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The 'Inconvenient Truth' of Educational Inequity


The director of the Academy Award-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth" wants his new upcoming documentary to fuel the same sense of urgency for improving education that his earlier one did for raising awareness of global warming. A preview was shown here at the Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age forum at Google headquarters.

In the preview of the documentary, director Davis Guggenheim takes a dramatic and emotional look at how low-income students and families in the District of Columbia are desperately trying to navigate the public school options that will give them the best chance of achieving academic success and breaking the cycle of poverty.

The film, titled "Waiting for Superman," is due out some time next year, and will likely paint a bleak picture of the U.S. education system, particularly its failure to serve the most at-risk students and communities.

Those kinds of communities are familiar to the main forum speaker last night, Geoff Canada, the president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone. Canada thinks the film will put the power of the media to work to make people care about the failures, and the potential, of education for addressing societal problems.

"I cried each of the three times I've seen this film. I spoke to the director and he is trying to get America to care," Canada said. His model at the Harlem Children's Zone, which has been offering social, educational, and support services in New York City's poorest neighborhoods since 1970, has been held up by President Barack Obama as the kind of effective program that could be scaled up to bring about change in the nation's urban centers.

Canada gave an impassioned speech about the need to turn the nation's attention toward improving public education, and invest in a radical shift in direction that provides quality educational opportunities for all students.

"There are places in America where if you really saw what was going on, as Americans, we would be totally embarassed," he said. "It's Katrina happening without the floods....It's so ugly we have decided not to look at it."

Canada suggested that technology can play a significant role in bringing about such change, and in putting knowledge resources in the hands of students and their parents. But Canada warned that at the current state of investment in ed tech, technology may also be the cause of increased gaps in opportunity and achievement between disadvantaged students and their well-off peers in middle- and upper-class communities.

"Some kids have this at their fingertips, all the information, all the data, all the answers they will need, they have to know where to look, he said. "The kids who have no access, they are totally left out of this whole thing."

While equal access would be a first step, he added, "that doesn't solve the problem if the kid is in a lousy school with a lousy teacher," he said. "Is he going to get caught up to kids in a good school with a good teacher? I don't think so."

For Canada, having access to technology "is as basic enough as if some kids have books."


America has yet to decide whether it wants a quality education system for our youth.

A question for your consideration- What is America's vision for its Education System?

Should you require more documentation as to the condition of our present Education System, please feel free to read the 4 Pt. Blog Post Series, Where are the Bootstraps and Laces? By Mrs. Dorothy Barron at http://mrsdbarron.typepad.com/slingingstones

Thank you,
Mrs. Dorothy Barron, Author
Former Co-founder and Director of Parents Focused on Education

In Europe lifelong learning takes now has a different approach, we hope to see more development as a result of new legislation, good luck all teachers!

Without seeing what this fellow produces, I don't want to judge it in advance. But on the one hand, there's nothing new here: lots of excellent people have been pointing out that inequity in the United States includes inequitable educational facilities and resources. Those like Kozol who do so with a real concern for the underprivileged and under-served segments of our population are to be commended for their sincere efforts to improve matters for those least well-served by the system.

On the other hand, bashing US public schools as if they and those who work within them are the cause of the problems of inequity is simply missing the point. And it is all too easy for cynical neo-conservatives and their allies (including some "liberal Democrats) to try to foist off upon the public schools problems for which they are utterly blameless. Schools and school teachers don't put people into poverty, don't force them into ghettos, don't restrict them from access to decent transportation, don't create the crime, poverty, despair, disease, etc. that surround and destroy people who are least fairly served by the vast resources and wealth of this nation.

It's easy to cry. Doing something is another matter entirely. And if you plan to do something meaningful and effective, make sure you're pointing your finger and attention in the right places. Public schools have been around for a relatively short time. It shouldn't be shocking that they haven't been able to solve all the social problems they didn't create in the first place. But capitalist greed, racism, and many institutions have been around for a lot longer than our schools. Isn't it fascinating to see those who are in positions of great privilege rush to support anyone who points his finger AWAY from them?

Michael puts it very succinctly - and says what needs to be said. As a long time public school faculty member, I know how hard it is to remediate family issues AND SES issues AND learning differences within crowded classrooms. Thanks, Michael, for pointing out that schools did not create the ills we are dealing with on a huge basis. AND - hopefully, as a country, we will give more power to school districts to emulate the private school privileges of resources and interested parents. These privilege would be much cheaper to fund than results of crime and incarceration.

Recently in Hawaii the school year was shortened by 17 furlough days. The sad part is that most of the complaints were not that the quality of education would drop, but what would be done for childcare. We as a nation do not value education as much today as we did in the past. It's easy to blame the schools, but our national values need to be reevaluated. More money and more resources will not change basic values. In our school systems today the emphasis is on meeting proficiency not on striving for excellence.

Please check out Ruby Payne at ahaprocess.com. Ruby comes from a generational poverty situation herself, and has figured out how students in poverty have a culture that is different from "mainstream America," how teachers can understand/acknowedge these differences, and how the students can be taught to use language to lift themselves out of poverty.

I hope we see resolution to many of the ills facing our schools. la

To date, no studies show that increased technology increases scores. Foreign students are aghast at the amount of hardware in our schools between computers, smart boards, etc. They've never seen anything like it and will later question why their American peers in college can't do math and know so little when they've had access to "all of that." The typical Asian and European school has nothing like our technology glut. So why no results?

To date, not one study shows that increasing technology in a school results in improved results. In fact, when social studies classes using a lot of technology were compared to those that didn't, the ones without all of the computer work had increased achievement.
Watch a typical computer class in K - 5 and think about what core knowledge it's replacing and what the students pushing the buttons are learning. Look at the smart boards tucked away in closets or sitting idly in classrooms and wonder at the expense.

Thowing money at schools to date has not characterized schools with increased achievement if you factor out wealth of the residents of a district in one of those country club schools.
"Not having enough" is an easy excuse, but the reality is that it comes down to excellent curriculum taught well. The man who owns our local Indian restaurant moved back to India because his son educated in Bombay received such a better education there than in the rich suburb he was straining his resources to live in here. A Nigerian man described to me how his kids educated in Nigeria teased the younger ones educated here because they knew so little and had had a much less rigorous curriculum.
Listen to the parents out there to whom schools have stopped listening. Rather than teach "how to access resources" (it has a small place), teach students the core knowledge so they can connect information with whatever they eventually access. Teach them computation skills - in another Ed Week blog, a high school teacher wrote, "if they can compute I can teach them anything." Teach them to read skillfully and spell so that they can write. All the money in the world won't compensate when you are skipping the essential ingredients above.

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