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Tag Archives: Waiting for “Superman”

Detachment: a film review and commentary on public education

My wife and I watched Tony Kay’s Detachment on DVD last week—a film that came out in 2012, with a substitute teacher as the main character. Henry Barthes was played by Academy Award winner Adrien Brody—who in the film struggles to keep others at a distance.

Henry’s mother was a sexually abused alcoholic who committed suicide when he was a child. His grandfather, who raised Henry, has dementia; lives in a home for the elderly and is haunted by guilt for sexually molesting his own daughter.

The schools where Henry substitutes are labeled failing schools by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind that—like President Obama’s Race to the Top—always places the blame on teachers, and the few teachers we meet in the film are burned out, depressed hulks. I can’t blame them, because I taught in schools for thirty years that were very close to the one we see in Detachment.

Detachment offers a depressing story that counters—with a serous dose of reality—the message we see in films like “Waiting for Superman” and “Won’t Back Down”.

“Waiting for Superman” was a 2010 documentary filled with half-truths and distortions that also had the benefit of a heavy marketing campaign. This propaganda masquerading as a documentary analyzed the so-called failures of the American public education system. When I saw this documentary, I left the theater boiling with rage.

I was also angry after seeing “Won’t Back Down” (2012) starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal—another film full of lies and distortions.

There’s a lot of information out there about the funding behind films like “Won’t Back Down” and “Waiting for Superman” that traces the money back to Hedge Funds and billionaires who have one goal: destroy public education in the United States and profit off the more than $1 Trillion in tax dollars spent by the states on public education.

Stephen Holden wrote a review of Detachment for the New York Times, and he concluded that “Ultimately, ‘Detachment’ blames parental indifference for everything: students who hurl profanity at their teachers, teachers who collapse in histrionic despair [I recall only one scene like this, and the character was played by Lucy Liu who was not a teacher but a frustrated counselor], and total classroom dysfunction. I also didn’t see “total” classroom dysfunction in the film. There were scenes where learning was taking place and the students behaved.

“Is it really this bad?” Holden asks, “Or is ‘Detachment’ a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality?”

I’m going to answer Mr. Holden’s questions but first let’s meet this New York Times reviewer and learn something about him.

Holden is an older white man [born in 1941] who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Yale University in 1963. He worked as a photo editor, staff writer, and eventually became an A&R executive for RCA Records before turning to writing pop music reviews and related articles for Rolling Stone, Blender, The Village Voice, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair, among other publications. He joined the staff of the New York Times in 1981, and subsequently became one of the newspaper’s leading theatre and film critics.

Nowhere does the Wiki piece mention that Holden ever worked as a classroom teacher, and I doubt if he grew up in poverty or lived in a gang infested barrio.

The New York Times should have had someone else review the film—someone like me who was born in poverty and taught for thirty years in public schools that were close to the high school depicted in Detachment.

Mr. Holden asked, “Is it really this bad?” My answer: It’s very close with an emphasis on very.

Mr. Holden’s second question: “Is ‘Detachment’ a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality?”

No, Mr. Holden. I’ve attended many parent conferences as a teacher and usually only saw parents of the students who were passing my classes but saw few of the parents of failing kids. In fact, the fail rate in my classroom fluctuated between 30 and 50%. But on parent conference nights, I saw maybe 10 – 15% of the parents of my students. No parents attended the parent conference scene in Detachment, but it wasn’t far from the truth.

Detachment takes place in a community and high school that seems worse than where I taught for thirties years but not by much. Where I taught, burned out teachers usually left and the survivors supported each other but students I worked with behaved as a few of the worst students in the film did. I know, because I dealt with this type of behavior almost daily as a teacher. Teen gangbangers verbally threatened me every year, and I’ve known teachers who were physically attacked by students. I also was an eye witness to a drive by shooting while standing in my classroom doorway. And one night, while I was working late, a student on expulsion was shot dead by shotgun at point blank range a few feet from the classroom where I was working with several student editors of the high school newspaper.

Mr. Holden, if you had actually paid attention, you would have noticed that in the background there were kids who were not threatening their teachers; were not disrupting the classroom and actually paid attention and turned in work. Detachment’s weakness was focusing on the worst kids and ignoring those who were closer to average or normal, and the film focuses on a handful of teachers who were burned out.

We even see one young teacher working after school helping a student.

At the one meeting where the entire staff gathered there were many teachers in attendance who we didn’t get to know in the film. There could have been a better attempt to offer a balance but what the film shows is not a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality—that description fits misleading propaganda films like “Waiting for Superman and “Won’t Back Down”.

A 2009, study out of Stanford sets the record straight. The study found that, on average, charter schools performed about the same or worse than traditional public schools. The Stanford study reported that 46% of Charter schools were the same; 37% were worse [which means 37% of public schools were better], and only 17% of the Charter schools were better.

In conclusion, I think Detachment is an honest film that shows the harsh reality of public education in an inner city high school surrounded by poverty and neglect. In no way should anyone think this is the way it is in the other 98,816 public schools spread across 50 states with 13,600 school districts that are run by democratically elected school boards made up mostly of parents. Trust me, concerned parents who are involved are not going to abandon the schools their kids attend.

If you learned anything from the Stanford study, 83% of the public schools are not failing and are equal to or better than Charter schools funded by vouchers.

Why should we punish all of the public schools because of the few that are suffering like the high school we see in Detachment? Instead, we should be supporting public schools that are seen as failing—not attacking and condemning them and their teachers as if they were prisons and the teachers criminals.

Added on December 24, 2013:
How do private schools compare to public?

This information comes from a study reported by the National Center for Education Statistics:

The goal of the study was to examine differences in mean National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores between public and private schools when selected characteristics of students and/or schools were taken into account. Among the student characteristics considered were gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, and identification as an English language learner. Among the school characteristics considered were school size and location, and composition of the student body and of the teaching staff.

From the Summary:

For Catholic and Lutheran schools for both reading and mathematics, the results were again similar to those based on all private schools. For Conservative Christian schools, the average adjusted school mean in reading was not significantly different from that of public schools. In mathematics, the average adjusted school mean for Conservative Christian schools was significantly lower than that of public schools.

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006461.asp

Note: Why has Congress and two presidents, Bush and Obama, persecuted the public schools and blamed public school teachers for cultural problems they are not responsible for? Who gains?  Who loses?

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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The American Teacher “is not” Waiting for Superman – Part 1/2

The documentary “American Teacher” focused on the low pay of teachers when compared to their peers working in the private sector with similar educational backgrounds, and the back breaking demands on most teachers (working an average 60 hours or more a week – for example, I often worked a 100 hour week often starting at 6AM when the gates to the school were unlocked and staying as late as 11:00 PM when the alarms were turned on and the gates locked).

While the film was not perfect because it didn’t mention the role of parents and other pressures teachers face, it offered a more realistic view of education in America than “Waiting for Superman” did.

Points made that many of the critical reviews of this documentary ignored were:

1. 46 percent of public school teachers leave the profession within the first five years of being in the classroom.

2. Salaries and stress are among the top reasons teachers say they leave.

3. 62 percent of our nation’s teachers must have second jobs outside of the classroom-like tutoring, mowing lawns, selling stereos, or bartending—to be able to afford to teach.

From a few positive reviews of “American Teacher” —

Mark Phillips of the Washington Post said, “A film about education that gets it exactly right… Powerful and compelling. Every policymaker should be required to see American Teacher”

Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News said, “This heartbreaking and essential look into the lives of those who put so much into educating other people’s children ought to be seen by everyone concerned about the fate of the public school system, and the nation as a whole.” – “Sobering and powerful.” – Ernest Hardy, Village Voice

Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times said, “A heartfelt, bittersweet portrait.”

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said, “As we watch the individuals in American Teacher struggle with the burdens of the system places on them, it’s hard not to feel like crying, both for them…and our national culture.”

Note: I also spent thousands of dollars for educational materials over the years that I taught, and for a few years, I also worked a second job to pay the bills in addition to working summers in jobs such as construction, since I wasn’t paid as a teacher during the ten weeks of the summer break.

Continued on April 2, 2012 in The American Teacher “is not” Waiting for Superman – Part 2

____________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, with a BA in journalism and an MFA in writing,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

Graphic OCT 2015

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Due Process – Part 3/4

Science Blogs.com attempted to answer how many incompetent teachers there are in the US, and reported, “You don’t see many citations of useful data about how many of these school-killing teachers there really are.”

In addition, in the UK, the Guardian says that most of the 18 teachers that lost their jobs due to incompetence were struck off the last decade by the General Teaching Council (in England), which has been operating for a decade with powers to remove failing teachers from the profession.

However, if we accept the percent quoted by the flawed and biased documentary “Waiting for Superman”, the number of public school teachers that are incompetent may be 7 percent, which means 93 percent of the more than 5 million teachers in the United States are competent.

What this means is that the critics of public education want to punish more than 4.6 million innocent teachers for the few that may be incompetent by removing due process and job protection, which may explain why in recent years the number of college students planning to teach dropped more than 25%.


Teachers have been blamed for problems outside of their control.

As is, new teachers are on probation may be fired without cause during the probation period. In California and Texas, the probationary period is two years, but the normal probationary period is three years in most states.

If school district administrators are doing their jobs, then the incompetent teachers are removed before earning job protection and due process.

New Action.com says, “Although teachers are not “guaranteed a job for life,” as critics often say, it is true that, after completing a probationary period, teachers in New York State may generally not be fired except in two instances: The first is for serious cause, defined in state law, that must be substantiated by the DOE (Department of Education) in a due process hearing before an independent arbitration panel. The second has been a “reduction in force” — layoffs because positions have been eliminated, usually due to funding cuts.”

Continued on September 21, 2011 in Due Process – Part 4 or return to Part 2

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

 

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Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 7/7

This post is the conclusion to a topic motivated by the August 2011, Costco Connection‘s debate between two education experts about teacher seniority.

The hours spent in the classroom with students are only the tip of the iceberg. Most teachers are in the classroom with students five or six hours each school day but the total hours worked may average much more.

For me, I averaged between 60 to 100 hours a week (with no overtime pay) for most of the thirty years I taught, which did not leave much time for other activities.

In addition, “Waiting for Superman” insinuated that most public school teachers are not highly educated. This is a ridiculous claim.

For example, when I became a teacher I already had six years of college with a BA in journalism, which included another year of training and classes to earn my teaching credential. Then, over the years, I was required to earn more than 20 quarter units thanks to state legislation increasing teacher requirements in addition to earning a MFA in writing.  Then there were endless workshops—some after school for a few hours and some lasting an entire workday.

By the time I retired, I had more than nine years of college and this does not count the seven years I attended writing workshops out of UCLA’s writing extension program. It is easy to claim that most teachers are lifelong learners.  Too bad we can’t say that of most students.

When I was teaching journalism in addition to several sections of English [for seven years of the thirty], I often arrived at 6 AM and left at 11:00 PM (that is a seventeen-hour day at school/work) when the night custodians turned on the alarms and locked the gates to the parking lot.  The student editors of the high school paper would have stayed longer (along with me) if the alarm had been left off.

In fact, the US was never a pioneer in public education as “Waiting for Superman” claims (find the truth in the March/April 2011 Foreign Policy magazine), and most factors that cause a child/teen to drop out of school has little if nothing to do with teachers. What influences children to drop out of school has more to do with street gangs, poverty, hunger, child abuse, parents [or lack of parenting, which is an epidemic in America today], being a latch key kid, the environment a child grows up in, and the lifestyle his or her parents provide

Sydney Morris, instead of stabbing dedicated teachers in the back by getting rid of the seniority system, why not use that youthful energy to fight for something worthy, such as demanding a public education system more like the one in Finland where teachers are supported and trusted to make the decisions.

Return to Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 6 or start with Part 1

____________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 5/7

A recent study by an expert in combat related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), studied teachers in a Texas public school district and discovered that one out of three teachers had PTSD.

If seniority is removed as the sole factor for deciding which teachers lose their jobs, then every teacher in America must be evaluated for PTSD (possibly every five years) and when a teacher is discovered to have PTSD (a job related disability), he or she should receive a disability and free counseling from the Veterans Administration, which is organized to deal with this mental disorder brought on by combat and/or repeated stress related experiences.

The question in the August 2011 Costco Connection was “Should Teacher layoffs be based on seniority?”

The results arrived in the September 2011 Costco Connection and the result reveals that more Americans have abandoned its teachers after special interests have turned them into scapegoats for the failure of students that do not study and parents that do not parent and a system that does not allow teachers to make the decisions as Finland does.

The result was 31% yes and 69% no.

I’m not surprised by the results. My wife and I saw the documentary “Waiting for Superman”, which is an indictment of the public schools and teachers in America and it was pure propaganda and extremely misleading. As usual, nowhere did it mention that students must be held responsible by parents to do homework and study when a teacher assigns work to be done at home.

“Waiting for Superman” claimed the US was once a pioneer in public education, which is a lie. Ben Wildavsky writing for the March/April 2011 Foreign Policy magazine blows that myth/lie apart, when he said “Even at the height of U.S. geopolitical dominance and economic strength, American students were never anywhere near the head of the class … the results from the first major international math test came out in 1967 … Japan took first place out of 12 countries, while the United States finished near the bottom.”

In addition, what “Waiting for Superman” doesn’t want you to discover is that in the 2009 PISA international test, America placed in the top 26% for Math, top 11% for Reading Literacy, and the top 20% for Science Literacy, which is a huge improvement from near the bottom in 1967.

In 1967, twelve countries were compared in Math, but in 2009, that number was 64 countries in three subjects.

What happens when a student doesn’t perform, which means he or she does not participate in class, doesn’t ask questions when he or she is confused about a lesson [correct me if I’m wrong, but teachers cannot read minds], avoids class work, avoids homework, avoids reading assignments, will not read independently, will not study and/or misbehaves in class?

Is that the teachers fault?

Continued on September 9, 2011 in Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 6 or return to Part 4

____________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “Crazy Normal”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

 

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Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 2/7

In the August 2011 Costco Connection, Norm Scott, the founding member of the Grassroots Education Movement and one of the producers of “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman”, said, “The biggest danger to education is turnover. Fifty percent of teachers leave within the first six years… Removing seniority rights would create an even higher turnover rate, those cost of which would be devastating—not only financially, but for students.”

In fact, I suspect if it weren’t for seniority, I would have lost my teaching job long before I finished my 30th year, and I would have been fired not because of the quality of my teaching but because I taught by ignoring some of the popular fads that teachers are forced to follow such as boosting self-esteem by inflating grades and dummying down the curriculum, which has caused more students to learn less than any incompetent teacher.

What happens when an excellent veteran teacher ends up with a class full of students that do not study or do homework? During the thirty years I taught, I had many students like this and was often told by administration that I made more phone calls to parents than any teacher at the high school where I taught.

A teacher’s lessons may be excellent but if students do not pay attention, study or do the homework and there is little or no parental support, the chances are those students will not learn much.

A former colleague and friend still teaching in a public high school said in a recent e-mail that he is demoralized because the students and parents do not care or support what he does in his classroom.

For an idea of how bad it can be, the administration at the high school where he teaches requires that teachers spend so much time contacting parents in an attempt to gain support that my friend had to hire a retired teacher at $25 an hour (out of his pocket) to correct work his students turned in so he could free up time at home weeknights and on weekends to call about 200 different parents to tell them about the assignments and to virtually beg them to make sure their children study and do the work that was assigned.

What happens when a student doesn’t perform, which means he or she does not participate in class, does not ask questions when he or she is confused about a lesson [correct me if I’m wrong, but teachers cannot read minds], avoids class work, avoids homework, avoids reading assignments, will not read independently, will not study and/or misbehaves in class?

Is that the teachers fault?

Are there incompetent teachers?

Yes.

However, even “Waiting for Superman”, as propagandized and flawed as it is, admitted that studies show 7% of the teachers fit in this category (other studies say that number is only one percent). In the US, the average student probably has about 50 teachers from kindergarten to the end of high school.  Seven percent of fifty is less than 3.5, which leaves 46.5 teachers that were adequate or incredible.

Do we change the public education system and remove job security due to seven percent of the teachers?

Continued on September 6, 2011 in Dumping Teachers due to Standardized Test Results and Student Performance – Part 3 or return to Part 1

____________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “Crazy Normal”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

 

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