See the NY magazine article by John Heilemann about “Waiting for Superman,” the new documentary by Davis Guggenheim and the latest example of charter school porn.
The article retreads the well-worn points made by countless other articles in the mainstream media, predictably focusing on the teacher unions as the scapegoats, adds in the tired nostrum of how "adults" are being favored over the kids, ignores all the factors that go into low-performance in our urban schools, and drools all over Geoffrey Canada.
But it also contains a startling quotation from Joel Klein, about the students who remain in the regular public schools:
“It’s gonna grab people much deeper than An Inconvenient Truth, because watching ice caps melt doesn’t have the human quality of watching these kids being denied something you know will change their lives,” Klein says. “It grabs at you. It should grab at you. Those kids are dying."
It's amazing to me that Joel Klein says the kids in the schools that he is responsible for running are "dying." If he feels that way he should resign immediately and let someone else be in charge -- preferably an educator who knows something about how to improve schools.
Geoffrey Canada's charter schools have class sizes of twenty or fewer in all grades, and yet the administration refuses to reduce class size to similar levels.
The Bloomberg/Klein administration has consistently refused to provide class sizes comparable to those in Canada's charters, despite hundreds of millions in state funds supposed to be used for that purpose. Essentially, by Klein's own malfeasance, he is creating a system in which many charters will outperform the schools he is responsible for improving.
Canada also claims that teacher unions have not added anything to the quality of education, yet without unions, class sizes in NYC would be essentially uncontrollable -- rising to 30 or more in all grades. The only thing that is keeping them from exploding are the union contractual limits.
Charter schools enroll far fewer special education, immigrant, poor and homeless kids than the districts in which they are located -- another reason for their relative success. Teacher attrition rates at charter schools tend to be sky high, because of lousy working conditions. This is not a model we want to replicate, as experience matters hugely in terms of teacher effectiveness. Student attrition also tends to be very high. I doubt that the Guggenheim film explores any of these factors.
Altogether this article, like the movie it profiles, is a simplistic and one-sided look at a complicated problem. For a far more informative and balanced perspective, check out Prof. Bruce Baker's analysis of charter schools at "Searching for Superguy in Gotham". As he concludes:
"...we might be better off spending this time, effort and our resources investing in the improvement of the quality of the system as a whole. Yeah, we can still give Superguy a chance to show himself (or herself), but let’s not hold our breath, and let’s do our part on behalf of the masses (not just the few) in the meantime."