Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting for "Superman" (Rhoades)

“Waiting for Superman” – The Wait Is Over

By Shirrel Rhoades

Given Key West’s issues with school superintendents, hotly contested races for the school board, and concerns for the education of our children, the new documentary “Waiting for Superman” has been eagerly awaited to make its appearance here in the Florida Keys.

Months ago former school superintendent John Padget was emailing me asking when this “exciting new film” might come to local screens. He added, “This is a very powerful film. Michelle Rhee, leader of D.C. schools, is a star in the show. She supported the mayor who appointed her, and he lost the election. Education and politics are joined at the hip. Stay tuned.”

Tropic Cinema’s George Cooper responded, “It’s on our short list, of course. But you’ll be interested to know that I saw a huge queue of inner-city youth lined up for a preview here in New York. I wondered whether they knew what they were in for.”

And now the time has arrived, with “Waiting for Superman” currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. It opens Friday night, with Monroe County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Burke on hand to introduce the film to an audience of local school administrators and teachers.

The film has received both praise and criticism as it traces the failure of public education, focusing on several students as they go through the school system.

The Wall Street Journal opined, “A stunning liberal expose of a system that consigns American children who most need a decent education to our most destructive public schools.” Forbes added, “I urge you all to drop everything and go see the documentary.”

On the other hand, blogged, “There’s much in this movie that is downright baffling." A group of New York City teachers derided the film as “complete nonsense.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, gave it a thumbs down, calling it “inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete – and misses what could have been a unique opportunity to portray the full and accurate story of our public schools.”

“Waiting for Superman” won the Audience Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Director Davis Geggenheim and producer Lesley Chilcott are perhaps best known for their documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” based on Al Gore’s view of Global Warming.

In “Waiting for Superman,” Guggenheim focuses on five school kids, ages 5 to 13. Four are of color and live in big cities – New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. One is white and lives in California’s Silicon Valley. What they have in common is trying to get out of public schools and enroll in charter schools.
“We had about twenty when we started,” says Guggenheim, “but after a day of shooting it became six or seven. A lot of it is just ability of the kids to talk about what they’re going through. Some kids are really great but they can’t and then you get a kid like Anthony who’s an open book. Same with Daisy.”

Guggenheim has identified 2,000 high schools nationwide that fail to graduate a startlingly high percentage of students – what he terms “dropout factories.” He cites the so-called Dance of the Lemons, the process of shifting bad teachers from school to school.

The film offers high marks for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, and charter schools, but has less praise for unions.

Guggenheim says, “There’s a taboo of criticizing teachers and criticizing unions because everyone holds teachers up to this high level – we know they’re the solution. But we really have been in denial about doing the hard work of really thinking about how do you develop teachers; how do you manage them; how do you assess them. And we’re just starting to do it. All of this debate is proving that we’re starting to do it.”
That’s the true accomplishment of “Waiting for Superman.” No matter what your political position, the film is helping stimulate a discussion on educational issues.
[from Solares Hill]

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