A group of New York City parents and teachers recently released a new documentary called “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman.” This film was created in response to last year’s documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” which essentially argued, through the incredibly emotional story of several young children, that the only solution to fixing our broken education system is to dismantle teachers unions and turn all schools into charters.
All the information and statistics provided in “Waiting for Superman” were indeed true, but the director, Davis Guggenheim, created an inaccurate picture of the public and charters school systems by omitting some key facts that, if disclosed, would have changed the picture drastically.
“The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman” fills in a majority of these missing facts. It gives a more accurate picture of the education system today and what solutions are truly in the best interest of our students. The film opens with the fact that New York City Mayor Bloomberg changed the way schools were run when he took office in 2002. At the time, districts were fairly autonomous; he made them centralized, taking away the local power of parents and teachers to educate according to the needs of the individual communities.
With the power to dictate changes, one of the things Bloomberg did was open up many charter schools. Two out if every three charters were put into existing school campuses. The teachers interviewed in “TITBWFS” point out that, by having less space, the regular public schools were in essence sabotaged. Class sizes grew because of lack of classrooms. Electives had to be cut for the same reason. Resources were often pulled from the public school to the charter.
“Superman” highlighted a few exceptional New York City charters, but neglected to mention that on average, charter schools don’t perform as well as regular public schools. “TITBWFS” interviews some parents who used to have their kids in these same “exceptional” schools mentioned in “Superman.” These schools only look exceptional on paper because they kick out kids who are poor performers, are English Language Learners, and have special needs (i.e. IEP or 501 Plan). Of course, since the charters have taken the cream of the crop, it makes the public schools look even worse because they have a disproportionate number of kids who will never test well.
“Superman” argues that the reason charters are better is because they are run by private companies (using public tax money), so they lack government bureaucracy. But more importantly, they also lack tenure and teachers unions—unions protecting bad teachers is, Guggenheim argues, the root of the educational crises. However, Guggenheim left out an important statistic: the lowest performing states in the nation in education happen to be the states where there are no teacher’s unions. “TITBWFS” points out that charters are often run by corporations that don’t have the same oversight that school districts do. If parents in public schools have a problem at the school, they can take it to the district—there is no higher authority at a charter.
In this summary, I cannot cover everything the film brought up—this was just a taste. I would recommend that everyone watch “TITBWFS” to make sure you have your facts straight when it comes to the pros and cons of charters and teachers unions. They will even mail you a copy for free! See the trailer here.
I personally think “TITBWFS” did a good job of presenting the information, however, not being professional movie makers like Guggenheim, they weren’t able to tug on people’s heart strings as masterfully as he did. While they did use some compelling imagery, it wasn’t visually artistic (i.e., just the right camera angles) like “Superman.” Sadly, while the facts are on the side of “TITBWFS,” I think most will be swayed by Guggenheim’s unbalanced movie simply because it is more “Hollywood-y.”
image credit: http://www.waitingforsupermantruth.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Chartersdontwantyou.jpg
Christi Grab is the author of The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part 1 – San Diego to Australia.