Administrator Magazine: Op Ed/Opinion
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Talking Back to Waiting for "Superman"

Love it or hate it, Davis Guggenheim’s education documentary has everyone talking.

"The documentary calls attention to the children who are being failed by our education system and deprived of the kind of education that will open doors for them throughout their lives. Despite Guggenheim's undeniable good intentions, the film falls short by casting two outliers in starring roles-the "bad" teacher as villain, and charter schools as heroes ready to save the day. The problem is that these caricatures are more fictional than factual." —Randi Weingarten, AFT president

"Maybe Michelle Rhee ... was on to the right idea. She made radical changes to an imperfect system. She closed schools, fired principals, and held teachers accountable. Within one year, there were higher test scores, more teacher work satisfaction, and a more positive learning environment for students. Though some people were unhappy, the bottom line was an upward trend in learning for students. Isn't that what really matters? Aren't we more interested in how the education system works for students, rather than for adults?" —Jamal Cooks, San Francisco State University professor of education and a former teacher

"The film promotes nostalgia for a school system of years past, seemingly forgetting past inequities like segregated schools; institutionalization of children with disabilities; and marginalization of and discrimination against female teachers and teachers of color." —North Carolina Association of Educators

"I was sitting at a panel in Toronto with Bill Gates.When Geoffrey [Canada] started talking, Bill and I would look at each other, shake our heads, and say, ‘This guy is the singular best voice we have on education and how we're going to fix our schools.'" —Davis Guggenheim

"Waiting for ‘Superman' has already spawned debates about policy. I hope, however, that it will also forge consensus around the truth that teaching really matters. I hope it will teach us that the same excellent instruction that has helped whole classes of randomly selected inner-city kids outperform the average suburban pupil is the result of concrete professional skills, behaviors, and attitudes that can be acquired, refined, and perfected. Such excellence is so critical to the future well-being of our society that we must more effectively recognize and reward it. Through proper recognition and reward, superb teaching can become plentiful instead of rationed or diluted." —Paul Edwards, Deseret News

"There's a contradiction here. This is an urgent issue that can't wait for change. We've got to help our children right now. But we also have to be committed to this over the long haul because this is a complex problem that is going to take a significant amount of time to fix." —Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO, Harlem Children's Zone

"What I saw in those parents [in the film] I've seen a thousand times in our own parents. We should not rest until every child in the city has an opportunity to attend a good school." —Steven Adamowski, superintendent, Hartford (CT) Public Schools

"I have no interest to sit and watch that movie. I know all about it. I have viewed parts of it. The film takes a harsh view of unions, portraying them as enemies of reform and protectors of incompetent teachers through policies such as job tenure. I don't think I want to go sit with folks who have this view." —Andrea Johnson, Hartford Federation of Teachers

"In recent years, we've cracked the code. The high-performing charter schools, like KIPP and others, have figured out the system that works for kids in even the toughest neighborhoods." —Davis Guggenheim

"Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film's quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the ‘amazing results' that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond. Known as the credo study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation's five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent. Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?" —Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

"Instead of helping people understand the many problems schools face and what it will take to address them, it presents misleading information and simplistic ‘solutions' that will make it harder for those of us working to improve public education to succeed. We know firsthand how urgently change is needed. But by siding with a corporate reform agenda of teacher-bashing, union-busting, test-based ‘accountability' and highly selective, privatized charters, the film pours gasoline on the public education bonfire started by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.... This film does not contain a single positive image of a non-charter public school or a teacher. Despite a lot of empty rhetoric about the importance of ‘great teachers,' the disrespect the film displays to real teachers working on the ground in public schools today is stunning. Not one has a voice in the film. There are no public school parents working together to improve the schools their children attend. There are no engaged communities. There is no serious discussion of funding, poverty, race, testing, or the long and sorry history of top-down bureaucratic reform failure." —Stan Karp, Rethinking Schools

"This is a corporate movie backed by Bill Gates, and it's just complete nonsense. There is no teacher voice in the film. The bottom line is that it's all about class size." —Julie Woodward, public school teacher

"Michele Rhee describes teacher tenure as ‘a job for life.' Oprah says, ‘After two years you have a job for life and you can't be fired! Who does that?' Davis Guggenheim, the movie's producer, intones, ‘Everybody gets it. It's automatic. You show up for two years, you got tenure.' That is a flat-out lie. In my district, which is known for a strong union, teachers do not get tenure unless their principal wants them to. Many teachers are released at the end of their first or second year. Tenure is by no means automatic. And there are indeed ways to get rid of tenured teachers, who do not have ‘jobs for life,' but rather have rights to due process. In fact, a few moments earlier, we were told ‘Michelle Rhee has fired a thousand teachers and principals,' many of whom had tenure. We do need to improve our evaluation systems. But this is a lie, and it should not have been presented without a challenge." —Anthony Cody, Living in Dialogue blog

"The union's sole purpose is keeping bad teachers teaching. In my opinion, the people who are complaining about the show are the bad teachers." —A former teacher, quoted by CBS News

"The film is an asset to those forces favoring privatization. Currently, public policy overfunds and underregulates charter schools while underfunding and overregulating public schools. Such an equation is corroding school systems around the country. But filmmaker Guggenheim shows little interest in exposing the long-term suffocation of public schools by deep budget cuts and by annual testing regimes. He conveniently ignores the policies that enforce decline on public education. Instead, he glamorizes charter schools but wisely does so through irresistible stories of adorable, deserving kids and their desperate parents, who pin their hopes on lotteries for admission to charter schools. The gorgeous kids and devoted parents searching for the golden ticket to a favored school are blameless. With no one to turn to-no parent associations to reform their local schools and to lobby city hall, no teacher-activists to ally with, no community associations to defend their needs, no mass movements to bring their situation to a larger stage of politics-they face the formidable school system alone. They are underdogs for whom Guggenheim easily provokes sympathy, so much so that the climactic lottery scene at the end is unbearable to watch because the odds are against the kids, who all deserve better." —Ira Shor, professor, City University of New York

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