Monday, November 8, 2010

A Gaping Achievement Gap

My last post was on a Broadway show. Next up: a documentary. (It is the off-season after all.)

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce held a screening of Waiting for Superman on Monday. Even with that unruffled, earnest documentary style, it’s a scathing review of American public education in general and teachers’ unions in particular.

The gist of the film (according the me): Public education is broken. It hasn’t functioned effectively since the 1970’s. Funding per pupil has more than doubled while outcomes have flat-lined. The documentary stresses the importance of effective teachers, yet the system engenders mediocrity rather than merit. Poverty need not be an impediment. Children will learn in any school staffed with great teachers. [Click here for Wiki's take on the movie.]

The US Chamber of Commerce is using the film to demand accountability and innovation. Excerpts from an op-ed column in Monday’s Herald-Sun:

The facts are alarming. Among developed countries, the United States ranks 21st out of 30 in science literacy and 25th out of 30 in mathematics literacy. The achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers is gaping. And an astonishing 1.2 million students - about six times the population of the city of Durham - fail to graduate from high school each year.

...North Carolina has significant work to do to better prepare all of its students for success in college and the workplace. The National Council on Teacher Quality gave North Carolina a “D+” for its state teacher policies, noting that policies for delivering well-prepared teachers and removing ineffective teachers were especially bad.

...while leaders in North Carolina have been committed to improving student performance in reading and math, achievement is still too low. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only 43 percent of fourth grade students and 36 percent of eighth grade students were proficient in math. There is also a wide achievement gap, with minority students underperforming white students by nearly 30 points on fourth and eighth grade reading and math tests.

Read the entire piece; click here. It was penned by Durham native Bill Shore, chairman of the US Chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce and director of community partnerships for GlaxoSmithKline, and Casey Steinbacher, President/CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Waiting for Superman is currently showing at Galaxy Cinema in Cary.