Is American education waiting for Superman?
Film on the subject provokes discussion in the AV
PALMDALE, Calif.—“Waiting for Superman,” a riveting new documentary on the state of learning in America, is being screened in theaters all across the country. The film’s impactful message about hope, poverty, and education recently caught the attention of Antelope Valley residents, including parents and teachers.
On Tuesday (March 29) night at the Palmdale Learning Plaza, the League of Women Voters of the Antelope Valley hosted a screening and a subsequent discussion of the controversial film.
In the eyes and mind of filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, the film brings to light the raw, unsettling issues in the American education system. According to Guggenheim, the system is broken and holds little promise for the development of children’s future. Mixed with increasingly low test scores, economic displacement, unions and a dysfunctional disciplinary code, the American school system is falling behind other programs internationally.
A diverse panel made up of Palmdale Councilman Tom Lackey; Westside School District Board member Linda Jones, and Trish Jones, community programs supervisor with the city of Palmdale, Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president Jennie Settlemeyer, and Hugo Estrada of the Palmdale Teachers Association addressed the cracks in the system and relationships between parents and the education system, particularly within the Antelope Valley.
Although the film looks at issues primarily in low-income and disadvantaged areas, the panelists saw similarities in the AV, especially in parent-administration relationships.
“One of the issues I think that needs to be addressed is the issue of parents not feeling welcome,” Settlemeyer said. “Also, I wish more parents would beat down the door of education,” referencing the resilience of parents in the film.
As a highly active mother, the PTSA president consistently alluded to resolving educational issues by increasing parental involvement and advocacy.
Research has shown that students whose parents are actively involved in their schools and volunteer their time have greater chances of succeeding.
According to Child Trends Data Bank, African American and Hispanic parents are less likely to interact with their students’ schools, compared with White parents.
“Sixty-one percent of Hispanic students and 63 percent of non-Hispanic Black students had parents who attended school events, while 74 percent of non-Hispanic White students had parents who had done so,” the report says. “Twenty-eight percent of Hispanic students and 32 percent of non-Hispanic Black students had parents who volunteered their time, compared with 48 percent of non-Hispanic White students.”
A Michigan Board of Education report, called “What Research Says About Parent Involvement in Cildren’s Education,” revealed that when parents are involved, students have higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates, as well as better attendance, increased motivation, better self-esteem and better behavior.
Estrada on the other hand expressed the need for the community as a whole to make a serious impact in education. “It takes a village,” he said. He also emphasized the importance of reforming the system.
When asked what the barriers were for ensuring all students receive a quality education? Estrada answered, “I think legislation has way too much influence on how education is funded. Too many barriers on what teachers can and cannot teach. Tenure has become a four letter word….”
The subject of tenure was a point driven home by Guggenheim throughout the documentary. The film often brought attention to the fact that teachers automatically receive tenure without necessarily performing well. Called the “dance of the lemons,” instead of underperforming teachers being fired, according to the film, they are recycled throughout a region of schools and maybe even districts, ultimately sacrificing the children. Teachers unions were also blamed for many of the issues with bad teachers.
The film’s shocking information and real life stories, left some teachers in disagreement, feeling the film was unbalanced and targeted classroom instructors for the brokenness of the system.
“I was a bit offended by the video,” said Laurielle Lemon, a fifth-grade teacher at Chapparral Elementary School in Palmdale. She felt her side was never told and was outraged by the “one-sidedness” of the story line. She believes that parents are not holding up their end of the bargain and sending their children into classrooms with no sense of discipline or respect for teachers, making it difficult to teach all students.
“Teachers don’t have the power to do certain things,” she said. “I need discipline and they need to want to learn.”
Economics also plays a role.
Lancaster Elementary School District is one of the lowest scoring districts in the AV with a 2009 Academic Performance Index score of 698, rivaling L.A. Unified, which scored 693. (The smaller Eastside Union Elementary School District, with a bit more than 3,000 students scored 682, but was excluded from this comparison because of its size.) One of the highest scoring schools is Westside, with an API score of 807.
In the 2008-09 school year, Lancaster had 7,111 Hispanic, 4,481 African American, and 2,792 White students enrolled.
For the same year, Westside had far fewer student enrolled. Westside had 2,901 Hispanic, 1,215 African American and 3,908 White students.
Westside covers the West Lancaster, Quartz Hill, West Palmdale and Leona Valley areas. The average income of households within that district is $85,060. Lancaster covers all areas of the city with average household income of $69,415.
The film demonstrated that students who come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods were at risk of being pushed through the system, receiving fewer resources, and possibly getting bad teachers. Also, researchers are finding that socioeconomic status may correlate with academic achievement.
Thomas D. Cook of Northwestern University observed in an article entitled, “Inequality in Educational Achievement,” that it is during primary learning that the achievement gap between children of higher and lower social classes widens.
“This growth in inequality is due to class differences in summer learning. It is not due to differential learning during the academic year, for then knowledge gains are independent of socioeconomic standing,” it said.
The Michigan report said teachers agree that low-income parents tend to participate less in the classroom and in the education of their pupils for various reasons.
On the issues of nutrition and violence, George Farkas, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Irvine, claims that low-income students are forced to reckon with various disadvantages compared with middle-income students, therefore contributing to the achievement gap.
Trish Jones strongly impressed upon the audience that it is up to the community at large, business owners, teachers and individuals who are not parents to invest in the future of children.
“Are [businesses] going to stand idly by or be a part of educating their future work force?” she asked. She also believes that teachers have the utmost responsibility in fulfilling their duties as educators. “The true leaders who impact our kids are the teachers.”
Learn more about the film at film.waitingforsuperman.com.
The second annual Bridging the Achievement Gap Conference was held Nov. 6 at the Palmdale Learning Plaza, and gave administrators, educators, parents, and community members effective strategies to help close the persistent achievement gap.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — High surf pounded the coast and fierce winds howled across the Southland today, with gusts topping 70 mph whipping the Saugus area and 50 mph in Lancaster.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—An Antelope Valley community group sued Lancaster and Palmdale officials today, alleging the cities engaged in practices meant to drive out Black and Latino residents.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of the Community Action League, the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and two unidentified residents who allegedly faced racial discrimination.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will hold a Social Service Transportation Advisory Council meeting and a Transportation Development Act Article 8 Hearing Board meeting in Palmdale to review oral and written comments previously made in the North County and the city of Avalon public hearings. These meetings will follow up on the Article 8 Unmet Needs Public Hearings held in April.
Iridescent is a science-education nonprofit that helps engineers, scientists, and technology professionals bring innovative science, technology and engineering to high school girls, and underprivileged minority children and their families.