By holding all students to high expectations, we can help raise every student to his or her educational potential.
Deep down, we Americans are thriving for a better education. We want to see the future of our country be successful, with our children leading the way. It is evident that education is power, and for America to continue to be a powerhouse in the world, the education of our students needs to be taken seriously. "Waiting for Superman" documented five students: Anthony, Daisy, Francisco, Bianca, and Emily. Each one of these children attends an elementary or middle school that will eventually lead them to a failing high school. They have all made a choice, with the help of their parents, to apply to a public charter school. When more students apply for a public charter school than the school has places, the school must hold a lottery to determine who gains admission. Most public charter schools that have shown year after year the success of their students must hold lotteries for admission. The children and families that apply are yearning for a chance at a better education and it is up to a number picked at random to decide if they will be given that change or not.
The systems used to determine the names called in the lotteries are all different in the cases of the children. One of the lotteries used old-fashioned balls, one used a random number generator, and one used names drawn from a bag. The original idea for a lottery was used because there was no fair way to determine entrance into a publically funded school. Since successful charter schools are rare, the chance of getting into one of these schools is often very small. Many times the chance of being called is less than 5%. Those who have applied to the school wait in a gymnasium and pray to hear their name or number get called. If their number is not called, an opportunity to be placed on a waiting list still exists. But for the children whose name or number was not called or not placed on a waiting list, they are stuck at the schools that are built to fail them. Public charter schools have opened up the doors of opportunity for our students. They allow all races, religions, and socioeconomic levels to attend their schools, the same as regular public schools. The public charter schools are not limited to the geographical constraints of regular public schools. This means that many students leave their neighborhood and friends with the goal of pursuing a better education.
Public charter schools raise many questions that educators and policy makers should consider. One of the major questions is if it is known that schools are failing and there are opportunities for students to be successful in other schools, then why are we not doing what we know is best for those students? There has been too many times where children with big dreams are being held down due to the decisions of a higher power. It seems that those in charge are forgetting what is important in the future of our country. We must always remember that high-quality education and equitable opportunities for our students is the most important idea we can work towards.
When we look at our children we see our future. The success for the future of America lies with our ability to educate and prepare our children to be productive citizens. We, as a community of educators, administrators, political leaders, policy makers, and parents, need to stand against all the challenges that keep our public schools from succeeding. The power to change is not in the hands of a single person but it lies in the hands of a collective group. We can unite to address the current shortcomings of our educational system to make school a positive experience for every student. We know that a public school system can succeed, we just need to make some changes. Many of those changes are exemplified in the public charter schools that are presented in "Waiting for Superman." Why are we not changing to incorporate their educational strategies? Why have we apparently forgotten about doing what is the best for the student and not doing what is best for the system?
Education will always be evolving. There will always be schools opening and closing. By keeping education in the forefront of our minds, we can focus on gaining and training great teachers to lead our classrooms. This will, in turn, allow our students to reach for the stars and have bright futures. Educators and students cannot sit back and wait for Superman to come and save them. Instead, educators need to encourage our students to be their own Superman and save the world.