Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: Waiting for Superman

Waiting for Superman is a documentary on some of the problems with public education in America.  Early in the movie we're shown a clip for the old Superman TV show where Superman would always come in and save the day.   The point of this movie is our government schools are very, very broken, but no one is powerful enough to come save the children. 

In many ways it is a sad movie.

The movie shows us children from rough situations.  These children want an educate so they can do well in life.  They have dreams, but these dreams will not be realized if they children are never taught.

The movie interweaves clips of the children and their struggles to get into good schools with quotes from various education experts and politicians.  For decades politicians have been calling for improvements in education.  More funding has been raised for education.  Yet year after year public education continues to get worse.  For example in 2002 President Bush and Senator Kennedy worked to pass No Child Left Behind, where a large focus of the law was to measure progress.  Yet eight years later few children are proficient in math and reading.

Here are some of the sad points made in the movie:

1) Between 5th and 7th grade huge numbers of minority students go from getting B's to D's.
2) Because of poor education in elementary schools many students will group out from middle and high school.
3) Because of tenure it is almost impossible to fire bad teachers.

The movie showed how Michelle Rhee tried to tackle the bureaucracy in the Washington DC school district, but was fought on many sides.  She tried to fire 50 principles and close down 23 failing schools, but there was a huge backlash.  Michelle Rhee said that the public is willing to let the children suffer so teachers don't get fired.

The movie ends on a positive note.  It claims we know how to improve public schools now we just need to do it.

While I think this is a good movie and worth watching I don't believe the conclusion.  The government schools today in the United States have institutionalized their problems and I don't have any faith that things will get better in the next decade.  It is such a Gordian Knot.   Any time someone tries to fix even a piece of the problem the teacher unions and school officials talk about the law and threaten lawsuits.  There are thousands of roadblocks scattered all across public education.

If you want to see a good summary of the problems with public schools, this is worth watching.  If you want to see how to fix the government schools, then you'll have to wait for superman.

To give you a sample of the movie here is the trailer:

My reviews of the 2010 Education Documentaries:
Race to Nowhere - Students are kept extremely busy.
The Cartel - Problems with public schools in New Jersey.
Waiting for Superman - Public schools are broken, but no one is powerful enough to save them.
The Lottery - Many oppose a successful charter school and the children suffer.


Laura said...

I'm deeply concerned that the whole charter school movement is a way for private companies to make a profit off kids using tax dollars. Public schools, for all their problems, at least aren't expected to turn a profit. The only way charter schools can do so is to cheat the taxpayers while short-changing kids. Waiting For Superman highlights the absolute best charter schools in the country. It's basically an advertisement for charter schools. What's left out? A whole lot of relevant information. As a homeschooling parent and active citizen, I'm concerned about all kids. Here are some facts missing from Waiting For Superman:

Henry Cate said...

There may be some in the charter school movement who are only in it for the money. And not every charter school is better than every public school.

But there are clearly some who see the charter school option as a way to rescue a few students from the dismal future that public schools way too often provide. You might enjoy my review of Joanne Jacobs' kick off meeting for Our School.