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.