From The Grio — By  R. L’Heureux Lewis — Waiting for Superman is a powerful film about educational reform and the potential of our schools from the same team that brought us the Academy Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Unfortunately the filmmakers leave the audience hoping for a change that is as likely as a caped crusader appearing in real life.

While the film taps into the concerns that many of us have towards a failing educational system, it fails to provide a full portrait of what is really happening in the nation’s schools. If you’re interested in heart wrenching stories, see this film. But if you are interested in changing education make sure you bring your x-ray vision so you can see beyond the veil of what the filmmakers are advocating.

The film opens with an interview of Anthony, a young black boy enrolled in a Washington, D.C. school. We learn that Anthony’s father died years earlier from a possible drug overdose and his grandmother is now raising him in a poverty stricken neighborhood. With poise he answers math questions and in his eyes you see the glimmer of potential and high educational hopes. Unfortunately Anthony is slotted to attend a failing middle school that feeds into a high school nationally known as a “dropout factory” where 40 percent of students fail to graduate. This is an all too common reality many black, brown and poor students in the United States.

The happy ending to this story is to come by Anthony being rescued by an innovative new D.C. charter boarding school. The catch is that this salvation is only available to a few via a lottery. The lottery exists because when more people enroll in charter school than they can accommodate they must use a lottery system to determine admission. Guggenheim and filmmakers lament this point and stress “we know what works” but we leave success up to chance for our young people.

The story of Anthony and the other families that are followed are touching but do not tell the full reality of schooling, particularly in charter schools. Behind the heart tugging narrative lies an inconvenient truth, that charter schools on average actually perform no better than traditional public schools and often perform worse! In the nearly two-hour film this reality is tucked in a sound byte where the film confesses only 1 in 5 charter schools is excelling. Yes, you read that right, 80 percent of charter schools do no better or fare worse than traditional public schools. It is clear this research finding does not deter the filmmakers, but viewers should not be so quick to skip it. The Stanford’s CREDO National Charter School Study has done the most comprehensive work on charter schools and found that they are far from a cure all for educational woes.

Waiting for Superman spares no punches as educational administrators and authors take shot after shot at blaming teacher unions for blocking educational reform. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek sums up a message the film is trying to get across, “Teachers are great, a national treasure. Teachers’ unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform.” The villains of the families are made clear when the presidents of theAmerican Federation for Teachers and National Education Association enter the screen and ominous music forecasts their discussion of securing teacher’s jobs which is equated to sabotaging masses of children who will be saddled with poor quality teachers.

(Continue Reading @ The Grio…)

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  • Theresa

    Education reform starts in the home. I went to public schools for elementary, junior high and high school. The first afterschool club I joined was the pubilc library. I’m not surprised by the report on charter schools, I agree – a resolution that seems too simple, probably won’t succeed. At the end of the day our public schools can only do so much, there has to be reinforcement that goes beyond the 3pm school bell.

    • KB

      I agree Theresa, I think some of us are placing way too much responsibility on the schools. It’s so easy to see that a lot of these issues could be resolved if the parents of some of these kids step up. Take bullying for example, what exactly can the school do, I mean outside of suspending and all that? How many times have the parent’s been contacted about their child being a bully, fighting, and disrupting the class? If the parent doesn’t do anything the school’s hands are tied! If you have a classroom of 30 kids and out of those 30 kids, 10 kids are trying to learn but the other 20 are showing off, what’s ONE teacher to do? Those 20 ruin it for the others who want to learn. I say if the parents can’t do anything with them, and the school has tried, just throw them out. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s not fair to the kids who WANT an education.

  • Alexandra

    I went to see the movie this weekend. It was very informative, but at the same time biased.
    There seems to be a lot of blame on the teachers, and the their union. Not enough of their perspective.

    Charter schools are succeeding in ways other schools aren’t, and it has helped educate low-income minority children. It’s great to hear that they minority kids in Harlem have higher chances of going to college now. But there are many public schools that are just as great. They didn’t highlight that at all. I fail to believe majority of public schools are failing, and I’m sure there are charters that are horrible.

    But I also agree with Theresa’s comment. Too much responsibility is being put on the schools/teachers. The parents are with the children most of the time, they have them on weekends/holidays and remainder of school day. Parents need to get more involved in their child’s education and teach them too. Everyone needs to come together and work out a solution. I definitely think small class sizes need to be talked about again. These children aren’t in college and need more individual time.

  • Jazz

    This is a greater problem than can be summed up as negligent parents vs. teachers, especially when most parents are also full-time (and over-time) employees, often single and struggling, too young themselves, or elderly grandparents. Some parents speak English as a second language or not at all, and are too intimidated to involve themselves in what they perceive as an unwelcoming school system.

    I’ve never met anyone who really did not care about their kids’ or students’ academic success, but I do know many overwhelmed, overworked and needy parents and educators who feel outnumbered by gangs, drugs, despair and the greater blame-placing — never helpful hand-extending — community.