Update on Education: Still Waiting For Superman


More than 7,800 people (mostly Bahamians) read last week’s blog post on Education in The Bahamas.

We received numerous comments, some from people who seemed frustrated or disappointed by the lack of momentum in such an important area of Bahamian society.

J Barrie Farrington, who was a key member of the Coalition for Education Reform offered this comment:

“Despite our best efforts, plus updating the Report in 2007, the political directorate failed to grasp the enormity of what Unions & Employers had created. We had within our grasp an opportunity to have broad based participation in producing a new culture for education reform.

“I still shake my head in disbelief that there was no embracing of our work, nationally.”

We also received feedback from author Ralph Massey who was instrumental in producing the groundbreaking report issued by the Coalition for Education Reform, titled, “Bahamian Youth: The Untapped Resource“.

Being very involved in promoting education reform for years, Mr Massey also published a public policy paper titled, “Educational Achievement in The Bahamas“.

Waiting for Superman - Geoffrey Canada
Waiting for Superman - Geoffrey Canada

What we didn’t know was that Mr Massey also created a handout intended for use in connection with public viewings in the Bahamas of the film documentary “Waiting for Superman”, which features Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, a charter school created to enhance the quality of education for children in poor and impoverished areas. The movie was shown as part of the Bahamas International Film Festival, in 2011, I believe.

Mr Massey’s publication, titled Superman, Reform and Other Inconvenient Truths, included three essays he had written, which were originally published in the Tribune. The essays address the “Inconvenient Truths” of education reform. Massey said that these truths are not only “inconvenient” but seemingly impossible barriers to education reform.

A few excerpts:

A political/economic analysis covering 50-years concludes –

1. Teacher unions have been a significant causal factor in the decline in academic achievement because they acquired the power and organizational ability to achieve their primary interests.

2. “Schools as currently set up do not allocate extra resources in a way that matters for academic achievement.”

And this:

The unstated [teacher] union objectives are “eliminate wage competition, restrict entry to the occupation, increase the demand for services provided by union members and weaken rival service providers.”

Their objectives include –

• Uniform pay scales based on seniority and teacher education courses taken,

• Opposition to frequent teacher evaluations, premium pay for academic specialties, performance based merit pay, educational vouchers, charter schools and home schooling, and

• A fierce defense against teacher job losses for any reason assuring near-guaranteed life time employment… and also “Rubber Rooms” for unfit teachers and the “Pass the Lemon” practice to minimize the impact of poor teachers on students.

Mr Massey points out something that we know all too well in The Bahamas, that firing incompetent teachers is near impossible.  He mentions that in New York state, disciplinary hearings for teachers last eight times longer than the average U.S. criminal case and cost the State $65 million a year.

No wonder we have teachers, who have sexually abused students, but are still on the job.  And administrators, who long ago should have been fired, still messing up our education system.

One of Mr Massey’s essays notes that Geoffrey Canada’s reform enterprise is privately funded and operated. Mr Canada did not have to begin and sustain his operation under a collective bargaining agreement that would strip him of his ability to manage.

There are two fundamental truths that come out of this:

1. Those students having a series of years with poor teachers experience a “near-permanent retardation of academic achievement;” and

2. “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”

“The Bahamas truly needs supermen and superwomen if it is to end the “near-permanent retardation” of a critical portion of its people,” Massey warns.

The essays make a great read and the videos below about Mr Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone are very encouraging, giving hope to what seems like an impossible task… education reform in The Bahamas.

Take a few minutes to click the links above and watch the videos below, then let us know your comments below.

Waiting For Superman – Website

A Word With Geoffrey Canada – VIDEO
Geoffrey Canada, President of the Harlem Children’s Zone talks about inspiring the next generation of great teachers and not just beating the odds but changing the odds for every student.

The Harlem Children’s Zone – CBS 60 Minutes Video
Ed Bradley reports on the renaissance that’s happen in Harlem and it’s all due to Geoffrey Canada’s charter school, the Promise Academy, which is part of a plan he calls: The Harlem Children’s Zone.  Accompanying story.

Bradley’s Reporter’s Notebook – CBS 60 Minutes Video
Ed Bradley discusses his report on the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is a charter school to enhance the quality of education for children, especially in poor and impoverished areas.

Children’s Zone Preview – CBS 60 Minutes Video
Using vast private funds and plenty of ambition, Geoffrey Canada is trying to turn at-risk New York City children into college-bound students.

Excerpt: Harlem Children’s Zone – CBS 60 Minutes Video
Geoffrey Canada explains what he’s trying to achieve with his educational project in New York City.

Ralph Massey’s Papers on Education in The Bahamas – PDF documents
Author Ralph Masseys’ contributions to the National Education database.