'Waiting for Superman' exposes grim reality that many children face

(This commentary first appeared in TOP-Ed.)

I recently attended a screening of Waiting for Superman, the new documentary about public education by Davis Guggenheim. This is a terribly important movie. Anyone with an interest in education reform should make arrangements to see it soon, bring friends, and pack tissues.

Not everyone wants you to see this movie. If you can, I encourage you to watch it, as I did, with a mixed audience of parents, teachers, community members and union leaders. We sat together. We all watched the same screen – but based on the discussion afterward it seems that we each saw a very different movie.

The film introduces five children who, on present course and speed, will soon attend an ordinary public school in their neighborhoods. None of these schools has a strong track record. Guggenheim calls some “dropout factories” because children so regularly fail to graduate from them.

As in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, Guggenheim forcefully presents the case that things are not OK as they are. This is a case that deserves his expository skills. America is failing to prepare children for their future, with tragic results.

Each of the five children featured in this movie is blessed with a crucial advantage: an adult who is determined to find a way for them to get to college. In each case, there is an extraordinary charter school nearby, but it does not have enough seats. Who gets in and who does not is decided – on camera – by lottery. The winners of these lotteries will attend a high-functioning, well-resourced school. They will almost certainly advance to college. The losers, by contrast, will have to take their chances with the school down the street.

The role of victim is played by the children. This movie makes denial difficult: When it comes to education, America’s students are far from the head of the class, and the stakes are enormous. Nations like China are quickly becoming America’s economic peers, and Superman does a marvelous job of establishing that our national self-image is dangerously out of date. College has become the gateway to the middle class. Most Americans are only distantly aware of the long odds that most American children face in getting there.

The role of the hero is played by a handful of America’s most impressive charter schools, and the people who run them. These charter schools are exceptional, by any measure. They are orderly, well-run, and well-resourced. They operate longer school days and school years than America’s ordinary schools. Guggenheim shows children working, learning, and smiling in these charter schools. These children understand their good luck – literally. After all, they won a lottery.

The role of the villain in the film is played by the teacher’s unions. Teachers in America are very rarely dismissed when they fail to educate the children in their care, even egregiously. Guggenheim colorfully describes “the dance of the lemons” and the “rubber room,” disparaging labels for practices that some principals and districts use when they are unable to satisfy the due process requirements associated with dismissing a teacher.

Union leaders, naturally, resent being cast as villains. These are tough schools in communities with many challenges. Does the responsibility to fix the schools really fall to the union? Isn’t it the union’s job to ensure that its members enjoy due process protection from being fired capriciously? Is it fair that the movie compares struggling ordinary schools to a handpicked sample of schools with extraordinary resources? And why did Guggenheim choose to feature only charter schools as the heroes? Is it fair to blame us, they ask? Examples of this resentment can be seen at www.notwaitingforsuperman.org. Some have gone so far as to promote the movie by advocating a boycott.

This petulance misses the larger point. For most parents and community members, Waiting for Superman will be an eye-opener. This is an opportunity to engage an audience that has not become jaded to the grim facts. It gives faces to statistics that, if known at all, are too easily ignored. It is appropriate to feel outrage about persistent achievement gaps, drop-out rates and uneven access to learning. This movie helps us remember why we should feel that outrage. Most important of all, it is an opportunity to discuss what it would take for all children to have the advantages of the lucky ones in this movie.

Jeff Camp chairs the Education Circle of Full Circle Fund, an engaged philanthropy organization cultivating the next generation of community leaders and driving lasting social change in the Bay Area and beyond. He is the primary author of the Education Impact Guide, a primer on education reform options available online.  Since leaving a career at Microsoft to work for education change, Camp has served on multiple education reform committees including the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence.

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29 Responses to “'Waiting for Superman' exposes grim reality that many children face”

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  1. Marie T., AV on Oct 19, 2010 at 1:22 pm10/19/2010 1:22 pm

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    Teachers unions are political advocacy groups — the largest in the state. To the extent they are paid to advocate certain political positions, their leaders are paid political advocates. Teachers often cross the line, violating school policies and sometimes illegally advocating their and their union’s political positions on campuses during school hours on the taxpayers’ dime. This is paid advocacy that is rarely discouraged by their unions. Parse all you want, ask someone to “Repeat after me” all you want, but it won’t change the reality of the paid political advocacy status of many teachers who won’t control themselves and then claim “we’re not the union.” In some districts, this stealth advocacy is rampant and is fueling the mistrust many parents and taxpayers have for teachers unions and some of their individual members who are making it increasingly difficult for ethical teachers not be become tainted as well.

  2. Caroline Grannan on Oct 12, 2010 at 11:45 pm10/12/2010 11:45 pm

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    Thank you for not namecalling or bullying, Ze’ev Wurman.
    I maintain that “think tanks” like the Hoover Institution are misleadingly named (deliberately so due to intent to deceive) and are actually advocacy organizations — and don’t forget that I did a large freelance job myself for Hoover in the late ’90s, so I get to claim some expertise here. So my informed and experienced view is that Hanushek IS a paid advocate. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s what he is, in my view.
    Diane Ravitch is a former Hoover fellow, but when she changed her views on education after determining that reality showed that free-market solutions were not the answer after all, she felt she had to leave Hoover. She knew she needed to promote Hoover’s agenda if she wanted to stay with Hoover.
    If by mainstream journalists you’re referring to the L.A. Times reporters who did the Grading the Teachers project, I don’t think they’re paid to advocate a particular position, so I wouldn’t put them in the category of paid advocates. But I do think they have overstepped their journalistic bounds  by going beyond being the messenger to positioning themselves as the judge. When I saw Jason Felch turn on Richard Rothstein and snap, “You seem to be saying there’s not a problem in this country and the status quo is fine” — parroting a line from the “education reform” script — I could see that he had slipped beyond the role of journalist into the role of advocate. That’s not an appropriate role for a reporter and violates news industry ethics.  (As previously described, there were immediate exclamations of objection from everyone on the panel with Felch and Rothstein and throughout the audience, and Felch retracted the comment, looking embarrassed.)

  3. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 12, 2010 at 11:09 pm10/12/2010 11:09 pm

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    Here you go again.
    Repeat after me: Paid advocates are people who work for (or are paid by) an advocacy or a financial stakeholder (e.g., Sierra Club, Lorrilard, CTA).
    Repeat after me: Generally speaking, academics are not paid advocates. That does not mean they have no positions (c.f. anthropogenic global warming).
    Repeat after me: Generally speaking, mainstream journalists are not paid advocates. That does not mean they have no opinions (c.f. Paul Krugman).
    I can’t make it any clearer.

  4. CarolineSF on Oct 12, 2010 at 7:17 pm10/12/2010 7:17 pm

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    I have no problem with people heatedly and forcefully disagreeing with me! Argue away; tear my positions apart. But it’s just namecalling when Ze’ev Wurman repeatedly labels me a hypocrite, and it’s bullying when he badgers me to attempt me to give my full name. I do object to namecalling and bullying. If those behaviors are allowed on this site when the perpetrator is someone with whom you agree, John, at least you should be honest that that’s the policy.

    Regarding Hanushek:
    1. There’s nothing wrong with being a paid advocate. Some of my best friends are paid advocates for one thing or another.
    2. It’s disingenuous to pretend to take umbrage when it’s pointed out that Hanushek is a paid advocate.
    3. Even if it WERE insulting him to point out that he’s a paid advocate, which it isn’t, he’s at least somewhat in the position of a public figure here, being featured in WTS.

  5. Stacey on Oct 11, 2010 at 4:57 pm10/11/2010 4:57 pm

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    What is this reaction about the problem of parental involvement in schools?  It seems like just a way to distract.  The whole purpose of a free and public education isn’t so that parents could get free schooling for their children, but so that society can benefit from an educated populace.  Society said, “Who cares if the parents don’t care?  We want these children to get an education!”  Many parents in this country at one time were uneducated themselves and had the business of making a living to attend to so they didn’t much care about education, especially when they really wanted to keep their children at home!  And yet our country did become educated and strong and society benefited from it, all without mandatory parental involvement.

  6. CarolineSF on Oct 6, 2010 at 5:50 pm10/6/2010 5:50 pm

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    I disagree. My point about Rothstein is that he DOES have a previously known point of view and thus would be expected to have a bias — I actually don’t know if he’s paid to espouse a particular position, so I wasn’t able to state that clearly as I can about Hanushek.

    But what I was trying to point out is that the panels included one partisan with a known bias that would lead to disapproval of the Times project (Rothstein), one partisan with a known bias that would lead to approval of the Times project (Hanushek) — and two experts with no known previous bias or affiliation — both of whom (this is the important point) very strongly disapproved of the Times project.  (It’s also my view that Rothstein’s criticism of the project was passionate and Hanushek’s defense of it was lukewarm, though you’ve already responded that that  observation is colored by  MY bias, John. )

    In any case, I disagree that I’m characterizing Hanushek negatively. It’s perfectly legitimate to be paid to espouse an advocacy position (or at least in my view it is — if you both think that it’s not, you are impugning an awful lot of professionals — PR people, lobbyists, campaign managers and such).

    Personally, I think those are legitimate professions. But the fact is that opinions voiced by individuals in those professions have to be seen through a different lens.  That’s why if an op-ed page publishes a commentary on a topic by a paid PR representative for an organization affected by the topic, newspaper ethics call for disclosure that the author is a paid PR representative. That doesn’t mean that the author is disgraced, just that his/her statements need to be viewed in a different light.

    Plus, John, I thought you discouraged name-calling, but you’re being conspicuously silent on that issue. If you continue to tolerate that, won’t it tend to discourage discussion on your blog? I”m reasonably thick-skinned about being the target, as I deeply believe that name-calling discredits the name-caller. But others may be wary about posting their opinions if they fear being labeled a hypocrite (or whatever epithet comes to the mind of the reader who disagrees with them) and see that that kind of behavior is tolerated without comment as long as you agree with the poster’s general positions, John. If you don’t want comment or discussion on the blog, I guess this is a good way to achieve that goal.

    I also think it’s intimidating to other commentators when a poster is badgered to give his/her full name. I would actually be perfectly willing to do that, but am un-thrilled about succumbing to attempts to bully me into  it. 

    This is the kind of thing that would have made me cry at 23 and would definitely have scared me away. Fortunately, or not, I’m older and tougher.


    • John Fensterwald - Educated Guess on Oct 6, 2010 at 9:12 pm10/6/2010 9:12 pm

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      Caroline: When you are cavalier in disparaging the reputation of respected researchers, you should expect to be criticized for it, especially on a policy blog. And you continue to do it when likening Eric Hanushek to a lobbyist, campaign manager and PR consultant.
      I encourage readers to identify themselves, because they then have to be more accountable for their words. But commenters have their own reasons for not disclosing themselves, and readers can take that into account. I obviously don’t require disclosure, and we’d have a far less interesting site if I started enforcing it.
      You can respond to being called a hypocrite or simply ignore it. I didn’t see a need to intervene.

  7. CarolineSF on Oct 6, 2010 at 7:30 am10/6/2010 7:30 am

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    Agree to disagree, Ze’ev Wurman — this is really pointless and counterproductive, and at this point you’re just badgering. And again, all your behavior does is demonstrate that you are not able to make an actual case to back up your viewpoints.
    However, the Hoover Institution is most certainly an advocacy organization — don’t forget that I did a freelance job for it myself, so I am reasonably well-informed about that issue.


    • John Fensterwald - Educated Guess on Oct 6, 2010 at 4:41 pm10/6/2010 4:41 pm

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      I have to agree with Ze’ev, Caroline. You do impugn the reputation of Eric Hanushek, a respected researcher, by saying he is simply paid by Hoover to spout its point of view. Because you happen to agree with Rothstein, you label him pro-public education. That is disingenuous, and it’s not the first time you have done this.
      Because Hanushek advocates value-added analysis doesn’t make him anti-public education. He has been calling for using data to make the case to dismiss the worst teachers for decades. If he’s right, and the removal of the worst 6 percent would make a huge impact on student performance and school performance, I’d call that distinctly pro-public education.

  8. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 6, 2010 at 12:24 am10/6/2010 12:24 am

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    Any time someone that is  hiding behind anonymity personally attacks someone who is not, it is hypocrisy by definition. So, no. It is not a personal attack. It is a statement of fact. The fact that John may or may not know your real identity does not change anything–  he cannot, in his role, “out” you, and anyway readers don’t know who you are.
    You write that working at Hoover makes Hanushek “paid spokesman for a pro-privatization organization. However, that’s not an attack on his integrity.” Wrong. Working at Hoover makes Hanushek a member of prestigious academic organization renown for the caliber of its academic work. It does not make him a “paid spokesman for a pro-privatization organization” any more that being on Stanford faculty makes Linda Darling Hammond a “paid spokesman for a pro-teacher-union organization” or for the university. Both Hoover Institution and Stanford do have spokesmen, and only they are the “paid spokesmen” for the organization. Hanushek and Darling-Hammonds are academics that speak their beliefs and always need to defend them in the public and academic spheres. If you are really a journalist I am surprised that you are not aware of the distinction.
    Further, your claiming “that’s not an attack on his integrity” is disingenuous. It clearly is a personal attack on his integrity, as is your description above where you clearly do not believe that Hanushek believes in what he says in public. In other words, you are saying that he will say anything necessary to justify he salary.  Isn’t that an attack on his integrity?

  9. CarolineSF on Oct 5, 2010 at 11:06 pm10/5/2010 11:06 pm

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    Ze’ev Wurman, if calling me a hypocrite isn’t a personal attack, what WOULD you consider a personal attack — does it require actual physical bloodshed?
    Be that as it may. My identity is well known to John and to others here — if you want my last name and C.V. they’re easy to find. I’m hardly hiding behind anonymity.
    Eric Hanushek is a Hoover Institution fellow and as such is paid to advocate for Hoover’s positions. That’s neither impugning his integrity nor throwing mud. It’s just a fact. At the UC-Berkeley forum on the L.A. Times Grading the Teachers projects, he was the only statistics type to endorse the methodology in the series — which he did with wit and eloquence but with little enthusiasm.
    One statistician on that panel who condemned the series is associated with pro-public-education positions (Richard Rothstein), but the two other statisticians sharply condemned the series, and they have no known associations with either pro-public-education or pro-privatization positions. So it’s a very relevant point to make that the only statistician type who endorsed the Times project is a paid spokesman for a pro-privatization organization. However, that’s not an attack on his integrity.
    And no, I have no financial interest in speaking up for public education. In fact, as a freelance journalist I’ve cut off a number of potential income sources because I’ve been outspoken in opposing school privatization — assignments for entities funded by pro-charter, pro-privatization interests or with pro-charter, pro-privatization leanings. (To name three: Greatschools.net, Edutopia, the Irvine Foundation.) (By the way, I did once do a freelance assignment for the Hoover Institution! But that was before I knew a thing about charter schools or privatization — in fact, doing my homework for that job was how I learned about charter schools and privatization.)
    It’s true that my husband is a substitute teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District, so my advocating for respect and support for teachers would potentially benefit him in the very, very big picture. That would be an awfully indirect and long-range impact, so I don’t think that exactly discredits my comments, though.
    Again, I think you would make your case more effectively if you backed it up with facts rather than attempting to attack my integrity.

  10. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm10/5/2010 6:42 pm

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    CarolineSF: I did not “personally attack” you. I simply pointed to your hypocrisy. If you don’t like it, don’t throw mud at others. It was you, hiding behind your anonymity, that accused Rick Hanushek of lack of integrity and being effectively a hired gun.
    Who is he paid by? What is he paid for? Can you please provide some details before throwing more mud? And can you please try to convince us that you come to this with clean hands and no financial interest before you do that?

  11. CarolineSF on Oct 5, 2010 at 1:06 pm10/5/2010 1:06 pm

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    Ze’ev Wurman, I believe that personal attacks are discouraged on this blog. In any case, they undermine your credibility — they do harm to your case, not mine.

    I didn’t address whether Eric Hanushek  is respected or not. The fact is that he is paid to speak on behalf of an organization with a strong agenda that favors “free-market solutions” and privatization. Thus, no matter how respected  he may be, his analysis is colored by his mandate to promote the Hoover Institution’s agenda.

  12. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm10/5/2010 12:13 pm

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    I see. Rick Hanushek, a world renowned researcher, the chair of the U.S. Board of Education Sciences, is “paid to speak” and hence presumably “not respected” (contrasted with “respected scientists” who support man-made global warming). So pronounced the anonymous but well-respected and well-trusted “CarolineSF” that has absolutely no ax to grind. If we were to believe her, it is only her spouse who is paid by the education system and that has nothing to do with her, despite her continuous harping of how demeaning and insufficient are teacher salaries in San Francisco. Ahem. …

  13. CarolineSF on Oct 5, 2010 at 9:55 am10/5/2010 9:55 am

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    My view is that “An Inconvenient Truth” documented the points made by Al Gore in HIS crusade to fight global warming, rather than being a platform for Guggenheim to promote his own views. Gore was the source of — or rather the conduit — for the information, as opposed to Guggenheim’s having any role in interpreting it. To be fair, I should see “AIT” again to determine whether I’m recalling accurately.
    In addition, mainstream, respected scientists agree that the case made by Gore is accurate.
    By contrast, “Waiting for Superman” is Guggenheim’s OWN interpretation of the education ref0rm landscape (something he admits he’s unqualified to interpret, before launching into interpreting it — go figure…). He then applies his considerable filmmaking skills to creating a vehicle for promoting his own simplistic, uncomprehending and unfair interpretation.
    And the only statisticians and education researchers I’m aware of who support Guggenheim’s general philosophy (teachers bad, charters good) are those who are paid to speak for pro-privatization advocacy organizations. I’m thinking — having seen him speak last week — of Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution. (To be clear, what I saw Hanushek defending — albeit lukewarmly — was the L.A. Times “Grading the Teachers” project, not WFS.)

  14. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 4, 2010 at 11:30 pm10/4/2010 11:30 pm

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    I have seen the movie tonight, and don’t really feel I have much to add on the issue of education.  But watching it, I was reminded of the Murray Gel-Mann amnesia effect (http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2006/10/wet-streets-cause-rain.html ).
    Many commentators here complain that Guggenheim misconstrued and misrepresented a lot and, as a result, worry that the general public may end up with incorrect understanding of the problem. How many of you have reconsidered your position on man-made global warming? Just curious. :-)

  15. Fred Mindlin on Oct 4, 2010 at 10:03 pm10/4/2010 10:03 pm

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    Perhaps what’s called for is a festival, with “Race to Nowhere” and Krista Tippett’s interview with Adele Diamond as companion pieces to this piece of pro-charter propaganda. It’s essential to remember that “charter” is not an “educational” but an administrative reform, with no curricular or pedagogical content. Most teachers could organize their instruction themselves, collaboratively, to be student-centered, project-based, meaningful, and relevant; we would have curriculum that is context-embedded, inquiry-driven, and socially negotiated. It’s politicians and bureaucrats who keep this from happening, and I don’t see the discussion emerging from such a negative portrayal of teachers as presented in this movie helping to lead us to re-empowering teachers, which is the only educational reform that will will ever last (small class sizes and adequate funding would help a lot, though…).

    Fred Mindlin
    Associate Director for Technology Integration, Central California Writing Project
    “Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.” — John Holt

  16. CarolineSF on Oct 4, 2010 at 8:25 pm10/4/2010 8:25 pm

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    Thanks, John. And am I correct, that Guggenheim never backed that up or even mentioned it again? Does anyone know of any credible reformers who agree that the problem of failing neighborhoods can be blamed on failing schools? If the “failing school” in any given failing neighborhood simply closed up and went away (say the kids were all bused out to schools elsewhere), would the failing neighborhood begin succeeding? Discuss among yourselves.
    Why the current fad is to voice malice and hostility against teachers is a mystery. When it comes up, those engaging in it hasten to insist that they respect teachers and just hate teachers’ unions, but in actuality we can see teachers being disparaged all the time. Take a look at Caille Millner’s column about WFS on today’s Chronicle editorial page, for example. None of her teachers believed in her.

  17. Jeff Camp on Oct 4, 2010 at 6:15 pm10/4/2010 6:15 pm

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    By the end of a long string of comments it is easy to forget the original main points, so I will reiterate them.
    1) Those who care about ed reform should see this important movie, and encourage others to see it.  The movie is especially valuable when viewed and discussed with people of diverse perspectives.
    2) The movie is a good vehicle to drive substantive conversation (like this comment thread) about what it would take to provide all children with a great education.  The movie features a hand-picked set of charter schools with extraordinary resources.
    3) The movie presents teacher unions in the role of villain.  Union leaders, understandably, resent this apportionment of blame, which seems to imply that the unions are responsible for problems that largely lie beyond their scope of control.
    4) Some have condemned the movie, even calling for a boycott.  This call for a boycott is petulant, and misses the point:  this movie is a valuable opportunity for dialogue.

  18. CarolineSF on Oct 4, 2010 at 2:56 pm10/4/2010 2:56 pm

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    Ze’ev Wurman, the data about attrition in charter schools is (or “are” depending on your grammatical precision level) available. There just hasn’t been much scrutiny. In my opinion that’s because so much of the discussion is framed by those in the charter/privatization camp, and they know those statistics aren’t likely to look good.
    I made enough of a splash researching and blogging the attrition statistics for all the California KIPP schools a few years ago that it was clear no one else in the public discussion (such as the press, though lots of ink has been devoted to KIPP) had done it. After that, SRI International released its study of the Bay Area KIPP schools, which showed that 60% of the students who enroll leave those schools; that the students who leave are overwhelmingly the lower achievers; and that the students who depart are not replaced, leaving the classes with only the top 40% of achievers. Among the questions this leaves hanging are how public school achievement would look if the lowest-achieving 60% left the schools and were not replaced.
    By the way, it’s not that clear that KIPP WON’T allow incoming transfers, though the numbers show that they aren’t taking many. So based on that, that adorable girl who “loses” the KIPP lottery just has to wait till the less successful students start heading out the door and try again. The numbers show that there’s plenty of room for her by the start of 7th grade. When I “tried” to enroll my daughter in 7th grade at KIPP SF Bay Academy (for research purposes), they allowed me to start the process (they contacted me to schedule her testing), so they clearly will accept 7th graders.

  19. CarolineSF on Oct 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm10/4/2010 2:43 pm

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    My question wasn’t so much whether Woodside High has traditional tracking as whether it’s widely accepted (in education reform circles?) that tracking is a bad idea.  That’s what is clearly portrayed in WFS.
    My impression from seeing the movie, given the fact that it was clear how simplistically Guggenheim sees the issues and how forcefully he wanted to get across a nuance-free message, was that Emily Jones’ family was dubious about the regular-ed classes in her particular case, and Guggenheim chose to portray the situation as a bigger-picture “tracking is bad overall” tale. (He uses a graphic of kids on an assembly line, with a junction where  select kids are whisked to a higher level and most are dropped to a lower belt.)
    I wonder if Guggenheim will feel the same way if his kids (whose ages I don’t know) have the opportunity to pursue honors classes in their private school, and if he feels that way about AP classes.

  20. Gary Ravani on Oct 4, 2010 at 1:52 pm10/4/2010 1:52 pm

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    What’s forgotten here is that Guggenheim is a film maker. In Inconvenient Truth he took information developed by Al Gore over a number of years and crafted it into a dramatic film. Guggenheim is not an expert on the environment and neither does he know anything about education. He makes interesting info-tainment. In the case of Superman, it’s melodramatic info-tainment. Superman is all about show-biz.

    Carolyn notes, above, that the charter schools Guggenheim feature all have substantial donations from private sector foundations to do what they do. In HCZ it runs to tens of millions. What could the average neighborhood school do with a million or so tossed into their general fund dollars? Lower class sizes, hire more specialists, librarians, nurses, and counselors is what. All shown to be the real tickets to increased student learning. And the chance the average school will get those resources? Zilch. “Money alone,” after all, won’t solve the problems of the schools. This said over and over again by the same people who dump money by the bucket-full on the charters.

    It is probable that this is Guggenheim’s “jump the shark” moment. Taken from the TV show Happy Days, it was an incident where tough-guy character, “The Fonz,” jumps over a great-white on water-skis wearing his trademark leather jacket. In show-biz it marked the point where creativity peaked and then headed downhill. There may be no business like show business but it has no place in in serious discussions of the “savage inequalites” that plague schools in struggling communities.

  21. Paul Muench on Oct 4, 2010 at 1:34 pm10/4/2010 1:34 pm

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    For all the passions the film has stirred I just thought it would appropriate to highlight a message from the movie’s website:
    Q: What’s the biggest challenge to children getting a quality education?
    A: Tribal warfare. Whenever you bring up problems in public education, people immediately track into their tribe. There’s the charter school tribe, for example. And then there’s the union tribe. Then there’s the “because I run a business, I can run schools” tribe. And the academic tribe. The problem is, we’re all so blinded by our own defensiveness that we can’t even see when people in other tribes have the same outlook. How do you find the common good we all believe in? We have to come together to fix this problem.
    Taken from here:  http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/action/people-page/what-parents-can-do

  22. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 4, 2010 at 1:18 pm10/4/2010 1:18 pm

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    I expect to see the movie today so I will defer most of my comments till thereafter. Still, I feel that a couple of comments already are in order.
    1. Regarding attrition rates in some charter schools I agree that we need more data. Having said that, even if we accept 70% attrition (which I highly doubt is indicative of charters) that gives 1 in 3 chance of going to college to those who win the charter lottery. This is a much higher chance than in a typical inner city school where it is probably less than 1 in 10.
    2. Regarding the unions just “make[ing] sure they receive due process,” it seems to me that Mr. Boyd conveniently forgets that the unions essentially defined that “due process” and they make it more and more onerous with every contract renewal. So we end up with a competition to decide which does it take longer — to execute a criminal for a capital offense in this state, or to fire a teacher for cause. Both processes are broken.

  23. Harold Boyd Jr on Oct 4, 2010 at 11:40 am10/4/2010 11:40 am

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    I have not seen the movie. I probably don’t need to because I know the road to where this movie leads.  Why are the unions constantly under attack as protecting bad teachers?  Unions do not hire or fire teachers. All we can do in the case of a “bad teacher” is to make sure they receive due process and if they are found to be inadequate we hold their hands and out the door they go.  Our problem has always been administrators who want to take the short cut– who do not want due process because they have not done their job in evaluating the teachers they over see in their school.  Yet unions get blamed for protecting bad teachers.
    The union does not want bad teachers! But when that person is being dismissed without any facts to support the action we provide due process by representing that teacher to the best of our abilitly.  A person would not go to court with out an attorney in situations that could destroy their future and their ability to earn a living.  Let’s make administration accountable!

    And while we are on this accountable kick what about parents?  Parenting is no longer voluntary!  There was a time when couples were married, had children and felt a sense of responsibility to guide those children down the right path to being successful whether they went to college or not. Part of that effort was parents working with the teachers.  

    All aspects of education have been reformed at one time or another: curriculums,teacher education,administration, and even school boards.  I remember changes such as open class rooms,rennisance schools, year round schools, school after school, to name a few.  WE HAVE NEVER REFORMED PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS!  Catholic Schools, Charter Schools, and Private Schools have the appearance of over all success because the PARENTS ARE REQUIRED TO BE IN THE SCHOOLS.  When parents don’t show up the children of those parents may not be in the school very long.  WE MUST DEVISE A WAY(S) THAT MAKE IT MANDATORY FOR PARENTS OF PUBLIC SCHOOL CHILDREN TO BE IN THE SCHOOLS– AND HAVE CONSEQUENCES IF THEY ARE NOT.  If this happened there would be a vast improvement in our public schools!  Is any body listening?

  24. CarolineSF on Oct 4, 2010 at 9:28 am10/4/2010 9:28 am

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    I HAVE seen the movie. If it’s “petulant” to object to dishonest propaganda and attacks that disparage the entire teaching profession and that promote contempt and disrespect for public education and for all teachers, then every thoughtful and informed viewer of this film should be “petulant” and “resentful.”
    It’s Mr. Camp’s defensiveness (clearly the widespread objections to the film’s oversimplications and falsehoods have made some impact) that “misses the larger point.”
    I seem to be the attrition maven these days, so I’ll amplify on David B. Cohen’s comments, as I already have elsewhere in comments on this forum. Repeating myself:
    — The Los Angeles KIPP school portrayed in the film has more than 50% of its 6th graders depart the school by the BEGINNING of grade 8 (info is not publicly available on how many FINISH grade 8). That means that each KIPP student entering the school is more likely to leave before finishing grade 8 than to finish and go on to college. (Source: My own research using the California Department of Education’s Dataquest function.)
    — The SEED School portrayed in the film expels 70% of its students between enrollment and graduation. (Source: a New York Times magazine profile of the school.) Thus the young man shown as joyfully entering the school has a much greater chance of being kicked out than of graduating.
    — I don’t know how to research overall attrition rates for Promise Academy, Geoff Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone charter school; but Paul Tough’s book about the HCZ describes Canada’s expelling virtually the entire 8th grade a couple of years ago, according to reviews of Tough’s book. So that indicates that admitted students are at fairly high risk of being kicked out.
    At the SEED school and at the KIPP school, students who depart are not replaced. I don’t have that information about Promise Academy.
    The high attrition/expulsion rates are just one example of  a big piece of the story that Guggenheim’s film ignores (as does what Washington Post education reporter/blogger Valerie Strauss describes as the “fawning” press coverage).
    I also would like to see some exploration of the notion, promoted by Guggenheim in his portrayal of Woodside High School, that tracking is an obsolete practice that benefits only the high-testing students on the high tracks, and condemns others (including students who are learning but simply don’t test well) to failure.  John, what’s your take?
    Also, here’s one head-spinning claim made by Guggenheim in the film that I think calls for some explanation. Narrating, Guggenheim makes a ringing statement that I have to paraphrase, since I wasn’t taking notes: It used to be believed that poverty was the factor that led to “failing schools,” but now it’s understood that it’s bad schools that cause poverty.
    The usual format for this kind of documentary is: Narrator makes statement, then presents scenes or interview that illustrate and support the statement. But in this case, there is no backup or further reference to Guggenheim’s startling statement. He immediately cuts to an interview with a prison official about the high cost of prison. Is he trying to get the viewer to believe that the points made by the prison official support his startling statement? If so, that’s even more dishonest than the rest of the movie, because they simply don’t. Or did Guggenheim just screw up and make an unsupported statement, and decide to let it hang there unsupported? Comments? Mr. Camp? John?


    • John Fensterwald - Educated Guess on Oct 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm10/4/2010 1:49 pm

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      I have seen the movie twice and plan to comment on it soon. Safe to say, I strongly disagree with Mr. Boyd.
      As for your questions, Caroline, I don’t know enough about Woodside High to comment on whether there is traditional “tracking.” I have twice heard the principal interviewed but not directly address the issue. Emily Jones, the girl in the movie from Redwood City, and her mother certainly believed they would experience it. I interviewed both of them last week and will post the video later this month (after Tom Torlakson gets equal time with Larry Aceves). Emily has two brothers who graduated from Woodside, so Ann spoke from experience. Emily, who comes across as articulate and mature, said she doesn’t test well. She and Ann were convinced that she would be directed away from AP and some A-G courses that everyone at Summit is required to take. The video is worth watching.
      Davis Guggenheim’s quote caught my attention as well, though I would want the precise wording. On its face, it is absurd to say that bad schools cause bad neighborhoods, with deep problems of poverty, unemployment and crime. But a principle of the Harlem Children’s Zone is that a neighborhood transformation can start with a school, with services radiating out from it like spokes of a wheel. And the culture of a school that includes engaging parents can be transformational. It’s also not cheap. HCZ spends tens of millions of dollars on after-school services, health clinics, “Baby College,” counseling. The school is the hub of a huge effort to break inter-generational poverty.

      • John Fensterwald - Educated Guess on Oct 4, 2010 at 5:12 pm10/4/2010 5:12 pm

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        Here is the exact quote from the movie that Caroline referred to: “For generations, experts tended to blame failing schools on failing neighborhoods. But reformers have begun to believe the opposite—that the problems of failing neighborhoods might be blamed on failing schools.”

  25. David B. Cohen on Oct 4, 2010 at 12:11 am10/4/2010 12:11 am

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    I’ll admit up front, I haven’t seen the movie yet.  Credit Mr. Camp with voicing the questions that critics of the film are asking, but I do wonder at Mr. Camp’s use of the term “petulance” – which suggests childishness and sulking.  Typical of the paternalistic tone found among many education reformers these days.  The objections being voiced about the film are coming from seasoned professionals in all parts of education, scholars, and concerned citizens who sense an agenda at work here with “Superman” and its attendant publicity (Oprah, NBC), orchestrated by billionaires and their “philanthropic” foundations.  I put that term in quotation marks as it hardly seems philanthropic to use huge sums of cash to essentially buy the changes you seek in  public institutions that are supposed to be governed by elected trustees.  Additionally, Mr. Camp offers up the assumption that the “winners” of the lottery will almost certainly go to college.  Whether the assumption is the film’s or his own, it should be put into a broader context regarding charter schools.  Maybe the film picked the finest, but to the extent that it promotes charters more broadly, it neglects to inform its audience (or so I hear) that charter schools do not, as a collective, outperform traditional public schools.  Furthermore, some of the most “successful” charters have high attrition rates.  It might be true in these particular charter schools that those who graduate will most likely attend college, but at some charters (KIPP schools are the ones widely reported about), the attrition rates are in the neighborhood of 50% – hardly the guaranteed education WfS and/or Mr. Camp would suggest.

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