New film calls for reforms that challenge the education bureaucracy
“I thought there was no one with enough power to save us… I was waiting for Superman,” laments Geoffrey Canada. Now an education leader and prominent character in the new Davis Guggenheim film, Canada’s dire schooling experience sets the scene for a look at “the short end of the stick” that young Americans have been getting from government schools. (Article continues below.)
On Saturday the Choice Foundation and Canal Street Theatres hosted the New Orleans premiere of “Waiting for Superman.” With New Orleans a hotbed for reform and the battle for governance of local schools in full swing, there could hardly be a more relevant film. The audience included education leaders such as Superintendent Paul Pastorek and Orleans Parish School Board member Woody Koppel, along with attendees of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools’ annual conference.
Guggenheim gained notoriety and an academy award for his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” but he began filming education issues back in 1999. At that time he documented the first year’s work of new teaching graduates in Los Angeles schools, and he hoped to “create awareness of the crisis as well as inspire the next generation to become teachers.” However, when the time came to send his own children to school, he chose the other path – independent schools. He describes this decision as counter to his egalitarian principles, and it drove him to document why one would avoid government education.
He proceeds to examine the American school system through the eyes of five ambitious young students, along with their families. The students come from different backgrounds and include one student with access to a relatively affluent government school. Their common ground is the struggle for access to education that would suit their needs, and their parents’ deep concern for their children’s long-term prospects.
In between the children’s stories and some historical background on education reform, he introduces viewers to the “drop-out factories” of America. These schools have embarrassing failure rates – even after the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 – and a stunning lack of teacher accountability. The statistics are staggering, though numbers alone only tell part of the story. One wonders what a grade six science level means when only 14 percent of Mississippi students achieve it; nor does Guggenheim address the deficiencies of standardized testing and ordinal rankings.
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Fergus Hodgson is the Capitol Bureau Reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected], and one can follow him on twitter.