So are we all really waiting for Superman to ‘save’ America’s young people and reform our school? As far as I can tell he was a wonderful comic book character and fun to watch on TV…but not real. So I'm not waiting for Superman nor are the many people I know across the country who are part of efforts to reconnect schooling and community and return our schools to their rightful place as centers of community where we all pitch in and work together to help young people succeed; where we nurture our young people not only as workers, but equally important as future family members and citizens of our democracy.
The focus on charter schools and busting teacher unions set forth in the film Waiting for Superman is but one more example of a shortsighted, silver bullet approach to change that permeates too much of education reform today. Of course we need highly qualified teachers and some provisions of teacher contracts should change. Our friends at the AFT and NEA have been negotiating such contracts placing high priority on the full participation of teachers in decisions about teacher evaluation and incentive pay. But we must remember another fact that President Obama mentions often: teachers are the most important in-school factor (with principal leadership not far behind); but family engagement and family circumstances are the most important out-of-school factors and that family and community simply cannot be overlooked in education reform discussions.
We cannot forget that schools – whether regular, magnet, alternative, charter or otherwise -- are creatures of their local communities. That is what makes them uniquely American. They are supported by local tax payers, and nurtured by the work of individual citizens working collectively. At their best our schools, our community schools, bring together all of us to help our young people learn and succeed and build stronger families and community.
There can be no question that our young people need the very best teachers in our classrooms, and charter schools have emerged as a viable part of the mix. However, to suggest that all we need is charters and better teachers simplifies the reality in the lives of young people; the reality that many of our educators and our students face every day. And the truth is that many charter school operators know this reality too…that’s why three of the 11 new grantees under the federal Full Service Community Schools Program are charter organizations, including the widely known Green Dot organization.
For advocates of community schools the challenge of educating all of our children is simply more complex than what Waiting for Superman suggests. It is indeed about how we bring all of our assets and resource together – our educators, our community organizations, local government, higher education, community-based organizations and individual citizens – in a joint effort to improve the life chances and opportunities of our young people
General Colin Powell said it best on NBC’s series of EducationNation programs. Powell said “We are Superman,” reflecting the vision of the America's Promise Alliance. Powell made clear that he shares the belief of the Coalition for Community Schools that it takes all of us to help our young people.
As the conversation about Waiting for Superman continues we urge advocates for community schools to be there, to speak out and to make clear what it really takes to educate all of our children.