Waiting for Somebody
Gail Collins has a strong opinion on a difficult question: should charter schools have public (and heart-wrenching) lotteries? She clearly feels no – and I know many charter leaders who agree with her – but I don't. The ONLY way we're going to end the horrible lotteries is by making sure that EVERY child, not just a lucky few, can attend great schools – and the only way to do this is to create HUGE public pressure. I wonder if Collins realizes the irony in what she says – Waiting for Superman wouldn't exist, nor would her column, if it weren't for some charter schools having public lotteries, which capture how desperately poor parents want good educations for their children (rebutting the widely held myth that "those" parents and "those" children don't care about education):
kudos to the new documentary "Waiting for Superman" for ratcheting up the interest level. It follows the fortunes of five achingly adorable children and their hopeful, dedicated, worried parents in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., as they try to gain entrance to high-performing charter schools. Not everybody gets in, and by the time you leave the theater you are so sad and angry you just want to find something to burn down.
My own particular, narrow wrath was focused on the ritual at the heart of the movie, where parents and kids sit nervously in an auditorium, holding their lottery numbers while somebody pulls out balls and announces the lucky winners of seats in next fall's charter school class. The lucky families jump up and down and scream with joy while the losing parents and kids cry. In some of the lotteries, there are 20 heartbroken children for every happy one.
Charter schools, please, stop. I had no idea you selected your kids with a piece of performance art that makes the losers go home feeling like they're on a Train to Failure at age 6. You can do better. Use the postal system.
On a more sweeping level, the film has sparked a great debate about American education. The United States now ranks near the bottom of the industrialized countries when it comes to reading and math. It's not so much that schools here have gotten worse. It's just that for the last several decades, almost everybody else has gotten better. Finland, what's your secret?
September 29, 2010