Tag Archives: media

MOVIE REVIEW: August to June

What exactly is a ‘regular public school,’ as opposed to a charter school? Is there such a thing? For that matter, is there a ‘typical’ charter school?

“Waiting for Superman” paints a flattering but false picture of charter schools. About 5,000 charter schools are now operating, with an enrollment of about 1.5 million students, but one reliable study indicates that only17% of charter schools outperform regular public schools, while 37% significantly under-perform their public counterparts. So there clearly is no ‘typical’ charter school that will save education.

“Waiting for Superman” also uses its broad brush to paint ‘regular’ public schools as ineffective and hamstrung by union rules. How accurate is that? Is there such a thing as a ‘typical’ regular public school?

The question is rhetorical, of course. America has nearly 100,000 public schools, 95,000 of which are not chartered. And they run the gamut, from disgraceful ‘dropout factories’ to stellar magnet schools to ‘ordinary’ schools that outshine even fancy and expensive private schools. (See our portrait of Mt. Vernon Elementary, for example).

Because over 90% of our students go to something other than a charter school, salvation (if that’s what we are pursuing) must be found elsewhere.

We are working now on a piece for the PBS NewsHour about entire districts that seem to have figured out how to educate nearly all of their children. And there are ‘models’ and ‘approaches’ that work, like E.D. Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” schools and “Community Schools.” Stay tuned for that.

But I want to tell you about one particular public school, the subject of a lovely film, “August to June.”

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MOVIE REVIEW: Waiting for Superman

Note: I hesitated to review Waiting for Superman because of our dispute with Mr. Guggenheim about our PBS NewsHour footage, but that dispute was resolved (there’s no truth to the rumor that I threatened to picket the Hollywood opening in my skivvies). It’s an important film about education, a subject I have been reporting on for 35 years, and those two facts outweigh the other consideration.

There’s much to admire about Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim’s new film about public education. He and his colleagues know how to tell a story, the graphics are sensational, and some of the characters—notably Geoff Canada—just jump off the screen.

And I hope it does well at the box office, because that would demonstrate that a significant number of us care enough about education to spend a few bucks to see a documentary about it.

That said, the film strikes me as a mishmash of contradictions and unsupportable generalizations, even half-truths. And while it may make for box office, its message is oversimplified to the point of being insulting.

I realize that I am swimming against the stream on this, given that the movie has been glowingly reviewed by Tom Friedman in the New York Times and others, but please hear me out.

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