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Posts Tagged ‘waiting for superman’

Having blogged about the troubling documentary “Waiting for Superman” here, I thought you might be interested in hearing about a school district that has found one way to overcome a significant barrier to quality education.

The documentary’s critique of U.S. public education centers on the inadequacy of teacher evaluation and the near impossibility of firing bad teachers.

Montgomery County (MD) doesn’t have that problem. Can you guess why?

Deep, broad collaboration. Critical constituencies are in on the evaluation and the decisions about coaching and firing.

A June 5 NY Times story by Michael Winerip, “Helping Teachers Help Themselves,” explains.

“The Montgomery County Public Schools system here has a highly regarded program for evaluating teachers, providing them extra support if they are performing poorly and getting rid of those who do not improve. The program, Peer Assistance and Review — known as PAR — uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring does not work, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher. … In the 11 years since PAR began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process, said Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, one-third of them from low-income families. In the 10 years before PAR, he said, five teachers were fired. ‘It took three to five years to build the trust to get PAR in place,’ he explained.”  Read more here.

Having started out my work life as a teacher, I feel pretty strongly that teachers have been given a bad rap lately and that most are experienced, creative, and deeply dedicated (and overworked and underpaid). My daughter-in-law is also a teacher.

But there is no doubt that the bad apples are hard to fire and that every year that they get away with bad teaching turns thousands of children off the whole idea of education, to the lasting detriment of the nation. So I hope everyone will think about the PAR program described in the Times and how they might help influence school policy.

I will post comments sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

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Last night we finally watched the DVD of “Waiting for Superman.” We had to wait until we were up for it. We knew it would be good, but painful to watch. It’s a documentary about the broken public education system in this country.

I see now why people come away from this movie saying, “It’s the unions.” But although we clearly need to find a way to dismiss bad teachers and reward good teachers, to just say, “It’s the unions,” seems too simple to me. Even if it is true, when you consider the context of poverty, unemployment, the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world, the War on Drugs, three other wars, confused approaches to immigration, Wall Street greed at the expense of the poor and middle class, antigovernment bias, and many skewed political priorities, to lay the problems of inequality in public education at any one door seems too simplistic.

Still, as the movie makes clear, we need to get rid of bad teachers immediately and make sure children get high-quality teachers before they give up hope. Lotteries to get into better schools are too cruel to too many. Activists can check out this site.

By the way, the film is very well done. We loved the creative graphics making the data real and the clips of Superman movies and past political speeches and TV shows.

Reader Asakiyune writes: “I very much agree with what you said about unions and teaching and the documentary–it bothers me when a problem as complex as that is reduced to one soundbite.”

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