Waiting for Superman

I finally watched Waiting for Superman this week. Ironically, I saw the film the same day DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced her resignation. It was rather bittersweet to watch the energy and commitment of Rhee on screen and to know that because of politics (i.e. the adults in the system) another leadership change is on the way for DC students.

Yes, the film is pro-charter and anti-union contracts (not necessarily the unions as a whole, but more the highly restrictive contracts and current union philosophies). While I support the schools that were featured in the film, and know many of them well, the piece of information missing is “why were all these ‘beating the odds’ schools actually ‘beating the odds?'” Charters in themselves are not necessarily the answer, but having the ability to hire and fire who is best for the school and having freedom from restrictive operating conditions are key aspects of charters. And, charter schools are public schools – an often misunderstood fact. Explaining some of these issues in more detail would have strengthened the film.

I watched the film with a friend who’s interested in learning more about the education system. During the film, she whispered to me “why do teachers even join the union?” It was difficult to explain the idea that most teachers don’t have a choice. Union dues are automatically deducted from paychecks, if you support union ideals or not. While it’s important to eliminate “free-riders,” I wonder why teachers don’t sponsor a massive protest about the fact that the unions are not representing THEIR best interests and that the unions are not improving the professionalism of the entire teaching field.

Another friend commented that the film doesn’t present enough solutions. In some ways I agree, but one must ask, what was the point of the film? If it was to incite public outrage at the inequities in our education system and to demonstrate the link between economic stability and schools, then the film has surpassed expectations. The solutions are simple in some ways- give students what they need to succeed, give all students access to high-quality schools. But, how those principles are accomplished is where the problems arise. It would be impossible (and very edu-wonky) to discuss the nitty gritty of the potential solutions and the implementation of various school reform models.

Unfortunately, at this point, inciting outrage and educating the public is what we need. Too often we pretend that this is a NIMBY issue (not in my backyard), but even if one of the dropout factories isn’t in your backyard, this issue will effect us all – socially and economically. None of us is protected from the impact of chronically low-performing schools.

My final reaction for the blog — I wonder what about all the kids whose parents/guardians aren’t applying for the lotteries. The students in the film all had someone who was aware of the lack of quality education and searched for a solution. But what about the students whose parents don’t know about the lotteries, can’t navigate the lottery process, or those who don’t even realize that the schools are not educating their children?

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