Waiting for "Superman” is a powerful and compelling documentary which exposes the present failure of public school education in the United States, particularly in urban areas characterized by debilitating social pathologies.
Director Davis Guggenheim attributes much of the educational dysfunction to bloated, incompetent school administrations and to negotiated teacher contracts that protect the welfare of union members at the expense of the children they serve. Contrasting many of the harsh truths about public school education to the apparent success of five public charter schools, the filmmaker makes a strong case for school reform. The film strikes an emotional chord and is persuasive in its intent; however, in reality, it portrays a one-sided, fractured fairytale.
Director Guggenheim does not illustrate the exceptional performance being achieved in countless public schools across the nation. He does not emphasize enough the current statistical measure that indicates only 17 percent of all charter schools outperform traditional public schools. Nor does he acknowledge the diminishing outcomes now evident in some of the very charter schools featured in his documentary. These are troubling omissions that mislead his audience. These are facts that reinforce “Superman” still has not arrived, leaving us to speculate on what are the best reform options for public schools. Is reform truly necessary? Absolutely. Are charter schools the panacea for what ails us? Probably not.
-- Concetta Raimondi, Ed.D.
MSD of Lawrence Township
This week, United Way of Central Indiana has invited community leaders, partners and donors to private screenings of the newly released documentary Waiting for "Superman." United Way understands that if an individual receives a quality education, they dramatically reduce their chances of being unemployed and dramatically increase their income potential. A high school degree at a minimum and a college degree for most are necessary to support a healthy, independent lifestyle.
Unfortunately, a significant number of our children in our community are not achieving the minimum of a high school degree. It is not just the child's or their family's issue. The problem affects us all, and we must all work together to improve the chances for our children for a healthy and independent future.
Understanding these facts about quality education is why United Way of Central Indiana adopted education as a second priority in addition to supporting human service in 2006 and why United Way is spotlighting this film.
The film is direct, unapologetic and controversial. It clearly states that all children can learn and deserve a quality education. It also states that the current education system fails too many students and that teachers' union agreements are obstacles to reform. It positions charter schools as alternatives.
United Way does not endorse the content of the film, but we do believe that our community must engage in critical discussion about improving our educational outcomes. United Way does not believe that any one idea presented in the movie is a silver bullet to enable our community to graduate 100 percent of its children. But, if we care enough about the problem to struggle together for a solution, surely we can dramatically improve our children's success.
Much good work is being done today, but more work is needed. Many people are involved, but more are needed. After each screening of the movie, United Way is leading a panel discussion that includes voices from the schools, the teachers' union and the reform movement. All voices need to be heard to improve student success. Sides should not be drawn, but joint strategies need to be developed.
United Way's job is to recruit and engage people and organizations that have the passion, expertise and resources to help. How can you help? We're listening, and this blog offers one way to extend the conversation. Together, we can!
-- Jay Geshay
Senior V.P., Community Planning & Strategic Initiatives
August 27 and 28 were great days to see people LIVE UNITED in Central Indiana. 1,200 volunteers were out in the community working on impactful projects in Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Marion and Morgan counties. In Marion County, volunteers were concentrated at projects on the near-Eastside working at IPS schools, the new (and only) nonprofit grocery store in Indianapolis, cleaning and sorting furniture to be used in transitional housing for foster youth, working at the home of a cancer patient, and more. In other counties, volunteers were working on projects at schools, at homes, at camps, at non-profit agencies, and at city parks.
One project that was particularly impactful took place in Martinsville on August 27. Volunteers from different companies worked at a partially burned home selected by the Mayor’s office. In Martinsville, neighborhoods have been selected for clean-up efforts - to work on homes damaged by the floods in 2008 or fires. Two great things about this project were that volunteers accomplished a lot in a short period of time (the dumpster in the picture was empty at the beginning of the day) and the project represented a partnership between United Way of Central Indiana, the Mayor’s Office in Martinsville, and Morgan County companies. Volunteers cleaned out debris and did yard work at the home.
-- Tiffany Dow
Manager, Volunteer Coordination and Placement
When Vincent came to Goodwill’s Indianapolis Met charter school as a freshman in the fall of 2008, he probably expected it to be just like every other school year. From first grade, teachers identified him as a problem, so he was isolated, kept away from the other students.
Tests correctly identified his learning problem as dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to read even when the sufferer is of above-normal intelligence. Vincent had difficulty making sense of the jumbled words on the page.
In spite of special education classes, family support, and tutors hired by his grandmother, he failed to make much progress. Though Vincent fell behind in every subject, he was promoted each year to the next grade level and the next special education class. By the fall of 2008, he felt like he couldn’t learn, and he had given up on school.
At Indianapolis Met, Vincent took a standard battery of tests to determine the level of work he should receive. In reading, he tested at third-grade level. And he was in good company at the school where half of his classmates read below the eighth grade level and a third read below a fifth grade level. At least half of the students at Indianapolis Met start out as Vincent did – two or more grade levels behind where they should be.
It is, perhaps, even more astounding, then, that Goodwill’s Indianapolis Met has a four-year graduation rate of 64 percent (as compared to 47 percent for IPS) and a five-year rate close to 80 percent (and rising!) Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that more than 80 percent of Indianapolis Met students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty.
No other school in Indiana with this many students living in poverty has a five-year graduation rate even close to Indianapolis Met.
Still more impressive is the statistic that 92 percent of the students who graduate from Indianapolis Metropolitan High School are accepted into a two- or four-year college.
Of the 131 graduates of the Indianapolis Met, 90 are in school or have completed an educational program. Nine of the 41 not in school are actively planning to return to school in the fall. More than 70 percent of the school’s graduates are in college, a technical program or are in the military.
How does the school help these disadvantaged students who enter school behind, graduate and go on for post-secondary education?
The answer for Vincent was relationships, or rather, one special relationship. With a student-to-teacher ratio of 16 to 1, most students get personal attention. Vincent’s advisor last year had a big impact on him because she shared his problem – she, too, was dyslexic.
“When I came here,” Vincent says, “I couldn’t read a first-grade level book like Cat in the Hat. Now, I’m on the third book of the Twilight Series.”
From the start, Vincent’s advisor, Ms. Dani, challenged him to read high school level books as he struggled. She said she understood, that she had the same problem. “Ms. Dani pushes me,” Vincent grins. “She shows no mercy. With her, it’s no excuses. She pushes me because she knows I want to go further.”
Now Vincent likes to read. Not only that, but this year, he scored the second highest among sophomores on the practice math to improve his ISTEP scores. He has perfect attendance and has never been late for school. One day a week, he works as an intern in Goodwill's IT department and is learning about computers.
Your gifts to United Way help people like Vincent complete their education and go on for degrees and credentials beyond high school. You help make the dream of education, the dream of a job with benefits, the dream of a career enabling someone to support a family a reality for more neighbors in Central Indiana.
To see Vincent's video story as it aired September 7 as part of United Way's LIVE UNITED for Education special on WFYI Public Television, go here.
At halftime of the Sept. 19 game against the Giants, Lisa Gates (left) and Kim Moore were recognized as the first two winners in United Way’s text-to-give campaign. Each won a pair of tickets to see the Colts battle the Chargers later in the year.
Text-to-give winners to date include:
Sarah Clegg, Krista Crabtree, Patricia Davis, Amanda Deatherage, Jana Dorsey, Sheila Gardner, Trent Garrett, Lisa Gates, Cassius Goens, Andrea Harmon, Cyngay Hey, Amy Hill, Mark Hoke, Lori Kughen, Chris Hughes, Valerie Miller, Ligia Matousek, Kim Moore, Robbin Nunley, Susan Perkins, Jessica Pheis, Jill Sherlock, Tiffany Shields, Alex Slaughter, Dennis Trinkle, Jeanne VanTyle, Terrin Williams, Janice Wothke and Marliese Underwood
Many more workplace givers have also won great prizes!
You can be a winner, too! Go to www.uwci.org/give to learn more.
Indianapolis Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay presented a check for $67,275 to Don Knebel, volunteer chair of the 2010 annual campaign. The Colts donated $1 for every fan in attendance at the Sept. 19th game against the Giants. That evening, Denison Parking also donated $5,000 to United Way – a dollar for each car parked in their lots.