The Education Bandwagon: Are You On It?


By Gary A. Johnson

September 27, 2010

“Waiting for ‘Superman,” a new documentary about America’s education system got a huge boost from an appearance on the Oprah show last week.   Director David Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” appeared on the Oprah show with some of the featured cast including controversial DC Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

“Waiting for ‘Superman’” takes a critical look at failures in the public school system and their effects on American schoolchildren and their families. The movie seems to have everybody talking.  TV and radio hosts across the country of every political persuasion are talking about this film.

Today, President Obama gave up 30-minutes of his time for an interview with the TODAY show’s Matt Lauer broadcast live from the Green Room of the White House.

President Obama said his daughters couldn’t get the same quality education at a Washington, D.C. public school that they currently get at their private school (Sidwell Friends).  The President further stated that DC public schools are “struggling,” though he said there have been some important steps made in the direction of reform.

Not everyone is singing the praises of “Waiting for ‘Superman.”  The film follows the stories of five children whose futures of getting into charter schools are set on the chances of winning a lottery.  Something is wrong with our American system of education when a child’s chances of getting a good education depends on the luck of a lottery ping-pong ball.  Why can’t we fix this as a nation?  This is beyond sad.  To tolerate this is a travesty.

“Waiting for Superman” also portrays teachers’ unions as a major blocks to the schools ability to teach our children.  This portrayal has not been received well by some teachers and educational groups.

Enter Michelle Rhee (again).  Thanks to “Waiting for Superman,” Rhee is seen by many as the face of inner-city and urban school reform.  Earlier this year, Rhee fired hundreds of teachers.  On Sunday’s, Meet The Press TV show, Rhee defended her decisions.  Rhee has consistently said that it is NOT acceptable for teachers who are ineffective to stay in the classroom.  Let me translate:  “It ain’t personal, it’s business!”

Where is our moral compass as a nation?  What’s wrong with removing ineffective teachers from the classroom?  Don’t our children deserve better?  A good education is the key that leads to a good life.  Investment in education pays every single time.  Not throwing money at the problem, but wise investment.  The United States used to be #1 in math and science around the world.  Now the U.S. ranks 21st in math and 25th in science.

Many on the side of the teachers argue that teachers are not evaluated fairly and that teachers need more time to get up to speed.  More time?  Our kids don’t have that kind of time.  I do believe that the teacher evaluation process is flawed.

I am a product of the DC Public School system.  My company has worked for DC Public School system for the past three years.  I volunteer my time working with youth in the most under-served Ward in the city.  I work with teachers.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  “If you don’t fire poor performing teachers, good ones will leave.”

Say what you want about Michelle Rhee, but the data, which in to the only measure of success, but a crucial one, reflects improvement under her watch.  According to Rhee, “The data shows if [children] have three highly effective teachers in a row versus three ineffective teachers in a row, it can literally change their life trajectory.”  That is scary.  Scary because we have too many ineffective teachers whose heart is in the right place but simply aren’t getting the job done.  The nation’s school system also has too many bad teachers—bad attitudes and bad skills.

“Waiting For Superman,” points out that union-backed teachers are tenured after just two years in the classroom and are nearly impossible to fire – even if they are proven to be horrible at their job.  Does that make sense to you?  Rhee supports a new proposal that would allow DC teachers to choose to give up their tenure in exchange for double their salary—up to $140,000.  At the time, the union refused to put it to a vote.

Does any of this make sense to you?  It’s as if the adults have forgotten about serving the best interest of the children. This is a complicated problem.  Where do we start?

How can you defend a national system of education that has a one-third drop out rate? Approximately 2000 schools in our country are “drop out” factories where over 50% of the students drop out of high school.

The teachers and administrators that I know on a personal level are extraordinary.  They give up so much of the time and resources for their children.  They have to because of the lack of parental involvement in their child’s education.

I believe that there are more good teachers than bad teachers, but the bad one’s are probably really bad.  By now you have probably concluded that I don’t have the answers to solve this crisis.  I do know that throwing money at the problem is not the answer.

The young people that I deal with need your time.  Not all of it, but just a little bit each week.  Consistency pays huge dividends with children.  We can’t make educating our children the “flavor of the month.”

Former NFL great Alan Page spent fifteen years in the NFL.  While playing football, he became a full-time law student, earning his law degree in 1978.  in 1988, Page launched the Page Education Foundation.  From its inception, the Foundation has offered money and encouragement to students of color facing incredible barriers to attaining their educational dreams.  This is just one example of how one person can make a difference.

If we get on this bandwagon, we have to stay on it until the job is done.  The future of this nation depends on it.

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.

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3 Responses to “The Education Bandwagon: Are You On It?”

  1. […] The Education Bandwagon: Are You On It? « Black Men In America […]

  2. I live in DC and whoever thinks Michelle Rhee was good for the Schools here is a dumb azz. Oprah should have done her research before she had this evi witch on her show.
    DC schools are no better, the curricum still is weak, and the kids are no better off.
    Michelle Rhee was there to help the GENTRIFICATION process.
    You see….she only has a 4 year degree and less than 2 years of teaching experience. Heads of schools are required to have Doctorate Degrees.
    This means Mayor Fenty slick Aldeman Davis from Good times azz pulled a trick on the people of DC. DC NEVER HAD A CHANCELOR BEFORE. That position was created to bring rhee in to do their dirty work.
    Rhee Laying off those teachers did absolutely nothing to improve the schools. Why? Because the teachers were not the problem.
    Rhee tried to justify it by first saying it was due to budget cuts. Then said they all were sexually and physically abusing the students. ALL lies. DA BIOCH lied through her teeth.
    The problem with DC schools starts at the very top then works its way down.
    Many of the DC schools have been closed down or taken over by outside PRIVATE companies or turned into charter schools.
    So there are not that many remaining public schools left.
    They are not designed to be succesful for our kids.
    They are designed to do exactly what they are doing. NOTHING>
    Do you actually think it is that difficult to improve these schools?>
    No its not.
    Get a real curricul first off. Not one that still teaches kids that Christopher Columbus’s dumb azz discovered America.
    Get one taht teaches the TRUTH>
    Teaches about marcus Garvey
    Malcolm X
    Black Panthers
    John and Bobby Kennedy.
    Then create a plan of action for the parents to get in volved because without them the job is difficult.
    Get more men teachers, etc .
    BEcause the money is there.
    Just going to the salaries of a bunch of dumb azzes that are making all the wrong decisions.
    Im So Glas Rhee will be gettin her azz out of Dodge.
    Next time Oprah ‘s dumb azz wants to talk about my city and what really happened she needs to do her research or call me.
    Thats why we voted Fentys azz out.
    Because his support for Rhee, Big Biz, and GENTRIFICATION.
    sellin his own damn people out.
    Bald headed aldamen davis crook.

  3. First off I know nothing about the D.C. School system, and I am no longer a teacher. I use to be in a Chicago South Suburban School District. I am now a University Coach. That being said, it absolutely floors me that this country continues to try to educate childern the way it was done 120 years ago. With all of the research telling us that thing like classroom size over 15 is to much for the teacher, but we still load classrooms up with 40 students, and say we expect learning to go on. We know that there are various learning styles for humans, yet we continue to treat students as if they all learn the same way, and wonder why they don’t. We know that there are several different types of intelligence, yet we do the same thing over and over again. School officials have got to know that what they are doing doesn’t work, yet the same thing is done over and over as if the results sre going to change. When you know something doesn’t work and continue to do that thing, that is an unforgivable sin.

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