Waiting For Superman

This year’s TED talks started today. The iPad 2 was announced, but I think I’ll post about something else today.

I just returned from seeing Waiting for Superman and think it’s worth mentioning and recommending (though I preferred Race to Nowhere). WFS is one of those movies that I’ll be processing for a while. It’s been a good year for education documentaries. There were many things that disturbed me about the film, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may have it in their netflix cue. There are, however, a few things I thought I’d mention as well as questions I still have.

Geoffrey Canada’s optimism and unabashed honesty was great.

I’m still unsure about what to make of Michelle Rhee (I think her heart was in the right place – focused on the kids, but she didn’t have a heart with the adults she had to deal with).

I’m going to stay away from the union debate, although I will agree with one of my colleagues who saw the film with me that receiving tenure FOREVER after a year’s work is ridiculous. Although Finland, a country that is always compared to as having great student achievement, has strong teacher unions and tenure.

The film makers mention in the film that only one in five charter schools succeeds, but only focus on the successful ones. There are large public schools that do excellent jobs serving all people, but the film chooses to stick to its point of view and doesn’t show these.

The film also focuses on really bad teachers.  What about mediocre teachers? How can we grow them into excellent effective ones?

If charter schools offer choice in a public system, why are kids’ futures handled by lotteries – that’s not a choice.

It was sad to see a parent initiate a call with a teacher asking for a meeting and never hearing back from them. I give the parents of my class my cell phone number.

Nonetheless, there is a problem in much of public education, and if nothing else, even if flawed in some ways, there are many trying to do something about it.

For example, Bill Gates, who is featured in this movie and here is someone who had an elite private education, made his billions, and now dedicates his life to public service around the world. As an independent school teacher, it’s hard to grapple with some of the issues posed in the movie. But Gates’ philanthropic work gives me hope.

Here are some reviews I enjoyed reading (both slightly different):

New Yorker

New York Times

The last 10 minutes of WFS were incredibly hard to watch, and I’m guessing another movie released last year which received less press than WFS, The Lottery (next on my list) is a very similar doc. Below is the trailer.





One thought on “Waiting For Superman

  1. We finally watched WFS last night. My first reaction was that I feel so blessed to have the resources to afford (and have access to) high-quality independent schools (with teachers like you!) where my biggest worries involve “optimizing” my kids’ excellent educations rather than finding a way for them to get a basic education. I think the movie was impactful, but the ending really did bother me. Why are the kids attending those lotteries? That seems like needless emotional trauma. I also felt that the featured kids weren’t actually representitive of “failing” kids. All of them had parents/caregivers who understood the value of school and who were really focused on their kids getting an education (even if they weren’t always successful in getting what they need like the mother unable to schedule a conference with the teacher). One parent mentioned that she wanted her child to have a career, not just a job. These parents left me with the feeling that even if the movie kids end up going to a school where only 3-5 percent of the kids go to college, those would be the kids in that 3-5 percent. Especially that wonderful girl from California who wants to be a nurse or veterinarian. She’s going to be a success! The kids I worry about are those who don’t have an adult paying attention to them and end up falling through the very large cracks many schools provide – parents need to take back the “failure factories”. If you haven’t read “Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America” by Paul Tough, please do. The author does a great job of bringing in the latest in social science and learning research and dissecting the different forms of charter schools. Schools like the KIPP schools do well because they cherry-pick the kids most likely to succeed. You have to give Geoffrey Canada a lot of credit for trying to make every kid in the Harlem Children’s Zone succeed, even if the school’s test scores suffer for it.

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