Waiting for Superman: A Documentary Film
Waiting for Superman
Waiting for Superman is a documentary about the schools in the United States. The filmmaker is a liberal who felt guilty about sending his child to a private school, since liberals are staunch supporters of public school teachers unions.
Truth be told, the majority of liberals who can afford private schools send their children to them, while voicing the greatness of the public school system for everybody else. Our filmmaker decided to investigate the schools because he wasn't sure why he didn't trust the public schools with his own child, or if his wariness of them was well-founded.
The result is Waiting for Superman, an extraordinary experience for the viewer. As a side bar, the first scene shows an elementary teacher asking children for a good example of early environmentalism, caring for the earth. The correct answer, the one that brings praise gushing forth from the teacher, is "the white settlers polluted the land and the Native Americans cleaned up their mess."
Is Money the Problem?
In a word: No. Since 1971, public schools have increased their spending per student by more than double—in constant dollars. But the public schools have not only shown no improvement, results have gotten worse.
Among 8th graders, only 21 percent are proficient at grade level in math; only 27.5 percent proficient in reading. 2,000 high schools in the nation—8 percent of all of them—are described as nothing more than dropout factories.
The worst schools in the United States? In our nation's capital, of course. Washington, D.C., is also the system with the most minority students and the most progressive city government. Grade point averages in DC drop two whole points between 5th and 7th grade.
The Worst School in the Country
Waiting for Superman highlights one 97 block area served by a Los Angeles High School with the highest dropout rate in the country. In the last 40 years, 20,000 have graduated high school in this area while 40,000 dropped out. Most drop out before the 10th grade.
These kids enter into high school reading at a 2nd grade level on average. Improper English is encouraged: "Let me axe you sumptin';" "I cries when I sees it," "He be shootin' good today." Black teachers see this as thumbing the nose at the white power system in America—a good thing.
The area is full of young people with no education, no diploma, no skills, and no aspirations. School is not considered important.
Then consider that 68 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts. And it costs society (taxpayers) $33,000 a year to house, guard, and feed them. For that same amount of money—based on an average prison term of four years—each of them could have attended private schools for 13 years (@$8300 per year). Why don't we do that? The teachers unions—and their lackeys, progressive legislators— won't allow it.
Are All Teachers Equal?
Waiting for Superman claims that a bad teacher can set back a student an entire year. A good teacher will teach 150 percent of the curriculum during a year, but a bad teacher will only get through 50 percent of the curriculum.
Students with high performing teachers learn three times as much in a school year but both teachers get paid the same. They get paid equally as a sop to Marxism, the prevailing ideology of the teachers unions.
In 1991, a public school classroom in Milwaukee was secretly videotaped by a student. It shows the kids shooting craps during class, while the teacher reads the newspaper. After this hit the news, the principle decided to fire the teacher. He was soon forced to rehire him by the teachers union, with back pay.
The teacher was guaranteed a job for life and could not be fired under the collective bargaining contract. "Collective" was a favorite word of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
The Teachers Unions
The teachers unions are the largest political campaign contributors in the United States. They donated 55 million dollars in the last election, over 90 percent of it to candidates of the Democratic Party.
In other words, all Americans of all political persuasions pay the teacher salaries, out of which are deducted union dues that only support one political party. It must be great to have your campaigns financed by your political enemies.
It is widely felt that the biggest obstacle to improving schools is the teachers unions. They will not allow schools to distinguish between teachers, except by seniority. Great teachers can in no wise be rewarded. All comrades must be paid the same. Anybody with any sense knows this is a disincentive to hard work.
Where Do the Lazy, Crummy Teachers Go?
Waiting for Superman reveals something known in the public schools as the "Dance of the Lemons;" also called "Pass the Trash," and "The Turkey Trot." Principals have teachers who are known to everybody to be "lemons" (a defective teacher) but there is no "lemon law" for teachers. Quite the opposite, they can't be fired. All that can be done with them is to pass them on to another school. So, principals trade lemons, "I'll take yours, if you'll take mine."
Some districts put their lousy teachers in "rubber rooms." This means that they sit and do nothing all day while drawing full salary. Even though the taxpayers must pay them, it is better not to have them in a classroom. The process of firing a teacher takes three years, even for gross sexual violations, snorting cocaine in the classroom, sleeping through class, or missing 74 days of work.
Taxpayers Foot the Bill but Have No Say
Teachers in New York City alone are paid $100,000,000 for doing nothing because they are a danger to students but can't be fired. This is the true purpose of unions: to protect the worst employees. No star employee needs a union in any field. On the contrary, she is feted and fought over by competitors.
One study mentioned shows that if the worst 10 percent of teachers were fired tomorrow, America would have public schools second to none in the world the next day—but teachers unions won't allow it. In Illinois, out of 876 school districts only 61 have ever tried to fire a teacher. 38 were successful.
One out of 57 doctors in America lost their license last year. One out of every 97 lawyers was disbarred last year. Only one out of 2500 teachers lost their jobs.
Imagine if every job in America was guaranteed for life and no one could be fired. That is the Marxist dream. Professional baseball hitters could hit .100 year after year and still be guaranteed a spot on the team.
Waiting for Superman focuses on Charter Schools. Catholic Schools and other Christian Schools are not mentioned—even though they far outperform unionized public schools for half the money.
The Charter Schools featured have had successes that are jaw-dropping. They only have room for so many children and must conduct public lotteries among applicants. Harlem Success Academy had 790 applicants and 42 slots. Many Charter Schools insist on official school uniforms for the children.
The documentary highlights reformers such as Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Parents United, The New Teacher Project, and StudentsFirst.
KIPP LA Schools sends 90 percent of its low-income graduates on to college—over four times the rate of the public schools. There are now 82 KIPP schools; all in bad neighborhoods.
There are also Seed Schools sprouting up that have been amazingly successful by removing the students from their home environment and having them live at the school—a boarding school for disadvantaged children. They allow no television or video games on campus; they hold classes seven days a week.
We know how these non-union schools achieve such incredible success, but the teachers unions say NO!
Waiting for Superman investigates the case of Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Rhee posits that the 14,000 School Boards in the United States have their hands tied by the teachers unions and a vast bureaucracy.
Michelle Rhee had made clear progress in the Public Schools of Washington, D.C., though she ran up against constant opposition from teachers unions. She sought to purge the schools of incompetent teachers and principals. Previous administrations had hired a huge number of black "teachers" just because they were black. Many did not even have the proper teaching certificates.
The Washington, D.C. schools were spending the 3rd most of any schools in the nation but only 8 percent of 8th graders could do math at grade level. The school district also had twice the national average of classroom space. Rhee closed 24 schools that were under enrolled. She also announced new programs, specifically with more Art and Music.
Michelle Rhee tried to change the way teachers were compensated. She thought the key was to get rid of tenure—a guarantee of a teaching job for life regardless of performance. She offered the teachers union $122,000 per teacher if they would relinquish lifelong tenure. They were making $74,000 at the time. Startlingly, the teachers union refused to allow their members to even vote on the package, saying "We are against it because it divides people."
Michelle Rhee was shouted down in public meetings. Waiting for Superman shows black teachers protesting her proposal with signs that say her ideas are racist. They believe they have a right to these jobs. Michelle Rhee resigned.
Waiting for Superman: Documentary Film
California colleges must accept a third of all high school graduates. 55 percent of them must have taxpayer funded remedial classes because they cannot do college level work.
Bill Gates has to hire foreign workers since he cannot find enough intelligent Americans who can do the work he requires.
Once upon a time parents would pay high mortgages just to live near good schools. Social Engineering called Busing largely put an end to that. Schools got worse.
Have American Schools Always Been Pitiful?
America had the best Public Schools in the world, and the brightest children, until the 1970s. Ten Presidents and 100 Nobel Prize Winners graduated from Public Schools in the United States.
Today, our schools are 25th in math, 21st in science, and 23rd overall out of 29 advanced countries. Tellingly, on an international math test American high school students finished last but the test included the question, "How well do you think you performed?" and on that question the American students were first. The "self-esteem" movement has created kids who think they are first when they are last.
What changed in the 1970s? Having attended public schools, and having had three children graduate from public school decades after me, I can tell you the answer to that question. When I went to public schools, the focus was on English, Math, Science, History, Vocational Classes, and Physical Fitness. The focus today is on Multiculturalism, Tolerance, Social Justice, Inclusiveness, and Political Correctness. It is on implanting "right-thoughts" as perceived by Radical Progressives who run the teachers unions and the schools—not on learning.