Screening fosters discussion of TPS issuesWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
A mostly civil discussion following the screening of a documentary about education became briefly heated when Toledo Public Schools (TPS) board of education president Bob Vasquez, who was in the audience, was called upon to offer remarks.
His comments came during a question-and-answer session with filmmaker Kyle Olson following a March 2 presentation of “Kids Aren’t Cars” in Maumee, hosted by WSPD.
About 110 people attended the screening of the film, which argued that the current heavily unionized U.S. education system often seems to operate for the benefit of the adults involved while the needs of children are secondary to other goals.
The title of the film, which was shown in segments, comes from a parallel drawn between the school systems and auto industry assembly lines, at times resulting in high school graduates who can’t read.
“If you really, really had the answer, if I had the answer, to make all of our schools performing schools, believe me, I would do it,” Vasquez said. “If it was that easy for me to go out there and do that, and to wave that wand, I would do that. Why would you sit there and look at me as a person who would not want to do that?
“You want to be on the school board, be on the school board. Wave your wand and make it better. This is a complicated situation. Yes, the unions have a part to play. Yes, the boards have a part to play. Yes, the administration has a part to play. Yes, the parents have a part to play. I think it’s unfair to totally look at a teacher and say they are totally accountable for how a student performs. There are more things. I mean there’s the culture, the environment, there are many things going into making our schools better in a way that kids can learn.”
Vasquez said he’d heard all the criticisms before and feels good about the work the TPS school board has done. He said conversations that engage in “villainizing” of any party are not productive.
“What you said about unions are powerful and so forth, I hesitate to get into some of the bashing because it changes the conversation,” Vasquez said. “The conversation needs to be about education. What happens in any place if you attack the unions then — to me, this is my opinion — then the whole conversation is going to be about unions. If you attack the administration, the whole conversation is about administration. If you attack the school board, then the conversation is about the school board. It needs to be about students.”
To which an audience member interjected: “And they’re failing.”
Vasquez acknowledged he is bothered by the issues addressed in the film and agrees reform needs to happen, but said he’s doing his best with the situation and not running from problems.
“The first thing I agree with is the way we taught kids in the past is not the way we should do it in the future,” Vasquez said. “We’re a different society. They learn differently. We have to understand that and we have to make those changes and we’re trying to do that. But the thing I hear with a broad brush that doesn’t help is all school board members are this, all teacher are this. No, it’s not all teachers are bad; it’s not all school board members are bad. But you know what, it doesn’t help when you don’t point out the things that are good, and it doesn’t help when you don’t point out the school board members that are trying to do their best, because they get lost.”
Brian Wilson of WSPD said Vasquez’s remarks that any criticism is “bashing” only serve to “truncate continuing conversation.”
“This is a big job and it’s got to get done and the sooner we get off our ass and do something the better we are,” Wilson said. “First order of business is everybody needs to get their act together. We need to sit down, have a core that can then go out and start multiplying. Then we can decide what we’re going to do about that, what we’re going to do about him (Vasquez), what we’re going to do about curriculum, what we’re going to do about teacher apathy, parent apathy and all the rest that goes along with it. But the problem is, if you look at Mount Everest and you keep tripping over mole hills you’re never going to get anything done. So just take it one step at a time.”
Amy Chauvette of Toledo said the film was “very enlightening.”
“I wish more people would have come,” Chauvette said. “If parents really are concerned about their children’s education, they need to be involved in things like this.”
John and Jo Fink of Waterville Township said they attended the screening because they have young grandchildren and are concerned about what’s ahead for their education.
“We always try to get different viewpoints. We don’t just use one source of news,” Jo said. “I was a teacher in Oregon 30 years ago so I can see both sides of the issue.”
Dan Steingraber of Oregon said education is a critical part of society and it’s not working right now.
“We’ve got to figure out how to fix it,” Steingraber said. “I’m just here looking for ideas.”
Sue Larimer of Bowling Green said it seems the balance of power between parents and unions in the public school systems is out of balance.
“All the power is with the unions, and the parents, who are in contract with the schools to provide a service that they are buying, have no power. Until the parents who are providing the money to do this realize they do have power and until this side realize they don’t own education, the employer does, until that gets changed, it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Larimer said. “We’re the employers and somewhere along the line that got forgotten. And that’s why our kids are suffering.”
A TPS parent remarked during the question-and-answer session that he had tried to organize parents in the past, but it proved “extremely difficult.” Audience member Bob Densic said he had had better luck in Rossford, organizing a group of parents that was successful in making changes.
“We can do this in this room,” Densic said. “We can make change.”
Larimer said the anti-union message of the film might have been the wrong approach.
“I think there’s a place for unions. This was kind of a union-bashing thing, so I don’t think it’s going to be very well-received by those who have a union mentality that we need to get through to,” Larimer said.
Also in attendance were Bill Kitson, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Toledo; Derek Merrin, mayor of Waterville; Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education; and Darlene Chambers, executive director of the Council of Community Schools.
Kitson said it’s always good when the issues affecting kids in our school systems are highlighted.
“While the documentary itself some would argue with some of the conclusions it makes, there’s no doubt that kids in our schools are facing issues,” Kitson said. “The more people we get engaged in this, the more likely we are to actually help them graduate.”
Merrin said the documentary showed how teacher unions have stifled reform, hand-tied school administrators and have relegated American students to a second-class education.
“We need to expand school choice options, instill rigorous standards and focus on quantitative results rather than instinctively increasing spending to solve problems,” Merrin said.
Olson, the filmmaker, said the best thing way to help is to get involved in the discussion.
“It’s critical to attend board meetings and speak up. Get to know the school board, watch where your dollars are going and get engaged in these issues,” said Olson, who said elected officials won’t push for real reform until they are “more afraid of parents and community groups than teachers unions.”
Olson said he hopes people who watch “Kids Aren’t Cars” see that there are problems within the system, but that there are also solutions.
“It’s important that we don’t just focus on the problems, but what do we do about this? How do we fix it?” Olson said.
Larimer and others said the discussion was interesting and they are hopeful for the future.
“There’s going to be a lot of frustration, but it’s fixable,” Larimer said. “I think it’s fixable, I really do.”
To view the videos, visit www.kidsarentcars.com.