Just saw "Waiting for 'Superman'", a documentary about the American public school system by "An Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim. There are some incredibly heartbreaking moments during it, and the footage during the lottery system was terribly hard to watch - the lucky kids were being plucked out and given a much improved chance to achieve college - all by random chance. The other not-so-lucky kids seemed near-doomed for failure, despite parents who care about them and their future so deeply, and their own hopes and dreams to learn and achieve in life. That was rough.
I get a few major take-aways from this film:
1) public education is not just an issue in low-income areas, it affects other demographics, too.
2) there are some truly innovative and amazing individuals like Geoffrey Canada who saw the problem, desperately wanted to find a solution, and created a solution which circumvents certain union requirements.
3) (from my limited view based on the film), it sounds like teachers unions in America are not keen to change the current state of tenure setup, for pretty clear reasons. The film argues that not changing the status quo comes at the cost of keeping tenure for bad teachers, thereby not allowing public schools to run like any reasonable business - where good performance is encouraged by a better paycheque, and bad performance will get you fired.
4) in case there was really any doubt (and there really isn't!), I am clearly very interested and passionate about education.
5) Jeff Skoll scores yet another point in my "you are a huge inspiration" book. Not only is he Jewish, Canadian, and an amazing business success (founder of Ebay), but he exec. produced this movie. I read an article about him several years ago, saying he founded Ebay and then cashed-out to follow his original boyhood passion - to create thought-provoking and socially beneficial movies. He's had a hand in a huge amount of important films over the last several years and he knocked it out of the park again with this one. What a cool guy.
This movie was amazing. But don't just take my word for it. I suggest checking it out, it's not available on Netflix Instant Watch but you can rent it from Netflix, looks awesome on Blu-Ray. Check out their website here: http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/action/
PS As an aside - I just went to the website and it's really cool. There are a lot places to join the conversation and also see what you can do to help. What was really awesome is that Edutopia (the George Lucas Educational Foundation) and 826 National (where I volunteer) were both listed and linked to from the Waiting for Superman website. Awesome.
PPS Another link on their site was to here: http://motionmathgames.com/ Very interesting stuff. A mobile games company focused on educational research and learning app development.
Ignoring all the politics, and the fact that just because a school's teachers are not unionized doesn't necessarily add up to better teachers or test scores... (there are of course many more factors at play), I think a good takeaway from this movie is that volunteering is good. I can definitely get behind that!