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Pa. teachers, residents screen documentary on education issues

April 20, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — More than 50 local taxpayers, teachers and education officials came out to the Capitol Theatre on Tuesday night for a showing of the 2010 documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”

The 111-minute movie, written and directed by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, chronicles four families in urban and suburban areas of the United States who fear the public education system is flawed, causing them to seek out exclusive charter schools that boast higher graduation rates and proficiency for students.

It also claims that today’s public education system is outdated, and reform is almost impossible due to a complex web of governing bodies (dubbed “the blob”), including federal and state agencies, as well as each district’s individual school board.

In general, viewers agreed that public education has changed drastically since the 1970s, as Guggenheim claims, and the film is worthwhile for the general public and educators to see.

“The more we know about what the public is hearing about our education system, the better off we all are,” said Barbara Eadie, a fifth-grade teacher at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School.

She and co-worker Ann Schnabel, who teaches fourth grade at the school, said this was the first time they saw the documentary and were glad they did.

“I encourage everyone to see it,” Eadie said. “Not enough teachers are seeing it. And they need to see what we’re up against in the public opinion, because I feel that the public sees this, and they say, ‘Oh, this is what’s going on,’ but they’re not in the classroom.”

Sponsored by the Cumberland Valley Film and Chambersburg Area Democratic clubs, Chambersburg Mayor Pete Lagiovane hosted a special panel conversation after the film, featuring Chambersburg Area School District Superintendent Joe Padasak, Chambersburg Area Education Association President Dave Snyder and Kent Chrisman, a Shippensburg University education professor.

Chrisman believes the film serves as a promotional tool for private schools, which is where Guggenheim got his K-12 education, although he did not disclose it in the movie.

With fewer regulations, charters can lengthen the school day or even have class on weekends to increase student achievement, which is something that public schools cannot do, Padasak said.

At one point in the movie, it portrays cartoon teachers opening up the minds of children and pouring “knowledge” into their heads, saying that “bad” (ineffective) teachers today make that process more difficult and the use of more money per student has not affected historically flat test scores.

Snyder, a seventh-grade math teacher at Chambersburg Area Middle School, said issues in education run far deeper than that and are very complicated in nature.

“A big part of that is that what we do in schools today is very different from the days when Clark Kent (Superman) was on TV,” he said. “It takes a lot more money to do what we do for one big reason: we do a lot more.”

The film ends by showing all four families waiting with other applicants to each of their respective charter schools. With many more applicants than available spots, the law requires the schools must hold a public lottery drawing to decide who gets in and who does not.

“I thought that was horrible,” Chrisman said of the public lottery rather than a more discreet method of selection.

“I thought it was more privately done,” Schnabel said. “I hated that.”

In addition to Eadie and Schnabel, all three panelists agreed that the most important thing that parents can do for their children and their educational development is to be involved, starting at a young age.

“If you want a solution, I think we should start early,” Chrisman said, saying it lowers drop-out rates and deters kids from criminal behavior later in life.

About 250 Chambersburg students are currently enrolled in charter schools, Padasak said.

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