Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Superman": Charlotte is waiting

Will Charlotte audiences pack a theater to watch a documentary about urban education?

If someone had asked me that a few weeks ago, I'd have responded with an "Are you serious?" smirk. But the buzz about "Waiting for 'Superman' " has been building since its national debut, including a feature on Oprah. When I went with a group of education reporters to see it in New York City, the huge theater was selling out on weekday evenings.

The film by Davis Guggenheim, director of "An Inconvenient Truth," opens in Charlotte on Friday. It's likely to swell the surge of education-reform energy building here and nationwide.

The title will make sense to local folks who attended Geoffrey Canada's Charlotte talk in March. Canada, one of the country's most charismatic education leaders, created the Harlem Children's Zone, which provides "cradle to career" services designed to break the link between poverty and academic failure. He tells of growing up in the ghetto and fantasizing that Superman would save him, then crying when his mother told him Superman wasn't real.

His message, and that of the film, is that we all have to be the heroes.

Education wonks will find plenty to debate. Does it oversimplify complicated issues? Sure. Does it present  charter schools as The Big Solution? Sort of. I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that charter-school lotteries serve as the dramatic hook. My sense is that's less about creating a "great charters/lousy traditional schools" dichotomy than about painting a vivid picture of the slim odds some children face in seeking an excellent education. Here, many families seek Charlotte-Mecklenburg magnets as a ticket out of weak schools (though the computerized lottery and notification letters wouldn't make good theater).

What "Superman" undeniably does is put human faces on the children and parents fighting odds that are stacked against them by poverty and failing schools. We may walk out of the theater arguing about causes and solutions to the problems. But it will be hard to walk out with a shrug.


Mike said...

As usual, this movie does not tell the whole story. And the story it tells is bias, of course. Little is said about how this all is financed. I am not sure how much you will get out of this "cradle to career" story without first reading the book about Dr. Canada. Actually the book goes into how the education of the child starts before conception. But of course, little emphasis is placed on the importance of a monoganeous relationship. As census data has pointed out, there is less than a 5% chance you will live in poverty if you simply graduate high school, and that is really not that hard, get a job, any job, be married before having children and stay out of trouble with the law.

Bottom line, the movie keeping with the reputation of the director, picks and chooses how to tell the story to create the bias and thus falsely creating the drama.

Bottom line, people of generations of poverty are generally not good parents. As Joe White would say "duh"!

Anonymous said...

If I hadn't seen Oprah with everyone on the stage portrayed as the next education savior with money handed out like Pontiac G8s my enthusiasm might have been greater. I might see it but Pete is strong arming the troops for United Way type charities and we're already preparing for the next round of layoffs, displacements, and closings. CMS should expect nothing in the way of payroll deductions for charities after last month's payroll fiasco.

LMA said...

Another film that doesn't have the star power and largesse of Oprah and Bill Gates behind it will also be playing Wednesday night (10/13) at 7:30, and again on 11/3 at the same time at Omni Montessori. The film is "Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture." I think this one's also worth a look.

Anonymous said...

Ann, can you do a story about how crowded the south suburban schools are? We have classes with K and 1 together. Our first grade class has 25 students. I thought that wasn't even allowed. I thought early elementary was capped at 24. Also, FYI, we are hit up for money at least 2x a month. Our middle school students are REQUIRED to buy some of their own textbooks (under the pretense of needing to write in them-yeah right). This are so unequal. We are being taken advantage of due to our zip code.

Anonymous said...

Middle school Language Arts textbooks are now in their tenth year with no support by the publisher. Teachers are on their on their own with curriculum using the NCDPI guidelines. Meanwhile math and science adoptions in CMS continue to find whatever they need. CMS no longer supports consumables(workbooks) in LA so guess who pays? Teachers or parents. You've been double face palmed. Welcome to the new model of a free education. Call the Superintendent and ask for an explanation, better yet, call the area superintendent.............. and wait.

Anonymous said...

Can you post a story that explains the cost spreadsheet. It is very difficult to read. Where is the documentation of the costs listed as saved? For Davidson IB it says that personnel costs will be reduced by over $600,000- whatever happened to a "school within a school" and preserving the current faculty that CMS has been promoting in its attempts to get this through the Board? There should not be any personnel savings if CMS keeps its promises. We need more explanation and transparency.

wiley coyote said...


Is there any way you can get the backup from CMS as to how they can close all these schools, claim to save $3.3 million next year and then somehow those savings become $6.1 million in subsequent years?

Something seems very fishy about those savings, especially almost doubling in year two.


Anonymous said...

These closings will give Gorman the opening again to fire some of CMs's most experienced effective teachers and principals. He still has his eye on their salaries. Remember how he tried to convince us that teachers with 5 years experience and a master's degree were ineffective,until his data collector was found to have faulty numbers and research.

Anonymous said...

For those wondering about the spreadsheet, teacher costs/savings are NOT included because the assumption is that the teachers will follow the students and it is a wash. Therefore any personnel savings is excluding classroom teachers. Davidson IB teachers that are certified/trained in IB will absolutely be going to Alexander MS (that is in the powerpoint). The reason the savings jump up year two is due to one-time capital costs for these moves. You cannot make K-8 schools without putting in the science labs, etc. that are required for middle school programs. You cannot move a K-8 school to a high school without adding in playground equipment that high schools have. Unfortunately there are a lot of things you learn at these work sessions that are not in the presentations and now that they are not recorded, there is no way to find out without actually being there.

wiley coyote said...

Anon, I'm not buying that argument in totality.

Some modifications will have to be made but not to the tune of $3 million and then saving almost double year two?

Just as teachers and students will be moved, so can the desks and science equipment they currently use.

Furthermore, it was stated a few weeks ago that Tuckaseegee would be shuttered for future use. What the heck does that mean? LOL.

Think about the savings CMS could gain by keeping lights off in football fields and school gyms, plus the cost of sports in general. Each school gets approximately $6,500 per year for sports.

If CMS is truly concerned about not laying off one teacher, CUT SPORTS!

The stupidity coming from this school board is no different than any in the past. Pick a year, swap all the board members and you have done nothing but swap spit.

No difference.

Anonymous said...

I will not be surprised if sports (at least middle school) is brought up to be cut sometime this spring. Unlike the changes now which impact parents decisions in regard to magnet lottery, sport can be cut later. Unless Michael Jordan agrees to annually contribute enough to keep sports ongoing - I think it will be brought back up to the chopping block.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of Jimmy Carter, what does it say when the president of the United States won't send his own children to a single DC public school where the per pupil spending rate is the highest (or one of the highest) in the nation?

Global competitiveness starts here?

Anonymous said...

What is the current per pupil spending rate for DC public schools? And why have we, as a nation, allowed this school system to continue to be an embarrassment for decades?

While working as a fine arts adjunct professor at the Univ. of DC (essentially a 4 year community college serving a majority of students from the DC public school system) between 1987 - 1989, I took a science class required to become a lateral entry public school art teacher in Maryland. The majority of students in my science class had never seen a lab book, a petri-dish, a microscope, conducted a dissection, let alone could identify the periodic table of elements. However, they could all name off numerous African-American scientists which I guess was more important than actually understanding basic scientific principles. This was the only darn science class I ever received an "A" in since this remedial college level course was aimed at an average suburban 8th grader.

The real tragedy here is then allowing students who have worked hard and, in many cases, have overcome huge obstacles and want to achieve to graduate with a college degree believing it puts them on a level playing field and stands for something.

I don't see our education problems limited to grades K-12. I think our problems are much broader than this.

Anonymous said...

Now that I've finished my tirade concerning the state of education in Washington DC, I do think it's worth noting that CMS is in far better shape than this school system and that CPCC (I believe) is still considered one of the best community colleges in the country.

I took a couple of courses at CPCC years ago (just for enrichment purposes and to keep myself sane with a baby at home). At the time, I remember being taken back at the quality of instruction and course work in a subject I hold a master's degree in from one of our nation's most expensive universities with a 32% acceptance rate.

After this experience, you bet I will continue to vote for funding that benefits CPCC! There are many successful people who started off at community colleges including a NASA astronaut. As a community, I think it is critical to support this educational gem.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks for good comments and questions. I'm just getting back from jury duty and trying to catch up (sitting around the jury assembly room reminded me of the "rubber hose room" for bad teachers depicted in the movie!).

South suburban poster, I may not get to that until I dig out from this review, but the good news is we have some extra staff focused on that area and I'm going to clue them in. They already have one story working on that topic.

Anon 7:32 a.m., thanks much for a good explanation. You're right; you need to be at the meetings to understand the documents. But I know that's not practical for most working people.