“Waiting for Superman” is a new documentary about our public education system that is already stimulating a lot of discussion about how to fix our ailing public schools.
But there’s no need to “wait.” Hundreds, if not thousands, of schools around the nation — such as the Durham Nativity School in Durham, North Carolina — have already been fixed.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how children can blossom and perform at their highest level in a manufactured box of a high school with 3,000+ students when most experts believe that the optimum size for a high school is around 1,200 students.
Kids get lost in such large populations and fall by the wayside because they cannot connect with their teachers. The dropout rate is 50% for African-American males in American today, which means that only one out of every two African-American males who start 9th grade finish12th grade. Something must be wrong.
At Durham Nativity School, 97% of all students from 6th-8th grade are African-American or Hispanic, 80%+ of whom qualify for the school lunch program. More than a few come from downtown areas of Durham where drug trafficking and gunshot wounds are a fact of life.
This past spring, the entire graduating 8th grade class was accepted to prestigious private schools in North Carolina, such as Durham Academy, Cary Academy and the Asheville School.
The first graduating middle school class from DNS in 2004 is now in the second year of college at places such as NC State, Elon, North Carolina A&T and Belmont Abbey.
One student who was vice president of his senior class at Durham Academy last year was accepted and is now enrolled at High Point University.
Who needs Superman when these sorts of things are already happening at Durham Nativity School?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of schools where such results are now considered routine, not exceptional. The KIPP School (Knowledge is Power Program) in northeast Charlotte, North Carolina, is another prime example of what happens when a school challenges students to learn more than they ever thought they could and doesn’t expect teachers to be miracle workers.
Teachers are not supposed to cure all the ills that face us as a nation. We just want them to teach students how to read, write, add and subtract. Don’t you think some first-grade teacher should have taught the president and all currently-sitting congressmen how to count and add and subtract so they could balance budgets?
Here’s a telling statistic that is almost too hard to believe: close to 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated. A disproportionate share of them are African-American males. We spend, collectively, close to $70 billion per year just to house these prisoners, or about $35,000 per prisoner. On death row, these inmates cost over $100,000 per year to house, feed and make sure they don’t escape. Don’t you think that a school like DNS could have prevented some of these prisoners from ending up behind bars?
We don’t need to wait for Superman anymore. He is already here and is going to these schools. Go see them and shake their hands…and help them out.
Frank Hill has served as chief of staff to former Congressman Alex McMillan (R-N.C.), House Budget Committee staff, Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform staff, and as chief of staff to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). He is currently the director of The Institute for the Public Trust in Charlotte, NC.