I am unsure of the controversy surrounding the film Waiting for Superman. The heart of the movie's message, the current public school system is broken, is what many of us think.
Does that mean that I agree with everything in the film? No. It really bothered me that every school that the director included had the children sitting in rows and/or the teacher was lecturing at the front of the room. The image of the teacher dumping knowledge into a child's brain bothered me as well.
Does that mean that I don't have questions? I do. I wonder how much time is spent teaching to the test in these successful schools. I wonder how they engage their students so that they do succeed. I wonder what criteria made these schools be labeled successful. KIPP schools use music. That is one fantastic way to reach and teach students.
And if you pay close attention you can sift out what makes one school more successful than another. I believe it was Bill Gates who had said it: culture. What makes charter schools, private schools, and magnet schools appealing to students and families? Culture. There is an agreed upon culture by the staff that works there. They have an agreed upon set of educational values that everyone strives to work towards. And whether or not you believe in the methods used in that school, I can tell you this. When you walk into the school you can sense it.
I make it a point to visit at least one school a year. I do this to see alternative teaching methods and strategies with the intention of incorporating them into my classroom. If a school has a culture, you can sense it as soon as you walk in the door. I have been in schools where I immediately knew that children were respected. I could see it in how adults spoke to them, looked at them, worked with them. I could see it in the way student work was displayed. But more than that there is a positive energy in the building that washes over you.
This is what makes schools like KIPP and Ron Clark Academy a success. Because the staff took the time to establish how they wanted their school to be, the children who attend there do well because they feel valued.