It is so sad to see hundreds of families lined up at these essentially private schools with a public charter cover, praying to get in. Who wouldn't want to get in? Families are paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners' names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces.
After dismissing funding as a factor, Superman rolls out the drum-beat of attacks on teachers as the first and really the only problem. Except for a few patronizing pats on the head for educators, the film describes school failure as boiling down to bad teachers. Relying on old clichés that single out the handful of loser teachers anyone could dig up, Waiting for Superman asserts that the unions are the boogey man. In his perfect world, there would be no unions -- we could drive teacher wages even lower, run schools like little corporations, and race to the bottom just as we have in the manufacturing sector. Imagining that the profit motive works best, the privatizers propose merit pay for teachers whose students test well. Such a scheme would only lead to adult cheating (which has already started), to well-connected teachers packing their classes with privileged kids, and to an undermining of the very essence of effective schools -- collaboration between teachers, generous community building with students.
It is interesting to note that Arne Duncan's kids, as well as the Obama kids, attended the University of Chicago Lab Schools -- where teachers had small classes, good pay, and, yes, a union. Students did not concentrate on rote learning and mindless drill and skill or test prep. They were offered in part an exploratory, questioning curriculum. The school for the Obama kids in D.C., Sidwell Friends, also has a unionized faculty. But apparently the masses need to have sweatshop schools. Waiting for Superman sets up AFT president Randi Weingarten as its Darth Vader -- accompanying her appearance on the screen with dire background music. They tell us that the teachers unions have put $50 million into election campaigns over the last ten years, essentially buying politicians. Actually, this number is a pittance compared to what corporations and the rich throw in. It is less than Meg Whitman spent of her own money in one run for governor of California. But the film carefully avoids interviewing Diane Ravitch, the lead organizer of the Education Trust and No Child Left Behind efforts who has been lately writing and speaking about her realization that these reforms have had a disastrous effect on schools and teaching and learning.