INDIANAPOLIS | With the laser intensity that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has focused on education, some see him as the new Superman.
Bennett was the featured speaker following a private screening Wednesday in Indianapolis of the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” which examines the nation’s education system.
Some say the film unfairly makes public schools out to be the villain.
The screening was hosted by a variety of education and business organizations, including School Choice Indiana and the Indiana Department of Education. About 300 people were invited to see the documentary, followed by a question-and-answer session with Bennett.
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth,” highlighted Geoffrey Canada in New York and the successes he has had at the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Kipp Academy and the changes brought by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.
The film, which promotes school choice and charter schools, highlights four families that care deeply about their children’s education. Most of the families are Hispanic or black. They live in poverty and cannot afford a private school yet don’t want to continue sending their children to neighborhood schools, which the film contends are riddled with poor teachers.
The documentary highlights the achievement gap between rich and poor. It also cites a previous report that called many of America’s high schools dropout factories.
The film says teacher contracts are an impediment to improving schools and protect tenured teachers who perform poorly.
One comment that grabbed the audience was a statement from a member of the business community who said by 2020 — just eight years away — there would be 123 million highly skilled jobs and only 50 million people able to fill them.
Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, has not seen the film, though he’s read about it and thinks it sends the wrong message.
“For the most part, our educators today are supermen,” he said. “My heart goes out to teachers. They are better trained and work harder than ever before. It’s very frustrating. They are the scapegoat for society’s ills. This Superman movie is just another example. A child with structure and someone who loves them can succeed in any school. Are there bad teachers out there? There are bad people in every profession, but to condemn our schools, I just get so tired of it.”
Teresa Meredith, Indiana State Teachers Association vice president, saw a screening of the film last week and was disappointed the filmmaker did not speak to teachers.
“They didn’t ask why certain things were happening. They only went to a handful of very carefully selected urban schools. The film attacked teachers. The film only looked at one school that was sort of considered suburban,” Meredith said.
Munster Teachers Association President Ryan Ridgley said he has not seen the movie but has been researching it for many weeks and believes it depicts an elitist view of public schools.
“Davis Guggenheim does not shy away from telling everyone that he sent his children to a private school. He has seemed to put a very Hollywood spin on public education. The documentary shows us the pain and suffering that the children and families are going through to get into a charter school,” Ridgley said.
The film does not seem to explain that charter schools do not have the same rules as traditional public schools. The film talks about the lotteries held to gain entrance into the charters, he said.
“Indiana law says that charters cannot turn away students, yet these lotteries do just that — to keep class sizes low. Should traditional publics go to this lottery system as well?” Ridgley asked.
Bennett said few people understand accountability, “but the first time parents see letter grades on their schools, that’s going to make it clear.”
Bennett championed new rules that will assign letter grades to Indiana schools based on performance measures. Whether Democrat or Republican, Bennett contends it’s time to bring education reform. He said it’s important to raise the standards and reward great teachers.
Bennett also reiterated there is no evidence that paying teachers based on years of experience and academic degrees has any bearing on student performance and teacher effectiveness.
SOURCE: The Times of Northwest Indiana, http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/article_6a83365f-7bcf-5b4a-89b1-d9dcacde7ab3.html?mode=story