There are no superheroes coming to save the day for students in America’s failing schools, cautions the heart-wrenching new documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ”
No superheroes, but students who want choices do face enemies. In fact, they — well, their lawyers — appeared before the state Supreme Court Tuesday.
I’m not talking about teachers unions, whom “Waiting” largely fingers as the obstacles to education reform. They are a huge impediment in some places but the situation’s different in Georgia, and in any case the problem is much broader than that. It covers all those in the education establishment who put preserving their fiefdoms above giving students their best chance at a good education.
And if that doesn’t sum up the school systems suing to overturn the law creating Georgia’s Charter School Commission, I don’t know what does.
Legislators created the commission in 2008 because local school boards were reluctant to approve these nontraditional, but publicly funded, schools. The commission can approve charter schools, bypassing local systems that view these schools as unwanted competition.
The litigant school systems object to the commission’s very existence, but the key here is that the commission can award a charter school more than the usual levels of state funding. It can give the school extra state money per student to make up for its lack of local tax dollars, which only local school systems can allocate.
That extra money comes from the allotment the state ordinarily would have sent to the local system to spend. And that’s what has Lex Luthor — er, the school systems — so upset.
The Supreme Court will decide the case on the merits. Listening to the arguments Tuesday, I thought the law was on the charter schools’ side.
But even if the law is overturned, it should be a temporary loss. Based on the justices’ questions Tuesday, I’d expect such a ruling to be narrow enough that the Legislature could pass a new, tweaked law that would pass muster.
The point being: Traditional school systems are going to face this day of reckoning, sooner or later. Their monopoly hold on public education dollars, while using the same old failing model, is going to end.
When Davis Guggenheim, a self-described progressive who did the movie version of “An Inconvenient Truth” before directing “Waiting,” makes a film that promotes school choice, historically a pet cause of the conservative movement, it’s a bad sign for the education status quo. Change is coming.
As for teachers, there’s no reason for them to be on the wrong side of this issue. Many, many teachers do great jobs in wonderful schools — and have nothing to worry about from choice measures. (Fun fact: If a teacher works in a better district than she lives in, she already has the choice to enroll her own children in that better district.)
But there are also plenty of teachers who are frustrated: by their principals, their central offices, their underperforming colleagues. As things stand, many of them, like most of the frustrated students and parents out there, would have to relocate their families to have options. Do they really prefer protecting the worst members of their profession over opening up more employment choice for students and themselves?
In fact, an expert from Stanford University estimates in “Waiting” that U.S. students on the whole could perform at a world-class level if just the worst 6 to 8 percent of teachers were replaced. Getting back to our court case, anything Georgia does to spur the creation of vibrant education choices will help us replace those bad teachers faster.
And if it’s those few teachers who do their jobs poorly vs. everyone else, shouldn’t “everyone else” win?