‘Waiting for Superman’ review

From the Jan.-Feb. 2011 issue of News & Letters:

‘Waiting for Superman’

New York City–The controversial film “Waiting For Superman” started with the premise that U.S. public schools are broken. It blamed the teachers’ unions and tenure, and demonized the President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten. The film ignored the facts. It held up Finland as a model but failed to mention that  Finland’s public schools are much better funded and that Finland’s teachers belong to a very strong union and have tenure.

Michelle Rhee, ex-Chancellor of Washington, D.C., Public Schools, was depicted as a superwoman with a broom as she fired teachers and supervisors. Are we to go back to when there was no due process?

It held up charter schools as the panacea and included Geoffrey Canada as a sort of superman. But his Harlem charter school receives lots of money from private sources and is better funded than other Harlem public schools. The facts about charters in general do not jibe with the film’s admiration of them. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that 83% of charters did no better than their public counterparts. The new NY statewide achievement tests now show similar results.

The most striking part of the film was how cruel the lottery selection was to children and their parents who are led to believe that winning would get them out of the problems of the inner city.  They were filmed with high hopes going into a large auditorium. The names of a small minority of winners were called out while the rest went home dejected, often in tears. The message was that we needed more charters, i.e., privatize the public schools.

Yes, our public schools are broken but not because of our teachers and their unions. They are broken by a society that accepts high unemployment, an increased income gap between the ultra rich and the rest of us, wars, the highest prison population in the world and entrenched racism. They are  broken by a political system that bailed out the banks which caused the present economic crisis while it puts this crisis on the backs of workers by laying them off and cutting funds for our public schools and social services.

–Tom Siracuse, Retired public school teacher

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