Monday, May 10, 2010

Waiting for Superman- A New Documentary and a New Genre

The film "Waiting for Superman" is another in a series of documentaries detailing the apparent failings of the current educational system. We need to be careful and thoughtful about the underlying message about such movies but it is clear that there is both an audience for this new genre as well as a chord that it is striking with a significant and non-trival portion of people. These films are largely anti-union, pro charter and often see de-regulation as an answer to the "problem" of public education. Furthermore, they often highlight a few shinning examples (self selection bias) and hold them up as examples of what "could be done"- it's a technique and it's very effective. What is not so readily depicted is that in states that have strong unions, you have the highest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and the latest peer reviewed research shows that students of charter schools do no better and largely do less well than peer public schools. Nonetheless, I think this is a well made documentary and can be both thought provoking as well as educational if used in a critical manner. -Dr. Petrosino.

For a nation that proudly declared it would leave no child behind, America continues to do so at alarming rates. Despite increased spending and politicians’ promises, our buckling public-education system, once the best in the world, routinely forsakes the education of millions of children.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.

However, embracing the belief that good teachers make good schools, and ultimately questioning the role of unions in maintaining the status quo, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools that have—in reshaping the culture—refused to leave their students behind.

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