Dana Goldstein in The Nation, writing about Waiting for Superman and school “reform.”
Here’s what you see in Waiting for Superman, the new documentary that celebrates the charter school movement while blaming teachers unions for much of what ails American education: working- and middle-class parents desperate to get their charming, healthy, well-behaved children into successful public charter schools.
Here’s what you don’t see: the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse); charter school teachers, like those at the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, who are unionized and like it that way; and noncharter neighborhood public schools, like PS 83 in East Harlem and the George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, that are nationally recognized for successfully educating poor children.
You don’t see teen moms, households without an adult English speaker or headed by a drug addict, or any of the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren’t engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can’t turn away.
You also don’t learn that in the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are—gasp!—unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and healthcare, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results at school.
This is a topic that’s drawn so much attention, and on which one perspective has so dominated the attention it’s gotten even as evidence suggests most people aren’t on board with the crusade against public education. Some actual reporting, and reference to the massive amounts of existing data showing that charter schools are not a one size fits all answer, that teachers and their unions are not actually the enemy, and that creativity and reform are possible without blaming teachers as the first resort.
Goldstein’s article is a must-read if you plan to see Waiting for Superman, if you have a kid in school, if you ever may have a kid in school, if you vote for candidates with opinions about education, if you’re not voting and therefore letting other people elect officials who’ll make decisions about education, or if you yourself have plans to express opinions about school “reform.”