Guest Column: Rockford schools: The inconvenient truth behind Geoffrey Canada

By Jane Hayes and Watchdogs for Ethics in Education

The Rockford Chamber of Commerce — with the United Way, Alignment Rockford, Zion Development Corporation and the City of Rockford — is sponsoring an Education Outlook Luncheon from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 8, at Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort. Cost is $35 for one or $350 for a State of the Schools corporate table for 10.

Surely, the cost and time will prohibit most public school educators from attending, but then, perhaps that was the purpose!

Geoffrey Canada, renowned advocate of the charter school movement, is speaking about his leadership of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc., a charter school in New York City. According to the information on the Rockford Chamber’s website, Mr. Canada will share his successes in bringing about positive change in a highly urban school system for the past 20 years.

Canada was featured as a successful education entrepreneur in the Waiting for Superman movie featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show for two episodes in September 2010. The film was financed by corporate interests for privatization of public schools, similar to the sponsors of this Education Outlook Luncheon. The film enhanced the national recognition of Mr. Canada’s efforts in education reform, and The New York Times lauded him as leading “one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time.”

Now, how impressive is that, especially in Harlem, NYC! Why not, Rockford, USA, you say? Why, of course, that is probably what led the esteemed business leaders in Rockford to sponsor his speaking engagement, and we wonder at what cost!

Unfortunately, how many of our business leaders have opened their minds to the true debate by also seeing the documentary opposing Canada’s success, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman? This documentary was produced by a grassroots production team called Real Reform Studios which is composed of educators, parents and a social worker that counters the agenda of Waiting for Superman and discourages the privatization of education. The theme song for their documentary is “The Hero is You.” These educators believe an equitable education should not be a cash cow with a silver bullet solution, and propose resisting corporate reform methods advocated in Waiting for Superman by such reformers as Canada.

Canada’s HCZ (Harlem Children’s Zone) has surpluses of $200 million and continues to collect millions in public funds and real estate deals while taking money and resources away from public schools’ neediest students in NYC.

According to The Inconvenient Truth, Canada’s approach to student enrollment at HCZ is discriminatory and motivated to create excellence on standardized test scores. By culling his students and releasing an entire class from the middle school, he was able to restart the program from the kindergarten level.

Another charter school movement across our nation, KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program), also selects students who are less disruptive and those with fewer special needs, such as ELL (English Language Learners) or special education qualifications.

Pity to the poor public school educator whose mission has always been and continues to be to serve ALL students as equitably as possible, regardless of their testing abilities, socio-economic needs, academic strengths or weaknesses, dispositions or challenges! Because of the democratic principles that are fundamental to public schools, public educators still need to educate the neediest students, who seem wayward, disruptive or searching for direction, trying to direct them to a career or college where they will succeed and contribute to society. We cannot handpick only the potentially productive and progressive students that would promote an image of exemplary success by numbers. We paint not by numbers but by broad creative brush strokes trying to teach holistically and humanely.

Do we need educational reform in America? Obviously, we do if we are to compete globally, nationally or even locally, for that matter. We need highly-trained educators, smaller class sizes, less emphasis on standardized tests, more parental, community and benevolent corporate involvement, more creativity, more social services, more mentors and more technology, literacy, communication and respect. Remember, a public school must take rejects from all other schools: parochial, private and charter schools, and still try to succeed with even disenchanted, disruptive or discarded students.

According to The Inconvenient Truth’s website: “Only 1 in 5 charters is successful in America. In Finland, a system that now ranks No. 1 in the world, ALL students are given an equitable education with small class sizes and no high-stakes standardized tests.”

Success with homogenous students is far less challenging, but we are a diverse nation built on pluralism. Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) believes ALL students deserve an opportunity for an education that enhances their abilities, regardless of socio-economic factors or potential.

WEE believes education is the key factor in creating a more enlightened citizenry, compassionate of those who are the neediest or most challenged.

Certainly, Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone Project services educational, social and medical services for its students from birth to college, and should be successful with the monetary support and services provided to their students and families. Then, their students are truly free to achieve because their most critical needs (health, nutrition and housing) are being met. How admirable! However, public educators do the best they can for all they serve with far more limited resources.

WEE advocates becoming informed and seeing both movies (Waiting for Superman and The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman) before making an educated and enlightened decision. Join the debate by hearing both sides and discussing the controversial methods used before aligning with one side or view. Don’t just be a passive part of a social reform experiment in education; be an active part of a solution for public schools!

Know that the true hero is within the public school classroom. Know that the true hero is YOU: the parent, the educator, the student, and all those who are willing to work to achieve such democratic ideals. Remember, The Hero is You!

Online resources

From the Dec. 7-13, 2011, issue

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