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Movie Review: Waiting for Superman January 7, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Politics, Society, Technology, Work.
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I saw this one a couple of months ago, but it was powerful and something I think every parent and educator should be watching. Here is the Netflix synopsis, followed by my thoughts. It is going to get long because it is an important topic and I thought the different responses from two different perspectives are important and valid.

Dynamic documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) weaves together the stories of students, families, educators and reformers to shed light on the failing public school system and its consequences on the future of the United States. In this Sundance Audience Award winner for Best Documentary, Guggenheim deftly examines the options to improve public education and provide America’s teachers and students with the help they need.

This topic is controversial right now. There is lots of talk about how the American educational system is falling behind the rest of the world. I think our democracy is maturing and showing its age. We have a variety of problems and no vision and way to fix them. The Educational System is broken in many ways and we are stuck in a rut. I think this documentary reveals some honest truths. Many people have their heads in the sand and until everyone recognizes that we are not rising to the occasion, we can not move forward.

I purchased Geoffery Canada’s book “Whatever It Takes”. I hope to have a review of that story in the next month or so. Please let me know if you read it.

Working for an educational organization I get an interesting insight into the topic. Here is the response from our Communications Dept:

Waiting for Superman talking points
Waiting for Superman tells a moving story about injustice in public education—a story that those in the education community have been telling for decades. But we must remember that this film is ultimately just entertainment. It lacks a policy analysis based in fact and research.
• While great charter schools do exist, not every school can be a charter, and not all charter schools outperform traditional public schools. Only one in five charter schools outperform traditional public schools; two in five charter schools perform worse than traditional public schools.
• While there are struggling public schools, there are also successful public schools across the country that are helping children from all backgrounds achieve success in them, unheralded teachers, administrators and school board members are doing extraordinary things every day. Unfortunately this film doesn’t feature those schools or educators. Given that the vast majority of American students attend traditional public schools, change in a single classroom, school or even district is not enough. We need replicable, scalable, effective ways to provide all children the education that they need. No solution is as scalable, accessible or accountable as a great neighborhood school.
• Detroit’s Carstens Elementary School, where nearly 100% of students are African-American and over 90% receive free or reduced-price lunch, is a beacon of light for its surrounding community. Back in 1997, “student achievement was zero,” but today students thrive. 100% of 3rd and 4th graders met state standards in math in 2010. They also outperformed the state as a whole in reading. And in addition, students here are good citizens: Despite being disadvantaged themselves, they know the importance of donating to relief efforts in Haiti or to a canned food fundraiser. The staff work hard to meet all the needs of students, and they pride themselves on their shared leadership. (Learn more at http://www.learningfirst.org/motor-city-miracle)
• While this film focuses only on the challenges of urban schools, we must not forget that there are significant challenges in educating rural and suburban students as well. In addition, there are challenges in working with certain student groups who were completely ignored in this file, such as high needs populations or students with disabilities. Yet as in urban areas, there are great schools overcoming those challenges every day.
• While it is important to examine the challenges that exist in public education, which this film does, we must not merely criticize the system. Rather we must use them to begin a dialogue about how to ensure that every student succeeds.
• We commend the film’s call to action on behalf of public schools, opening an important conversation, and beginning a dialogue about the changes that need to take place, including but not limited to community involvement.
• Public schools are charged with offering ALL students an opportunity for education. Not everyone can win a lottery or meet the admission and financial criteria of a private or parochial school, but public schools provide all students an opportunity for success.
• The message that “charters are good” and “teachers unions are bad” oversimplifies complicated issues and threatens to thwart thoughtful discussions about education reform. This creates an “us versus them” mentality and promotes division rather than collaboration.
o While unions can become more accountable and transparent, they have historically played leading roles in improving public education.
o Most nations with strong public education systems have strong teachers unions.
• Members of the education community are at the forefront of developing and implementing ways to improve teacher quality. No one wants teachers in the classrooms who don’t belong there. We need to deal with the reality that teachers need tools, resources and support to do their jobs well.
• School boards recognize that it takes leadership that shifts expectations to higher levels. It takes dramatic changes in instruction to produce new results. It takes new forms of professional development to help teachers develop skills to reach struggling learners. It takes assessment systems that help us diagnose and improve, rather than rank and penalize. It takes greater levels of parent and community engagement that creates a support system for every child.
• While money will not solve all problems, (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any school) most successful schools receive significant financial support from private sources.
• Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress. However we need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.

And then this, I thought was a very interested and different viewpoint from the school district superintendent where we live… just a few miles from my work.
Short Version:
· “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary on public education created by the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” has come to metro Detroit. http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/
· In Huron Valley Schools, we are not waiting for Superman.
· Our GRAD 100 program is focused on graduating 100% of our students with the skills necessary to be successful in the global work place.
· Although the film does not acknowledge the extra effort required to educate all students, especially at-risk students or students with disabilities, in Huron Valley we have initiated support systems to ensure every student is successful.
· Our hard work is paying off. District MEAP and MME scores exceed the state average and, with few exceptions, meet or exceed the Oakland County averages.
· Improving public education is a shared responsibility between parents, teachers, administrators, Board members and other elected officials, as well as community members to ensure every child succeeds.
· We will continue our “super” efforts to provide Huron Valley students the relevance, rigor and relationships necessary to develop into well-educated, successful adults. We greatly appreciate the super support of our parents and our community for joining with us as we stay focused on this critical mission.

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