We finally got to see Waiting for Superman (W4S). Since we’ve talked about the sensation that Oprah and others have made of the film here and here, we probably owe you our take of this “film of the moment.”
There is a good chance W4S will make you cry. The filmmaker has chosen attractive children to represent public school students and, if you have any compassion, you can’t help but root for them to get they what they want: admittance to the charter schools which, in this film, represent salvation. The denouement is a soul-crushing moment made much worse by the use of a school lottery in which numbered balls are chosen ala Bingo, and the “winners” and the “losers” are seated side-by-side, experiencing each others’ joy and agony.
W4S contains powerful moments, and its impact on audiences cannot be ignored. That said, it should also be noted that W4S begins with a clear point of view and spends its entire 111 minute running time attempting to substantiate the following premise:
When children leave the public school system without becoming educated, the sole reason for failure is teacher tenure, which has no redeeming qualities and is entirely the responsibility of teachers’ unions, which care far more about protecting bad teachers than about what’s best for students.
It’s stunning to consider how much is wrong with that premise.
For example, have parents/guardians, administrators, legislatures and communities no role to play in the education of a child?
Odd, isn’t it? In good times, everyone wants to be in the victory photo. As the expression goes, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” At this moment, public schools are being portrayed as more of a problem than as a solution.
W4S has two key points:
- Tenure and unions are bad.
- “Charter schools” (the nonunion variety, it is implied) are THE ANSWER to all that ails public education.
That last point is interesting because, in a throwaway line during a W4S segment on charters, it is noted that only one in five charters has better results than traditional public schools.
But one must play the hand that is dealt. The truth is we not only can do better, we must do better. So how does some good come of this?
Maybe W4S is, at long last, the opportunity to introduce meaningful evaluation systems into schools: in other words, evaluation systems that are capable of measuring teaching quality when implemented by administrators who are appropriately trained to assess teachers.
Perhaps W4S can start a new national dialogue about how important it is for all parents and guardians to participate in their student’s education (like the parents featured in the film) by making sure children are nourished and rested and that assignments are completed and turned in.
And it might be possible that W4S will serve as a reminder to policymakers and taxpayers that progress, in the form of better evaluation systems, smaller class sizes, incentives to attract experienced teachers to hard-to-staff schools and out of the box ideas such as longer school days and school years, can’t be accomplished without additional investment.
That is what a meaningful national dialog would look like when all participants seek to implement an education system that is focused on what is best for students.
Let’s hope that is the case. We would hate to find out that the real goal of Waiting for Superman was to eliminate or eviscerate education unions.
Of course, the only way we’ll find out is by engaging in the discussion. That means insisting on a seat at a bargaining table where education employees are recognized as full partners in the process. It is there the unions must advocate for a course that enhances education quality while ensuring that teachers are treated as professionals.
The education status quo is unacceptable, or at least it should be, for all education stakeholders.
Superman isn’t coming, but change is. In fact, it’s here now. Will we manage it, or will it manage education employees to the detriment of the profession and, ultimately, students?