I’m a little late to the party on this one but I finally got around to watching the much vaunted documentary, Waiting For Superman, by Davis Guggenheim, last night. It’s one of a trilogy of recent films celebrated by the school privatization crowd that provides viewers with horrifying examples of how public schools are failing and how teachers and their unions are the root problem of all things academic.
The film’s basic conclusion is that if we just got rid of bad teachers and hired good ones, and allowed public school students to attend privately-run, for-profit charter schools, we could reach some level of free market, education nirvana in America, but those pesky teacher’s unions keep getting in the way.
I didn’t get too far into the film before noticing that the focus was entirely on the worst examples of the worst public school systems that one could find in the country with no attention given to the thousands of successful public schools.
Conversely, the film focuses on the very best performing charter schools with passing mention of the ones with mediocre or even suboptimal outcomes. For example, there is a tacit acknowledgment that only 1 in 5 charter schools achieve the “amazing result” the film celebrates but then blissfully moves on to the next public school nightmare. It’s an astonishing statistic that Guggenheim whistles right past without any examination.
I could do a lengthy debunking of this film’s many problems but lucky for me that has already been done here by Diane Ravitch, a Research Professor of Education at New York University and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.
I recommend reading her article and then watching the film with eyes wide open. Waiting For Superman is an important film in that it is a landmark PR coup by school privatization advocates who see dollar signs in transferring public education funds into private coffers. The film shows the persuasive arguments public school teachers are going to have to arm themselves against going forward, while Ravitch’s critique provides the appropriate response to all of them.