Is Education the Next “Inconvenient Truth”?

Today I’d like to talk about several education-based documentaries coming out this year. And there are a lot of them. This USAToday article even refers to 2010 as the year of the education documentary.

Although it’s a bit off-topic for Stretch Your Digital Dollar, I think the documentaries pose interesting looks at urban public schools in America. They seem worth at least a discussion. I’ve embedded trailers for several of these documentaries below.

The Lottery


The Cartel

Waiting for Superman

I haven’t seen any of them yet, but, based on the trailers, one thing worries me. They seem to laud charter schools, while simultaneously bashing teacher unions. Like most issues, I think this one is extremely complex, so coming down completely on one side or the other is dangerous.

I’ve worked in inner-city public schools, as well as inner-city charter schools. Back when I was a reporter, I wrote several stories on both types of schools. I would say I’ve seen just as many great public schools as charter schools. And I’ve seen some remarkably terrible charter schools, just as I’ve seen some remarkable terrible public schools. I really don’t think the proposal to give our public school system to charters is a good one.

I happen to have worked at an amazing charter school that was making serious progress with kids in inner-city New Orleans. But I also worked at an amazing public school that was making serious progress with kids in inner-city Phoenix. The public school system can work, and it does in many places. And many charters work, as well. But there are serious problems with both systems. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

The same can be said for teachers’ unions. When I worked in Arizona, teachers weren’t required to join unions, so many didn’t. The unions weren’t strong, and some questionable things went on regularly. I saw teachers fired simply because of personality conflicts with administrators. Unions were designed to stop things like this from happening. At the same time, I’ve seen unions in Louisiana so strong that’s it’s virtually impossible to get rid of an ineffective teacher, no matter the consequence to students.

So where is the answer? What’s best for kids and teachers?  Could these documentaries spark necessary change or lead to an equally bad (or worse) system? What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Katy Scott

I spent 5 years teaching in low-income districts in Phoenix, where most of my students were English-language learners. There, I taught 3rd- and 4th-grade self-contained classes, as well as 7th-grade resource. I spent a year teaching 5th- and 6th-grade science in an inner-city KIPP school in New Orleans. I did double-duty as a technology integration specialist for the last four years of my teaching career. I am now the Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where I work to help PreK-12 teachers and students utilize technology to better understand science. I'm a maker, a snorkeler, and a certified Google Education Trainer.

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