I had a chance tro attend the Chicago pre-release of Waiting for Superman. It was a terrific opportunity. Attached is my review which is also posted here on examiner.com. I’d like to know what you think.
Waiting for Superman is a powerful place to start a conversation.
Darrell Polk attended the Chicago pre-screening of Waiting for Superman on September 28. The following article is his review of the documentary.
Early in the documentary, Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim reminds the audience that he produced two other documentaries that focused on the need for great teachers. His documentaries, Teach and The First Year were acclaimed by teachers and teacher unions. Guggenheim should not expect any similar acclaim for Waiting for Superman. Poor teachers and the unions that protect them are indicted throughout the movie.
It is unfortunate that defensiveness may keep some people away from a great message and a powerful call to action. We have entered a time in this country where antagonists take polarized, black and white positions. They can’t allow shades of gray because the concept of sharing power for the good of all seems intractable to them.
Waiting for Superman is a must see for anyone who cares about education in this country – and that should be everyone. The documentary presents the stories of five kids and their families and their quest for a better education. Each child has a chance at a better education if they can make it through a lottery system for the few seats available in local charter schools. You will find yourself becoming attached to the kids and their families as they hope for the chance at something better than their current lot.
The phrase, Waiting for Superman, is articulated by one of the heroes of the film, Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harvard Children’s Zone. Canada reminisces about how distraught he was when his mother told him that Superman wasn’t real. Canada was a young kid at the time and was upset because he learned that, “Neither Superman nor anyone else would be coming with enough power to save us.”
Throughout the touching stories about the students, Guggenheim intersperses statistics and interviews with thought leaders that illustrate our nation’s failure in addressing the problems with public school education. Some telling points:
- Since 1971, per student spending has increased from $4,300 to $9,000. That’s adjusted for inflation. Reading and Math proficiency has stayed flat. That’s nowhere near a favorable return on investment.
- Steve Barr, Founder of Green Dot Public Schools, talked about Locke High School in Los Angeles. Barr estimates that 40,000 out of 60,000 Locke students have dropped out without graduating over the nearly 50 years the school has been in existence. That means that two out of every three adults over the course of five decades is not modeling the value of education to their children or the neighborhoods’ children.
- In Pennsylvania, the average to secure, house, and feed a state prisoner is $33,000 per year. Over an average four-year sentence, that’s $132,000. With that same $132,000, you could send a student to a high performing private school from kindergarten through high school and still have about $24,000 left for college.
- Teachers unions are largest donors for federal offices. More than the UAW. More than the Teamsters. On the federal level, 90% of their donations go to Democratic candidates. At the state and local levels, a high percentage goes to Republican candidates.
- It is hard to terminate a bad teacher. The documentary showed that, where possible, principals and administrators transfer underperforming teachers between schools, recycling poor teachers rather than firing them. Union contract stipulations – it was argued – make it nearly impossible to terminate the teachers. In Wisconsin they call this maneuvering the “Dance of the Lemons.” Other states call the dance, “Pass the Trash” or “The Turkey Trot.”
- New York City had the “The Rubber Room.” Underperforming teachers were sequestered in rooms at the district office away from the classrooms – sometimes for months – until their situations were reviewed. The teachers were in effect on leave with full pay. The costs? Around $100 billion dollars. (In April of this year NYC eliminated the “rubber room” and teachers either went to the administrative offices for work or stayed home. They are still paid – just not as conspicuously).
- There are 876 school districts in Illinois. Only 61 districts have attempted to terminate a poor performing teacher. Only 31 have been successful. In Illinois, an average of one out of 57 doctors loses his medical license. An average of one in 97 lawyers loses his law license. Only one in 2,500 teachers loses their credentials, because of union rules.
The movie is not just about poor performance but also Guggenheim presents some success stories. One of many positive stories presented is about Canada’s Harvard Children’s Zone. The results of the Harvard Children’s Zone are truly amazing. Canada’s charter school zone – formed from of the historically worst performing schools in the city – now performs better in proficiency testing than every other school, not just public schools, but other charter schools.
Skeptics argue that it is because of Canada’s charisma – which he surely has – but other schools that follow the HCZ model have similar results. Canada’s team has a relentless focus on achievement and college, longer school days, more work, greater accountability, parent involvement, and great teachers. As Canada says, “You can’t have great schools without great teachers.” Canada boils things down to his radical approach by asking, “What if we never let our kids get behind?”
There’s much more to the movie that won’t fit here. Pay close attention to the parts on Randi Weingarten and Michelle Rhee Throughout the movie, you will find yourself shocked, amazed, saddened and impressed. But you will also find yourself caught up by Guggenheim’s story telling. Guggenheim wraps up the documentary by asking, “We’ve proved that it can be done, now what’s the excuse?”
If we care about this education in this country then we must:
- Be willing to engage together
- Push aside the status quo and our own agendas
- Admit that we have a problem
- Recognize that it is hard work and commit to it for the long haul.
Waiting for Superman is a powerful place to start a conversation. Watch the movie and draw your own conclusions. It is not the conclusion. It is not a panacea. It is a great place to start.