St. Louis, MO

Will Superman Come? Waiting for a Good Education

           We are used to waiting:  at service centers, in the grocery, at drive-up windows.   But, our patience can run quite thin at times, particularly when whatever activity we are engaged in, takes longer that we anticipated or are accustomed.  Our tolerance and patience can, of course, quickly ‘go to zero’ when the product and/or we finally receive turns out to be not what we ordered, or worse has an imperfection that renders it non-functional with the only option being to return it or accept it, as is. 

            A similar analogy can be applied to many of our children, who are waiting—waiting for better, more productive, less disruptive, and certainly safer days at school, success in reading and mathematics, and better lives. 

            David Guggenheim’s documentary movie “Waiting for ‘Superman’” featured five students from Los Angeles, the Bronx and Harlem in New York City, Washington, DC, and Silicon Valley, all of whom were waiting.  The children conveyed personal excitement about their education, so did their families.  Yet, their futures were limited by the experiences of the next grade level or school.  So, all five were in the proverbial lottery of their ‘educational life’ waiting to learn if they had been selected for enrollment in a charter or private school.  As the numbers were drawn in the lotteries, the movie documented some celebrations by families as well some heartbreaking moments.

            Guggenheim’s film has certainly prompted and influenced a lot of conversation locally and nationally that probably would not have otherwise taken place.   One thing is for sure, teachers, teachers’ unions, and public schools were collectively portrayed in a less than favorable light. Some of these groups have responded by shouting loudly and clearly about what they believe was a misrepresentation (in the film) of their role and contribution to (public) education system in U.S. society, and that is okay.  Educators, families, and the public as a whole need to talk about the current situation, or educational crisis, our children face daily. 

            Perhaps your child is one of the ‘lucky’ ones because your income enables you live where you do– with a public school system that has fewer problems, fewer risks, better classroom-teaching environment, and is able to hire and retain good (better) teachers. Or perhaps your income allows you to enroll your child in a private school.  But as a society, we really do have a responsibility for the education of all of our children, not just the ‘lucky’ ones.

            So this post is for everyone.  I am confident we would find little, if any argument relative to semblance of fairness to have children experience failure, when we could be providing a much better curriculum, instruction, and yes, teachers.

            Fifty percent of our teachers leave teaching within the first five years.  Teachers ‘shy’ away from urban, high poverty areas where problems are so embedded in the schools and the community; it makes it all the more challenging to provide students with what most of us can agree they need.

            Conversations about our educational challenges frequently focus on quick ‘sound bite’ types of answers or other ‘quick fixes’ such as: more funding, longer and more school days, better curriculum, and removing parameters that teachers face which make the job even more difficult.  Politics seems to further complicate the situation—more standards, more assessment, and more accountability.  And of course, what agency/government has more money to ‘fix’ the situation and who makes the decision of the best method in improving education? 

            Children shouldn’t be waiting—where do we start to remedy the educational dilemma we face?  These next blogs will examine some solutions from a teacher, teacher educator, and grandmother’s point of view.  First, I am convinced we must fund quality programs to work with young children and their families.  We have research that shows for every $1.00 invested in educational programming for young children, there is a return on investment up to $17.00. Pre-kindergarten and parenting programs are threatened with funding cuts and have experienced substantial ones this year. 

            A program that has been substantially cut in funding is the Missouri Parents as Teachers Program.  Parents as Teachers enables parent educators to visit homes of mothers/families who have children ages infant through five years. Developmental information, assessments, and activities are shared with parents.  Children and family group activities are offered.   The parent educator also has informative printed information to share.  It is an exceptionally successful program and is replicated across the nation. Yet, Missouri legislators did not see the significance of funding programming for our younger children.  We just did not have enough public ‘outcry’ to influence the final decision.

            So, let’s get it right!  It is time for looking at what works.  It is time for action, rather than continuing to ‘debate’ what is wrong. We need to invest in programs for young children and their families.  Let’s not make our youngest start ‘Waiting for Superman’!

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