The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

7 Sep

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

On Friday, September 16, the New Jersey Teacher Activist Group (NJTAG) will be hosting a screening of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman at Montclair State, in University Hall, room 1010, at 5pm (second screening to be held in Newark on Sept. 23, Bradley Hall, Rutgers Newark, 5pm).  This important film was created by the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM-www.gemnyc) to challenge the claims spread by the 2010 documentary, Waiting for Superman.  

For those of you who didn’t see Waiting for Superman, educational historian Diane Ravitch provides a succinct summary of its main message, which she refers to as “the popularized version public education that is promoted by some of the nation’s most powerful figures and institutions”:

“American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit.”

GEM’s film tackles the main claims from Superman, adding a dose of reality:

Superman: The business model will improve education. 

The Inconvenient Truth: Free market business principles have taken center stage in our country’s education reform debate. Increasingly, our nation’s school districts are run, not by educators, but by lawyers and corporate executives who push accountability and competition as the way to improve education. In a competitive business system, the real needs and voices of students and educators are ignored or minimized. Instead, the focus turns to cost containment and profit. Finland’s education system, which is ironically touted in Waiting for “Superman”, does not follow this model. In Finland, class sizes are low, teacher experience is highly valued, the students are not measured by high-stakes standardized tests, and most importantly, parents, teachers and students have a voice. 

Superman: Charter schools are a silver bullet. 

The Inconvenient Truth: Charter schools are not public schools. They are defined as “education corporations,” and operate with little or no oversight. Charter schools hold lotteries for enrollment, but have the ability to counsel out students. They drastically under serve children with special needs, children who receive ELL services, children who are homeless or in foster care, and children who receive reduced and free lunch. In addition, charter schools tend to have disproportionately high student and teacher attrition rates. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, only one in five charters are more successful than their public counterparts. Charter schools are not outperforming our public schools. 

Superman: Teachers and their unions are the problem. 

The Inconvenient Truth: Teachers and their unions advocate for children and their families and for better conditions in our public schools. Tenure and seniority rights are currently under attack, however they are nothing more than due process protections that all workers should have. Without these rights, teachers could not advocate for their students. While Waiting for “Superman” claimed teachers and their unions are to blame for our country’s educational challenges, the film also held up Finland’s system as a model. Yet, in Finland, 98% of the teaching force in unionized, educators are treated as professionals and are included in the decision-making process. 

Superman: Poverty doesn’t matter. 

The Inconvenient Truth: Poverty is not an excuse; it is a reality. No matter how extraordinary an educator is, without necessary supports such as parent involvement and community and health services, the effects of poverty will have a negative impact on student achievement. Well over 20% of our nation’s children currently live in poverty. Instead of attacking educators and ignoring the needs of our children, we should be working to reduce poverty and correct the policies that reinforce it. Ignoring the effects of poverty and blaming teachers is a convenient way of doing nothing at all. 

(Source: GEMNYC)

This documentary is extremely important because it provides a counter-narrative to the immensely popular story being told nation-wide to our citizens in a systematic effort to privatize education, dismantle university-based teacher education, de-skill teachers, and expand the punitive, flawed, and expensive testing and evaluation systems in place.  After the film, a discussion will take place to dialogue about the film, our current educational issues, and suggestions for tangible alternatives to the status quo.

For more information, visit

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