Waiting for “Superman” Oversimplifies a Complex Issue

In Waiting for "Superman", Daisy wants to be a nurse, doctor or veterinarian. That's why she enters the lottery to attend KIPP LA PREP.

Fitting complex issues like global warming or educational reform into a two-hour documentary is a monumental task, but an impressive one nonetheless. In Waiting for “Superman”, director Davis Guggenheim pits high-performing teachers and charter schools against the crumbling public school system, which he claims lacks accountability and consequence for union-protected teachers who don’t pull their weight.

If only explaining the crisis in public education was so simple. It’s much more advanced. Guggenheim makes plenty of strong points about potential — what any kid can do if learning from great teachers at great schools — but the movie skirts around several factors, including shrinking state budgets, a brutal job market and educational alternatives outside of charter schools.

1. Public schools are poor. Schools across the country are cutting teachers and administrators for budgetary purposes, which in turn leads to larger class sizes and less classroom space. Gym and music classes are seeing the guillotine, along with safety patrol, nurses and counselors. This isn’t to argue public schools should be given a free pass. (They’re not being given anything.) However, they’re being asked to do more with less — an impossible expectation.

2. The unemployment factor. According to the Wall Street Journal, in a study examining the graduating class of 2009, about 7.6 percent of students who earned a Bachelor’s degree would wind up unemployed. Compare that to students who would graduate with an Associate’s degree. Their unemployment rate? 6.1 percent. The face of higher education is changing. If the purpose of college is to earn the skills necessary to find a job after graduation, we need to start thinking about what’s best for youth, not our mantel. As many of my friends can relate, a four-year degree means nothing without a job.

Guggenheim’s documentary makes constant reference to the importance of earning a Bachelor’s degree. Why? Not all students can/will be doctors, lawyers or engineers. That doesn’t mean they can’t find quality employment. I believe over the next decade, factoring in the overwhelming costs of college and burdens of student debt, students should be encouraged to pursue community college or trade school if that’s where their interests lie. It plenty cases, it makes more sense.

3. Public, charter and private. That’s it, right? Wrong. Perhaps some of the most exciting changes in secondary education are being found online. Public and for-profit schools alike are allowing students to earn their diploma through online education. In his annual letter on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates wrote, “A lot of people, including me, think [online education] is the next place where the Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning. With the escalating costs of education, an advance here would be very timely.”

Gates, who advocates for reform in “Superman”, believes online learning can provide opportunity among budgetary constraints and access issues. Online education means students wouldn’t have to be shackled to the “dropout factory” in their district. It could also mean longer study hours, individualized education and more resources for research and tutoring.

Waiting for “Superman” wasn’t necessarily intended to provide a prescription so much as offer a diagnosis. Guggenheim’s documentary, as was the case with An Inconvenient Truth, is meant to create a dialogue and throw our attention at public education, the most important service in our country. Pledging money to help fund classroom projects is a good start, but we need to think bigger and broader.

This movie is only the start of the conversation.

Colleges in Bed With Credit Card Companies

After my most recent payment, I am sitting on $41,176.34 in student debt. I’m completely OK with that, because my degree has already gotten me one job since graduation and I know it’ll prove vital in the future.

My credit card balance, however, is $0.00. I do have a credit card. A secured one, actually. Like many college students, I took out a credit card my freshman year of college. One term, I was forced to charge over $400 in textbooks. I paid this off over the course of eight grueling months. A few years later, I opened a second credit card to help purchase an Apple iBook laptop. The original charge was $1,100, but after several months delinquent, the balance inflated to about $2,500.

Now, I’m in the process of rebuilding my credit through a secured credit card. I put down $300 after I received my tax return and I’ve since used the credit card for puny purchases, after which I go on my iPhone and pay off the balance immediately. I’m paying for the sins I made as an irresponsible, immature 20-year-old.

Kids.

Coffee nearly shot out of my ears this morning when I read an investigative piece on Huffington Post regarding “affinity” agreements, whereby universities across the country have partnered with credit card companies to provide student information and receive benefits when students activate a credit card. Here are some of the findings from that piece:

Sell students’ personal information. Many are contractually obligated to share students’ names, phone numbers and addresses with banks.

Earn royalties: Banks typically pay schools $1 for each student who keeps a credit card open for 90 days. When students carry a balance, some schools can collect up to $3 more per card.

Cash in each time a student uses plastic: Many schools are entitled to receive 0.4 percent of all retail purchases made with student cards.

Benefit from marketing incentives: When a university or alumni association agrees to market cards to students itself, the payoff is greater — sometimes up to $60 for each card opened through a school’s own marketing.

Offer special perks: Banks sometimes gain special access to athletic events. Cornell University must provide Chase Bank with tickets and “priority” parking passes at football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse games.”

Public universities across the country have been forced to increase tuition in lieu of strapped state budgets. Meanwhile, private schools have seen rapidly shrinking endowments because of fewer donations and struggling investments. Education has been in a quiet crisis now for the past four years. In a way, it makes sense they would go and make deals with the devils.

And devil’s advocate might say, “Hey, this is one way colleges can increase revenue without raising tuition.” Nonsensical argument, but here’s my retort: Congress should pass legislation mandating colleges who partake in “affinity” agreements to include a required course based on responsible credit card usage for all students in their freshmen year. Oh, and students will not be charged for the class, either.

What do you think? Should these practices be put to an end?