Where do I begin?

There has been a lot of hype about the movie “Waiting for Superman” and all things RTTT so I thought that this would be an appropriate time to provide another viewpoint as expressed by others who have viewed this movie.


First up, John Merrow:

Superman, Rhee and Everything in Between

I have a couple of things on my mind this morning, all somewhat connected.  Before I am through, I am going to recommend a bunch of websites, all worth a look in my humble opinion.  So here goes.

Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates on OprahThe publicity train for “Waiting for Superman” pulls into the station this Friday, when the movie opens, and its cross-country trek has been a marvel: fulsome praise on Oprah, the cover of Time, and so on.

For a balanced view of the movie, please read Nick Lemann’s review in the current issue of the New Yorker.  And here’s another, tougher review, this one by a teacher.

I have already reviewed the movie but want to reiterate my point: the bleak picture of public education that the movie paints is a huge disservice to millions of kids and teachers.

Because I ran the meeting where charter schools were born (1988) and have been following the story ever since, I resent the movie’s endorsement of charter schools as the solution.

That’s wrong and misleading and may lead to the creation of more for-profit charters that will exploit the very kids that Oprah wants to help.  While many charter schools are terrific, an equal number are disappointing.  The point to remember is that the name ‘charter school’ tells you nothing about what’s happening inside. Here’s a useful analogy: the word ‘restaurant’ on a building tells you nothing at all about the food—you have to have a meal or two, talk to customers leaving after they have eaten, or read the reviews.  But Davis Guggenheim’s movie presents charter schools as the magic bullet, no questions asked, no doubts raised.

I know Guggenheim and Paramount want to make a buck, but their message is superficial and dishonest. The real debate ought to be about something more fundamental. We need more schools and teachers and education policy types who ask (metaphorically speaking) “How is this child intelligent?” instead of the test score version, “How intelligent are you?”

That’s the more promising approach, not wholesale damning of public education and teachers that is the message of the movie.

Next up,

What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point

by Rick Ayers

This review point by point not only describes the faults in the premises of the movie but of Race to the Top in general. A good read.

And from The Daily Censored and written by Lisa Johnson:

I’m not waiting for Superman.  Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim’s new educational film is presently receiving a media blitz.  Guggenheim (the son of a documentary filmmaker) funded his film about the perils of the current educational system.  In the film, Guggenheim, follows 5 students in their educational journey.  According to the Waiting for Superman movie website, ”In spite of their rousing determination and grit, the shocking reality is that most of the film’s touching and funny cast of kids will be barred from a chance at what was once taken for granted: a great American education.” The film breaks up the educational problem into several sections of need: kids, teachers, administrators, unions, schools, states and the nation at large.  Inevitably, these kids have one hope of receiving a good education, a lottery system to attend a better public school. The implication that a good education in America today can only take place through a lottery system for specialized schools is simply not true.

I appreciate the attention that the Guggenheim’s movie is giving to education reform, although I do not appreciate the big business media blitz to privatize education. Waiting for Superman is the metaphorical surfboard of big business stakeholders to privatize education for financial gains.

This powerful movement of policymakers superimposing structure to the educational system started back in the 1980s.  Nicholas Lemann stated in a 1997 issue of Atlantic Monthly that in the 1980s “the idea of raising standards in public education emerged as a national cause.”  In 1983 the National Council for Excellence in Education commissioned by the Reagan administration produced a report, A Nation at Risk.  This report identified a national education crisis and recommended nationwide administration of standardized testing by states and the local educational systems.  The use of the testing data was to better diagnose and evaluate student progress.  “The view in the education world (was) that politicians never before tried to dictate specific teaching methods to this extent,”(Lemann, 1997).

With standardized testing came the creation of businesses to produce the books and products for the schools to utilize to accomplish their testing goals. Today, educational concerns are many.  For over twenty-five years, big business has been riding on the backs of policymakers’ decisions in the field of education.

The standardized testing market is reportedly a $400 million to $700 million annual business that is largely controlled by three publishers (Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, and Riverside Publishing, a Houghton Mifflin company) and one scoring firm (NCS Pearson).  A unified flow of substance and dollars runs directly from policymakers to textbook companies, leaving school districts with virtually no options. The few options available to districts for purchase and to teachers and students for use are dictated by the same policymakers and companies.

The great hope of America’s youth does not lie in privatizing the public school system, because that benefits the same big business conglomerates, not the students.  Waiting for Superman and all of the attention it is receiving directly benefit the movement to privatize education.

In contrast, Race to Nowhere, a student-centered documentary, was made on a shoestring budget of $200,000 dollars.  Director Vickie Abeles painted the picture of how today’s youth are struggling in the current system and how a collaborative effort of students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders is needed to problem-solve the needs of the today’s kids.  The movement to privatize education does not directly benefit from such a collaborative approach.

The message of Race to Nowhere is not implying that a new private educational system is needed for kids to be healthy, happy and whole. The student-centered educational message of Race to Nowhere has been ignored by the media.  An Internet search of Waiting for Superman yields 944,000 results, while a search of Race To Nowhere yields only 77,200 results.  Why has Race to Nowhere gotten little to no attention from major media sources when compared to Waiting for Superman?  It is simple; Waiting for Superman is a movie that has a villain and a quick fix provided big business, while Race to Nowhere calls for a collaborative movement of communities.

Big business will not make any money on students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders collaborating for a healthier happier educational system.  A fear monger message of a poor kid in the Bronx that can not seem to receive an education unless a private system is created beats the path toward a money-making venture.

I’m not waiting for Superman and neither is any kid in our country.  What we are waiting for is a grassroots collaborative effort that really puts kids first instead of using them to fuel big business profits.

And finally, a preview of an upcoming attraction, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.

Update September 30, 2010

And this from Superman himself.

An excerpt from The Nation,

Grading ‘Waiting for Superman’

“Meanwhile, mega-philanthropist Bill Gates, who appears in Waiting for Superman, hit the road in early September to promote the film; while he was at it, he told an audience at the Toronto International Film Festival that school districts should cut pension payments for retired teachers. Other players in the free-market school reform movement, most of whom had seen the documentary at early screenings for opinion leaders and policy-makers, anticipated its September 24 release with cautious optimism.”

It doesn’t happen too often but that quote by Bill Gates leaves me speechless.

Update September 30, 2010 11:38 PM

Well, it looks like someone found their voice.

Check out:

The AFT: Not Waiting for Superman.

It’s hard not to be moved by “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” It’s an emotional film about families seeking good schools for their children. But good storytelling is no substitute for an honest and accurate look at how we can really improve our public schools so they offer all children access to a great education.

The film’s central themes—that all public school teachers are bad, that all charter schools are good and that teachers’ unions are to blame for failing schools—are incomplete and inaccurate, and they do a disservice to the millions of good teachers in our schools who work their hearts out every day. The film relies on a few highly sensational and isolated examples in an attempt to paint all public school teachers as bad. Had the filmmaker visited some good public schools, he would have found that no good teacher supports tolerating bad teachers who are failing in the classroom.

But “Waiting for ‘Superman'” doesn’t show many of the great public schools across the country where AFT members work. And it makes no mention of many productive labor-management efforts that have turned the collective bargaining process into a powerful tool to improve schools. And it ignores the work of local unions across the nation, supported by the AFT Innovation Fund, to take the lead in improving teaching and learning.

Check out their website for more links and information.

Rethinking Schools just launched a website NOT Waiting for Superman. A good location for information regarding the issues brought up in the movie and informational flyers.

Update 10/11/2010

Someone just sent me additional information regarding the Gates’ generosity when it comes to their agenda. See: Participant Media, LLC.