Giving the lie to Waiting for Superman

Posted on October 30th, 2010 in News and Commentary

Giving the lie to Waiting for Superman

NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: An article by Diane Ravitch entitled “The Myth of Charter Schools” virtually dissects the recently released documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’” and what remains on the lab table appears to be one huge piece of propaganda.

Among the score of informed and trenchant observations:

1)      “77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the questions was first asked in 1985.”

2)      Much of the assertions are based on the CREDO study which evaluates “student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school.”

3) “The propagandistic nature of “Waiting for ‘Superman’” is revealed by [Director David] Guggenheim’s complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools.  There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools.  Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools?”

4) “The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level.  This is flatly wrong.”`

5) “Guggenheim skirts the issue of poverty by showing only families that are intact and dedicated to helping their children succeed.”

6) Another highly praised school that is featured in the film is the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D. C.  … But SPEED spends $35,000 per student, as compared to average current spending for public schools of about one third that amount.”

7) “While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that has a completely unionized teaching force.”

The article is not an attack on charter schools, which are portrayed as being good, average and poor as are public schools, but rather on the integrity of the movie’s presentation.  Nevertheless, “Waiting for ‘Superman’” is creating a sensation in important places, including the White House.   The Watchdog encourages the reading of Ravitch’s article as a balance to viewing the documentary.

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One Comment on “Giving the lie to Waiting for Superman”

  1. Anonymous

    Education reform is tough, complicated business. Read Ravitch’s earlier works for more cogent analysis. In those, she saw the value of reforms she’s now abandoned.

    I’ve not watched Waiting for Superman because I can’t bring myself to see it. I’ve heard from too many who have and been emotionally devastated by its story.

    I know that story from having worked with parents trying to get what’s best for their kids yet lacking the money to pull their kids from schools that just aren’t right for them. It doesn’t always mean the school’s bad. It’s just not right for every particular child.

    Why we continue to insist that children’s education be limited by geography is beyond me. Our current system is based on a model dating back to xenophobic times in the mid 1850s when nativists wanted to control the populace from being influenced by new, mostly Catholic, immigrants. That’s when the first laws requiring school attendance were passed, followed soon after by laws stating which schools children MUST attend (public ones that were drenched in a nondenominational brand of Christianity with hymn singing, praying and Bible reading as part of the curriculum, just not the Douay Bible Catholics favored), and which ones would be free. Prior to the passage of such laws, some communities funded a variety of schools.

    When Catholics responded by setting up their own schools where they could use their Bible, prayers and hymns, the nativists tried pushing even further, by attempting to make private schools entirely illegal. Oregon voted to do just that in the early part of the last century. The US Supreme Court struck down that nonsense. (As an aside, a group that started in the 1940s and fights school choice programs in courts today was originally called Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State; they didn’t drop the “Protestants and” part until the 1970s.)

    It’s well past time we struck down the rest of that 1800s school model and opened the doors to individual opportunity through all kinds of schools – public, private, charter, cyber, etc. And let the money follow the child to the school that works best for him or her instead of forcing parents to pay a financial penalty for choosing a school other than the local public one.

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