Waiting for Superman Review

Waiting for Superman Waiting for Superman is a documentary that attempts to show inequalities in what is supposed to be a fair public education system. The film is primarily centered on five families and their attempt to secure a better education for their children. The movie shows several hardships the families have to endure and somewhat ironically, the most emotional moment for me involved one young girl not being allowed to attend her elementary school graduation because her mother fell behind on payments at a private school.
After watching Waiting for Superman I was divided in my feelings for it. After reflecting on the movie I am not sure what exactly the underlying theme of the movie is other than saying that some public school are bad and some charter schools are good. The movie never goes into the bad schools and identifies problems (other than teacher’s unions) nor does it look at the charter schools and identifies what they are doing to stand out. Waiting for Superman merely presents a few anecdotes and says there is a problem without ever revealing an underlying problem or a solution.
The film loves to toss around numbers such a, “Fifty years ago the United States had the best education system in the world” without putting anything into context. My first thought when I hear statement similar to this is how do we know? We did not have standardized testing in the states. If there was some form of uniform testing whom got tested? Even though there was mandatory school attendance in the United States at this time, how strictly was it enforced and was it enforced equally among all schools—rich, poor, black, white, etc.

Furthermore, fifty years ago most of the industrialized world was still trying to recover from World War II so to compare United States Education in 2009 to 1959 is unrealistic. Furthermore is the spending issue. Yes, we are spending more per student than we were before. However, with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) a lot of that spending is spent on students with learning disabilities.
Because much of those funds have been earmarked for specific students and programs (many ineffective) and the increased level of bureaucracy, it is also not equal to compare school funding on a student to student basis from 2009 and 1959. There were several points in the movie I did agree with. I am advocate of many of Michelle Rhee’s, Chancellor of Washington D. C. ’s public school system, decisions regarding the district. I understand many teachers and students are upset about the closing of the schools. However, Washington D. C. as suffered suburban sprawl in recent years that have left many schools only partially full costing the district millions of dollars in energy costs, personnel, and transportation costs. I also advocate for her firing many district personnel. I agree with Waiting for Superman’s analysis that many school districts have become to top heavy. Many of these employees in the district offices make the highest salaries in the district—even more than principals. In Polk County, FL, the district office payroll is nearly 8% of the entire district budget.
This adds up to over $85M which is higher than the budgets of the largest high schools in the district! I am also bewildered how any high-performing teacher would be against the proposed salary increase that is dependent on evaluations and student success. I am confused as to how teachers (or any profession) believe they have a right to their job regardless of their performance. Despite Waiting for Superman over-simplifying and essentially demonizing teacher’s unions (and I LOATHE most unions including teacher’s unions) I agree that teacher’s should be subject to performance evaluations which might result in termination.
I also agree with Waiting for Superman’s advocacy for school choice. I believe parents have the right to put their student’s in a charter school if they believe a local community school is not sufficient. Furthermore, I believe that vouchers should be extended to private schools if those schools have met the required state standards. Currently in Florida, only students who have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) could access the McKay Scholarship Program to attend private schools.
This law was extended this week to all students with 504 plans to also have access to McKay scholarships. Hopefully this bill will begin to pave the way to a state approved school voucher program in Florida. It is important to point out, and I am surprised that the movie did mention this, that only 17% of charter schools have amazing results. This leads to my biggest problem with the Waiting for Superman. The film attacks public schools as being unfair and not good enough. However, not once does it visit many of the poor charter schools in the nation.
Nor does it address what studies show time and time again is that a student’s background, including socio-economic status and family life, are the greatest indicator of a specific child’s success in school. This is no better exemplified in Anthony. Anthony is a young man that is being raised by his grandmother. His grandmother is raising him because his father died of a drug overdose (no mention was given of the biological mother). The grandmother admitted that when her son (Anthony’s father) was a young she did not understand the importance of education.
Now she views Anthony’s education as the most important thing in both of their lives. All five of the families in Waiting for Superman place a very high importance on the education and want their children in the very best schools. This leads to a chicken versus the egg argument that the movie never attempts to answer. Are these “amazing” private and charter schools get the best results because they have the best faculty, curriculum, etc or do they receive the best results because they have kids in them whose parents put more of an emphasis on education. This is the movie I would like to see made as a follow up to Waiting for Superman.

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