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Education Mon Oct 04 2010

Waiting for Superman -- Another Man's Perspective

I like this. I think that One Man and I should review films more often.

Waiting for Superman is not, as the title may imply, a "reboot" of the old Christopher Reeve film, although the films do show parallels. Each story begins with a societal problem. The problem in Metropolis was crime caused by supervillains. In Waiting for Superman, American education is the issue and the supervillains are the very people who make improving young people's lives their life's work.

Each story has a fantastic villain. In the original, it was Lex Luthor, a greedy megalomaniac with hordes of henchmen. In the Waiting, the villains are teachers unions, with hordes of "bad teachers" who are only interested in keeping their jobs, according to this overly simplistic film.

Superman came from a distant planet and possessed super powers to defeat his enemies. The superhero is equipped with super-human strength and senses; ones that humans can't acquire. In Waiting, the solution is charter schools. Ostensibly, these are schools that all students are fighting to get into because they offer the panacea to all educational woes.

Although filmmaker Davis Guggenheim does concede in the film that only one in five charters do better than neighborhood public schools, that fact is overshadowed by his sole use of charters being examples of "good schools" and neighborhood public schools being "dropout factories."

Unfortunately, 80 percent of charters share little with the Harlem Children's Zone -- a school praised in the film that receives $17 million a year. This school offers wraparound services not available to students in cash-strapped public schools or charters that are not as well funded.

Guggenheim frames the teachers unions as being antiquated and hindrances to progress. He contrasts that with the innovation of charter schools. One school he uses as an example is a Green Dot School. He fails to mention that Green Dot schools are unionized, which means they have a contract -- which he depicts as being the kryptonite to quality education.

The film follows the lives of five young people in their pursuit for quality education. Many have the potential to be the first in their family to go to college, and to use their future station in life to propel themselves from poverty. Unfortunately, for these students, their zip code determines the resources that will go into the school down the block from them.

If these students were attending CPS neighborhood schools this year, there is a 70 percent chance that their classes will be overcrowded and that 50 percent of the programs offered last year will have been cut.

That's the major flaw in this film. It takes an extremely complicated issue and oversimplifies it. It demonstrates that the problems in public schools lie in "bad teachers," and doesn't address major issues in funding. Although I don't believe that "throwing money at the problem" will solve it, it sure seems that charters are throwing an awful lot at it, at least the "one in five."

The problems in Metropolis, if posed in the real world, would also seem insurmountable. Thankfully, the comic books had a superhero who could swoop in and make everything OK. The problems in American education also seem insurmountable. It's probably a good time to put away fantastic movies and work together-parents, students, and teachers. We can leave the bureaucrats at home, which is something on which even Guggenheim would agree.

Sheila / October 6, 2010 1:55 AM

The premise for this film's title is based on our society sitting back, watching the education in our schools fail our students miserably, personally doing nothing about it, and hoping that a "super hero" will fly in and save the day by fixing all the wrongs in a broken system, making everything alright. While we're "Waiting for Superman", our country, compared to others, continues to decline in educational wealth, knowledge, and skill. There's no personal responsibility or investment in our children's success because if there were, every person in this country; parents, businesses, non-profit organizations, and all government officials would fight for education reform, recognize the importance of early childhood education, and expect better teaching and less mediocrity. We've wasted too much time pointing fingers at what's to blame, only to discover that the size of classrooms and budget have had very little to do with the success or failure of our students. As simplified as it may seem, rather than teach our students HOW to think, our schools and teachers limit our students by only teaching WHAT to think so that they can pass state comprehensive tests, making the teacher and school look good. Teachers are no longer working towards achieving 100% responsible results by creating literate, problem solvers who can apply what they have learned to the real world around them. Instead, they have eliminated any opportunity for a student to be curious and ask questions, blamed their teaching methods on state requirements, and then fault the student for failing or dropping out of school. That same teacher will also be the first to pat herself on the back for a job well done if her class successfully passes the state comprehensive test. Charter schools may not be the fool proof answer for solving educational problems; however, these schools do allow for creativity, problem solving, and innovative teaching because they are not restricted to the state curriculum and other unionized decisions that the public schools follow. It's time to break free from limitations that create poor teaching, hold our teachers accountable for achieving cognitive results that stretch and grow the brain, and then remove those hiding behind the veil of the Teacher's Union who aren't meeting expectations, yet only continue to teach because they are allowed and not because they want to or care about their students. Teaching is a privilege, not a right and everyone is responsible for maintaining quality education by objectively evaluating teachers based off student performance and academic achievement. Sometimes we spend too much time focusing on all the other elements of a problem instead of looking at the most obvious - poor teaching.

KR22 / October 6, 2010 10:58 AM

Kenzo,

If you don't understand the concept of learned behavior, then perhaps you should not be involved in the education field.

You scoff that only 1 in 5 charter schools perform better than a public school. A serious person would look at a 20% improvement as signficant and that same person would also ask "what did that school do that made it perform better and how can we replicate its success"

That is how advancement happens - you build off of previous achievements.

The educations problems don't seem insurmountable, there are plenty of able organizations and willing parents that want real change. Unfortunately, the stranglehold that the NEA has on public education choice means that the entrenched interests of teachers unions come before the interests of education.

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