Waiting for Superman makes teachers the scapegoats for our ongoing educational problems in the U.S. To the lay person, the film is appealing, and seemingly makes a good case that poor teachers are the main reason why so many children are failing. It shows statistics that allegedly illustrate how far behind we are from the rest of the world in education. Again, to the uninformed viewer, it all seems credible. However, as an inner city teacher for 20 years, I can tell you that we are not falling behind most other countries as they would like us to believe. You can't compare Finland, a country of 5 million people, to the U.S. Countries similar to ours are experiencing the same problems we are due to the increasing divorce rate, single parent households, and the lack of respect for teachers and educational institutions. The test scores from other countries, particularly Asian countries, are skewed since they are used as tracking for academic and social class for life. Hence, they go to after school "cramming classes". There is no evidence that they actually learn the material better in the long run, however. For a detailed explanation, please read Tamin Ansary's article "The Myth of America's Failing Schools." The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it is one-sided. It focuses on the unions allowing poor teachers to continue because of tenure, which I agree is wrong and must be rectified immediately. However, the film gives the viewer the impression that the majority of teachers, particularly in the inner-city are "poor" and are only there to collect a paycheck. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, I estimate that there are 5-10% "poor" teachers on the average in any school, just as there are in any profession. The vast majority (90%) in most schools are dedicated and diligent professionals who do the very best they can with the circumstances they have. Poor teachers are only a very small part of the problem. Waiting for Superman neglected two important factors that dramatically affect the success of schools and its students: parental involvement and student discipline within the school system. The parents shown in this movie were NOT the typical inner city parents. They were educated, lived in nice, clean, and well maintained apartments, and did homework with their children each night. If all parents were like them, there would be no "failing schools" discussion; this movie would never have been made. These parents were model parents -- definitely the exception and not the rule in the inner-city. Another issue ignored completely is the student discipline. Most inner -city teachers spend much more time on disciplining a few students every day than teaching the rest of the class. Only schools with strong principals and an effective system of discipline in place have a chance at any success in the inner-city. The very best schools remove habitually disruptive students sooner and place them in alternative schools. As long as there are 2-3 habitually disruptive students in a classroom, the time on task will never be that of suburban schools or any successful school. The KIPP school cited in the movie didn't simply just "extend the day" as some assume, they REQUIRED parental support and participation, much like Catholic schools do. The successful charter schools do the same. They cannot be compared to the inner-city schools that have to deal with habitually disruptive students and parents who refuse to provide the basics for their child -- clean clothes, a trip to the public library, a place at home to do their homework, limiting television and computer time, etc.. Incidentally, only the very best parents in the inner city would call the classroom teacher to REQUEST a parent-teacher conference, as shown in this documentary. I found that comical since in my 20 years of teaching not ONE parent has ever REQUESTED a parent conference. It's the other way around -- we have to try to track down parents, go to their homes, and beg them to come to conferences! The parents in this film were proactive in their child's education -- definitely not the norm in the inner city. Even the very best teacher in the country cannot successfully teach all of his/her students without adequate parental support. Case in point: Jaime Escalante, the inspiration for the movie "Stand and Deliver" (1988), was very successful at teaching inner city students calculus. He did, however, have wonderful parental support. When he moved to Sacramento several years later and taught at risk kids there, he had no such success. Why? He stated that the kids and parents didn't care as much as his kids in East Los Angeles. Education does NOT occur in a vacuum. The schools, teachers and parents must all work together. Any administrator who simply adopts the defeatist approach and states "parents can't be fixed" and refuses to make them accountable will never have a successful school. And remember this: A bad teacher only lasts 9 months, but a bad parent lasts a lifetime!
Waiting for 'Superman'
Waiting for 'Superman'
An examination of the current state of education in America today.
March 21, 2020