Friday, February 18, 2011


Tonight my husband was at his alma mater, cheering on Belmont's basketball team so I invited my co-worker and great friend Sarah over for a little post-work dinner/movie time. We had both been wanting to check out the movie Waiting for Superman and I just happened to have received it from Netflix this week.

I don't know if maybe this affected me differently because I work with students who are facing a gigantic achievement gap, but this movie left me in tears. Our public school system is ridiculous, and I think Davis Guggenheim did a really terrific job of exposing our countries short comings. A lot of us who grew up in decent neighborhoods, had parents who supported our education and encouraged us to go to college never even think about what it's like for so many kids in the country. A great education is something that parents really have to seek out at this point, and there are many parents who don't have the means or knowledge to do that. This movie follows around 5 students who have applied for charter schools because their home school is at a failing level. It shows them going through a lottery process and it shows most, if not all of them not being accepted because the number of spots is so limited. As I visit the schools that my students attend I see so many things that could be changed and reinvented, but our system doesn't allow for it. I see with my own eyes how "no child left behind" is epically failing to support each one of these kids.

I'm still not quite sure what to do with what I just watched. My brain is definitely still processing all this information and I'm trying my hardest not to sink into that "our system is doomed, there is no hope" mentality. To be honest though... it's hard. Statistics have proven that about half of the students I see daily will drop out of high school. They will suffer the same fate as their parents. They will live off the government in public housing and on food stamps, join a gang, never get a job or just have no sense of self worth. Does this start with poor schooling? Does this stem from inadequate teachers and role models?

The problem is so wide, and the solution is so debated. What really struck me the most is what Michelle Rhee had to say about the problem stemming from adults, not children; which is my major argument day in and day out. I couldn't find the exact quote but she said something to the effect of: we would rather ignore the issues we see and disadvantage millions of students just so that we don't have to put up with the backlash from the adults involved. Which is crap. A HUGE load of crap. I could be a million times more effective at my job if I didn't have to deal with "adult" problems... the people who stand in my way and who don't have the students interest in mind. It's more about money, and saving face, and who you know than it is about helping and I know this is what all the great teachers out there face daily in the school system.

Sorry for the seriousness and for pushing my opinion. This is just something that has been really heavy on my heart since we've been in Nashville and I've seen the school district here. I would really recommend adding this movie to your queue, it's not as intense and I may have made it out to be haha. I can't wait to watch it again and do some more research about about what I can do, and what is going on in the world. End rant :)


  1. I really appreciate this entry! I haven't seen the movie yet, but I intend to. Growing up in Wichita, KS, the public schools were great. Now that we're in Chicago, I can see why public schools are in such trouble in many places. We actually live in the suburbs and our public schools there are awesome, but the city schools are in poor shape - many of them, at least.

    We lived in Chicago for the first 18 months after moving here from KS (my husband's from here) and went through the magnet application research and chaos, didn't get in and our kids spent a year in the neighborhood school. At their level - pre-K and K (then) - the school was great. We knew we didn't want them in that school as they got much older, though - and we had the means to move. So, so many don't. And why should you have to, just to get a safe, decent education?

    I agree that NCLB has made a bad system worse - even out in our nice suburban system, the focus on standardized testing is outrageous.

    I work for a grad school that won a charter to start an elementary school in the Chicago system. Our tiny elementary is housed in the same building as another traditional neighborhood school - they weren't using half of their building. Arne Duncan, who is now the top education guy for Obama, was our CPS superintendent and one program he implemented prior to leaving Chicago was the Renaissance 2010, which was supposed to create 100 new schools, I believe. Our school is one of those. We use ABA techniques (used a lot with Autism) in our charter, and we had a lottery open to neighborhood residents first, then to those outside the neighborhood. Through the lottery and regular enrollment, most of the kids are neighborhood, so I'm thankful we were able to dodge the bullet of "charters aren't accessible to those in the neighborhood".

    Do you know the Harlem Children's Zone in NYC? It's a great program that focuses on and connects the child & school to their family & community, and works to improve them all. Our school is based on that model. I think the work they're doing with our kids & the families is really exciting, but we're only in year 2 so we'll see how it goes.

  2. I also used to work with a lot of school psychologists both in & out of the Chicago public system, so have an idea of the red tape and inefficiencies in our system.

    Education is not something I've put a ton of time into learning about, but because I have school-age kids, our experiences with the Chicago system because of them and seeing what my husband's family members grew up with, and what I've learned through working at this grad school, I've gotten exposed to a lot of this stuff. I agree that it can seem really hopeless. When Michelle Rhee resigned, I was really saddened because she seems to have a good point of view . . . but maybe she can make more of an impact when not hindered by a system like DC's?

    I don't know. It's a huge problem. You shouldn't be exempt from a good education due to your socioeconomic status and unfortunately, those seem to be the dividing lines.

    You might be interested in the Love Isn't Enough blog ( It used to be called Anti-Racist Parent but they wanted a more general name, I guess. Anyway - the topic of education comes up a lot, and I've commented there often. I'm White, my husband is Black, our kids are bi-racial. A common theme on that blog seems to be, "I can send my kids to a school that exposes them to racial/ethnic diversity but they'll get a poor education, or I can put them in suburban or private schools where they'll get a great education among their 99-100% White peers". Trying to find the balance in a system that is mostly imbalanced is really hard.

    My kids are fortunate - we live in the suburbs, but a very diverse one - racially and socioeconomically. They're getting a great education AND their school really is like a mini United Nations. I know our situation is rare, though.

    Sorry for the novel!! :)

  3. Ashley: I LOVEEEE everything that you had to say. You've given me lots more things to think about and read into! I'm glad to hear from a parent who has had to deal with all of this first hand. My husband and I don't have any kids yet but I can honestly stress myself out thinking about what we would do about their schooling. I was a public school kid, and I believe that I got a great education, but with all the crazy stuff happening in the school systems I'm starting to see why people homeschool haha I know that lots of people criticized "waiting for superman" and said it was just propaganda for charter schools, but I took it as more of an eye opener. Charter schools are doing it better right now. How can we change public schools so that they WORK?! Obviously SOMETHING is working, so why would you resist change?

    Anyway, Maggie: I suggest you watch! Let me know what you think!


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