Movie Review: Waiting for Superman (2010)

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Documentary
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Daisy Esparza and Emily Jones are kids who live in California, Anthony Black is a child who lives in Washington DC, Bianca Hill and Francisco Regalado are children from New York City.  Their parents and grandparents are sick of what they feel are mediocre schools for their children.  Mrs. Hill tries to keep her daughter enrolled in a religious school, but cannot afford the fees, the Jones family sends their daughter Emily to Woodside School, one of the richest and best funded schools in America, but Emily Jones felt the school was “tracking” her, and because of low test scores Emily wasn’t able to take AP classes.  Emily and the rest of the kids opt for charter schools, a new kind of public school that doesn’t believe in teacher tenure, or teachers’ unions, for that matter.  Geoffrey Canada , who runs a charter school in New York City, has educated some of the highest risk kids in Harlem.  Michelle Rhee took over as Chancellor of the Washington DC school system and immediately fired principals and teachers that she felt were not doing their jobs Bill Gates says there is a math and science gap between the US and the rest of the world that must be filled.  Charter schools like the Kipp Academy, and Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone are charter schools trying to fill that gap.  Are charter schools the wave of the future?  Do they really work better than teacher union dominated tenure teacher led public schools?

Waiting for Superman is just the latest entry of what I call the politicized documentary, a genre made famous by Michael Moore and continued here by Davis Gugenheim.  Googenheim definitely takes sides in this fight, and in his eyes, the problem is the teachers union and teachers tenure.  While I empathize with all the parents in this movie, except perhaps Emily, who is going to a great school and perhaps underachieving, union busting and teacher scapegoating is not the answer.  There are many things wrong with schools today that can’t be fixed with charter schools.  De-facto segregation still exists in many schools, discrepancies in funding between inner city and suburban districts, and lack of parental involvement in the kids schooling. Far from being a panacea, charter schools take money from already poor districts meaning that the rest of the schools in the district suffer with less money, many charter schools get private donations, which public schools don’t get, and up to 15% of kids left Kipp academy between 6th and 8th grades and those kids are not replaced.  And many charter schools are for profit enterprises, what happens when the school is no longer profitable?  Does the charter school close?  A study from Stamford in 2009 stated that only 17% of charter school kids got a better education than public school kids.  Furthermore, Michelle Rhee resigned as DC schools chancellor, Bill Gates dropped out of college, are these the people you want to feature in a documentary on education?

Googenheim admits his bias, his kids go to private school.  But it would have served the film better if some of the negative statistics on charter school were mentioned for a more balanced presentation.  There are things wrong with public school, maybe there should be a longer period for tenure for teachers, maybe a bad teacher should be given a chance to educate him or herself better, before being fired, maybe the best public school teachers can cross-train the worst, but no ideas are posited to improve the failing public schools, just shift a tiny portion of struggling kids to charter schools. Charter schools are not THE answer as this documentary seems to suggest.  Charter schools are one of many answers to the education issue.

Waiting for Superman.  Kryptonite for people who care about education.

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