While public education works for millions of kids across the country, it does not work for all of them. In fact, many are trapped in poor performing (even failing) schools.
It is intolerable and unjust to relegate children to such circumstances. Education is the key to getting a good job and to forming a strong self-sustaining family. It can mean the difference between a life of hardship and poverty and a life of success. No compassionate and just society should stand by and let this happen.
The great news is that there are solutions and choices that are increasingly available. One option that has emerged within the public school system is charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that operate under a charter -- an agreement with the state that outlines how it will operate -- and are permitted more freedom and innovation in the way they educate kids. In exchange, these schools are held accountable to their charter, which many times includes specific academic achievement goals. Unlike other public schools, if a charter school fails, it closes.
This is an innovative and accountable way to offer better education options to every student and to give families a choice where to send their kids to school. In many ways, charter schools more closely resemble a private school with higher academic standards and parental involvement. Yet, like other public schools, charters are free and open to anyone.
Unfortunately, a group of lawyers for seven local school districts in Georgia recently stood before the Georgia Supreme Court to argue against a new law that has made it easier for charter schools to exist in our state. The outcome of that case and the future of many charter schools filled with kids is uncertain.
While many school systems and organizations representing the demands of adults (like teacher unions) fight against charter schools, these schools have been getting a boost recently in an unlikely place -- movie theatres. There are currently two documentaries about charter schools and education reform that are getting widespread attention.
You don't have to be closely following the education reform debate to have heard of the new documentary film called Waiting for "Superman." It has been featured on news and entertainment programs and even on Oprah. The movie is about director Davis Guggenheim's personal journey evaluating the America's public school system and how failing schools are affecting our children's future. Guggenheim tells the story of five kids from across the country who, if they stay on their current school track, aren't likely to get a good education or to have the bright future they long for. So their families try to get into a charter school to escape their assigned schools. However, since the number of applicants far outpaces the charter schools' capacity, applicants are chosen randomly in a lottery.
Another new documentary that has been getting attention is fittingly called "The Lottery." Similar to "Superman," this film follows four African-American families who live in Harlem and the Bronx that are desperate to get their child into a good school. Each family has entered them into a lottery for a spot in a local charter school where kids are thriving academically. For these families, this is their last best hope.
These films offer striking portrayals of a broken education system and the heartbreaking reality that so many families face when trying to get their child a shot at a quality education. What's going on when kids' futures are determined by the random outcome of a lottery? When parents are left hoping that their number is drawn, so that they can escape a failing school? It's sad, and it's unjust that we are sentencing kids year after year to struggle for something as basic as a good education.
What's great about these films is that they focus on what's most important -- the kids. We see their faces, hear their stories and find out they have big dreams for their future. It's a vivid reminder that education is not about adult politics, or what's best for a system or the unions -- it's about what's best for kids. It's about going to whatever lengths necessary to be sure they get what they need to have a brighter future.
It's worth noting, by the way, that these films aren't being produced by conservatives who we'd expect to be communicating a school choice message. Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting for "Superman," is a political liberal famous for directing Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Both films are filled with liberals and Democrats who get that this is not an issue about party or towing a political line. They just care about kids getting a great education and getting a chance to have a better life.
It just goes to show that an issue like this can and should transcend party politics. It also shows that when you take a hard look at the problems in the system, and the plight of these kids, it's difficult to deny that something must change. Thankfully, reforms like charter schools are largely successful in offering an alternative to kids. We need many more quality charter schools so that children who need a way out will have access to academic programs that better suit them.
Randy Hicks is president of Georgia Family Council, a nonprofit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, 770- 242-0001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.