“Superman” Post Mortems

My, how the Internet age speeds up the information cycles!  No sooner has Waiting for Superman hit the theaters than we are already seeing some post mortems on some of the school models praised in the film.

The 10/14/10 edition of the New York Times presents an op-ed article titled, “Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems.”  The article refers to some of the schools presented as the darlings of Waiting for Superman, most particularly Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and Promise Academy.  It seems that their scores for the 2009-10 year took a sharp dip from the progress they had been demonstrating in previous years.  (The fact is that New York State increased the difficulty level of its exams and many schools that had been performing well saw a decline in test scores including Canada’s as well as our own charter school in the Bronx.)  Now we will undoubtedly go into a media back-and-forth about whether Canada’s or KIPP’s schools are, in fact, any good.  Perhaps the speed of the new Internet age will make this debate a quick one so that we can get down to a fundamental reality that no one seems to want to discuss.

I believe that the article demonstrates the flawed thinking in focusing on test scores.  If you have read any of my blog entries in the past, you know that I have never been a fan of the test mania that has resulted from No Child Left Behind.

The biggest problem I have with NCLB is that it’s an insult to parents.  It essentially says, “Mom/Dad, since you are too stupid to know the difference between a good and a bad school, we’ll decide for you.”

I don’t care what the scores say.  Geoff Canada is doing a wonderful thing in Harlem.  However, he is not doing something that will necessarily improve test scores by some arbitrary date in the middle of next April.  (And neither are the Hyde public charter schools.) 

To look at it another way, if we can remember back to when we Americans were proud of our schools, did we even know what the test scores were?  At the end of the day, I would rather have the schools in the hands of the parents rather than in the hands of the experts.  As for Geoff Canada’s work, I see it as an Impressionist painting; you have to step backward about ten feet to see how beautiful it really is.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld