Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

January 26, 2011

“Waiting for Superman” Doesn’t Make the Cut for Acadamy Award Nomination Because of Mis-information and One-sidedness

Filed under: Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 2:17 pm

Posted 01/25/2011 By Valerie Strauss

Why Oscar snubbed ‘Superman’ — deservedly so

The documentarians who select the films for Academy Award nominations in the feature documentary category got it right: “Waiting for Superman” was not good/accurate enough to be selected.

The snub to Davis Guggenheim’s tendentious film was well-deserved, given that classic documentaries are factual and straightforward, and don’t, as did “Superman,” fake scenes for emotional impact.

Academy Award nominations are heavily political, yet this film didn’t make the cut even though President Obama called it “powerful” and welcomed to the White House the five charming students who starred in the film.

Advertising campaigns have been known to vault films into Academy contention, but not even a $2 million grant provided by the Gates Foundation to market “Superman” worked.

Though “Superman” was on the shortlist for an Academy Award in the feature documentary category, apparently the people who vote on the nominations — people who actually make documentaries — saw too many problems with “Waiting for Superman.”

And there are many, large and small.

Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Guggenheim compared schools in Finland and the United States without mentioning that Finland has a 3 percent child poverty rate and the United States has a 22 percent rate.

One scene showed a mother touring a charter school — and saying things such as, “I don’t care if we have to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning in order to get there at 7:45, then that’s what we will do” — that turned out to be staged; she already knew her son didn’t get in, according to The New York Times.

Then there was the case of one of the five students featured in the film, Emily Jones, who lives on the suburban San Francisco Peninsula and who, according to “Superman,” was desperate to escape her traditional public high school, Woodside High, where she would be doomed to mediocrity.

Except that it wasn’t true. In an interview with John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, she said that Woodside “is a great school” that she really liked; she just liked Summit Prep Charter School better.

Late last year, in a piece on Movie Line’s Web site, editor S.T. VanAirsdale asked whether education historian Diane Ravitch’s scathing review of Superman in The New York Review of Books would derail the movie’s chances of nabbing an Oscar.

Just maybe it did.And maybe this will help persuade those who believed that “Superman” unflinchingly showed reality that, in fact, it didn’t, and that it is time to take a new look at public education that doesn’t demonize teachers and traditional public schools.
(For the record, the films that did get nominations in the feature documentary category are: Exit through the Gift Shop,Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo and Waste Land.)
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December 30, 2010

More on “Waiting for Superman”

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 7:35 pm

Waiting For SuperFraud

by teacherken

Thu Dec 30, 2010

Yep, that title is a play on that of the infamous and intellectually dishonest film “Waiting for Superman” by Davis Guggenheim.

I wish I could take credit for it.

I can’t.  It was coined by Michael T. Martin, an analyst for the Arizona School Board Association, whom I know from a number of educational lists, and who is known to lurk here – he periodically emails me directly with responses to things I have posted here.

Someone had posted on another, not particularly highly visible, website the contents of something Michael had put out under this title.

So I asked him about my crossposting it here.  His response was short and to the point:  Have at it.

So below the fold you will read his entire composition, and perhaps a few additional thoughts of my own, which since I am posting this diary seems appropriate.

Waiting For SuperFraud
By Michael T. Martin

Public schools have to fail. There is no alternative. So give up trying to argue otherwise with facts and logic.

The mockumentary Waiting For Superman made this clear. Funded by millionaires, the movie told the story of some privatized schools in Harlem portrayed as saviors of children otherwise condemned to public schools. Privatized schools mostly funded by hedge fund millionaires on Wall Street. They spent two million dollars to promote the film nationally. Another major film titled “The Lottery” told a similar tale: children in Harlem desperate to escape public schools. Funded by more millionaires.

(more…)

November 22, 2010

Teachers give ‘Superman’ director an earful

Filed under: Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 5:08 pm
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by educator Anthony Cody. After 18 years as a science teacher in inner-city Oakland, he now works with a team of experienced science teacher-coaches who support the many novice teachers in his school district. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This appeared on his Teachers Magazine blog, Living in Dialogue.
By Anthony Cody
Waiting for Superman director Davis Guggenheim has fulsome praise for teachers, and on Huffington Post this week he has asked for our feedback. He writes:
“Teachers live it everyday so they get it — the good and the bad. And I am moved by all the reactions: the emotion, the criticism, the longing to help the kids in my documentary.”
So far, Guggenheim is the one who has been getting it. And the feedback teachers have posted thus far spans the spectrum from critical to blistering.
It is fascinating to follow this process. I watched (and wrote) when Waiting for Superman was introduced to the public through two Oprah shows, and a $2 million promotional campaign underwritten by the Gates Foundation. I watched (and wrote again) that very special week when NBC news lavished airtime on schools in their Education Nation programming, where Guggenheim and his celluloid heroes Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada were toasted by billionaires for their courage. The voices of teachers occasionally peeped up unbidden, but were largely ignored.
In the realm of corporate-sponsored galas and conferences of grant recipients, I am sure Guggenheim remains the toast of the town. He is finding that teachers have an independent voice, however, and while we may not have much access when NBC runs the show, we are capable of typing in a little box and hitting the submit button.
Here are a few of the comments his post has received:
Amy Valens, who has created her OWN wonderful documentary, August to June, about what a great school looks like, writes:
“What makes those charters better, and which changes are applicable to other schools–public or otherwise? Certainly showing teachers as people who pour knowledge into kids heads doesn’t forward the conversation, nor does fear mongering with out of context statistics. With the opportunity to introduce little-heard voices with positive ideas, instead you relied on the same folks that the Business Roundtable has been trotting out through the media for years.”
Shanee Garner writes:
“We don’t need a documentary about public education without a single public education teacher. I expected a more nuanced view of education you know, where, you look at the factors that cause failing schools such as poverty, inequitable funding, harsh government guidelines, zero tolerance policies. Not some union bashing and teacher scapegoating nonsense.”
Glynis Cooney:
“I am no fan of the teachers’ unions, but in the current climate of anti-teacher and anti-(non charter) public school that you helped fuel, I fear what my job will look like next year without them. Since your film failed to show all the private donations that aided the profiled schools successes, there are reinvigorated claims that we are overfunded and wasting tax-payer funds.”
TeacherSabrina:
“This film was a wasted opportunity. How could you make an entire film about the problems in so-called “failing” schools, and never actually visit or interview anyone within them? And how could you rely on the “expert” analysis of people who have never taught or studied education, let alone tried to understand the issues facing struggling schools? Several of your “experts” are ideologues who are deeply invested in undermining public education. That would be like re-making An Inconvenient Truth, leaving out all of the findings of climatologists who have spent their lives studying climate change, and giving over the majority of the film to people who think climate change is a myth.”
Johnthompson:
“Superman is being used to attack due process in our state and the Republicans will probably make teaching an at-will job. Then, all you will have in inner city classrooms will be long-term subs and incompetents who nobody else will hire. Superman is being used to argue that kids don’t need expensive socio-emotional supports, just more test prep and standardized testing to fire teachers. I’ve had more than forty students who have killed someone or died violently. Superman is being used to show that all we need to overcome urban pathologies is high expectations. Superman is feeding the civil war between progressives….
Traceydouglas writes:

“Given the funding sources for your film, I find it hard to believe your movie is anything but a slick propaganda piece for privatization via charter schools. I would suggest you are being disingenuous to suggest otherwise.”
,,, Out of 52 comments posted [at the time Cody wrote his article], there has been ONE person who has posted a positive comment and guess what? She wants his help to promote a for-profit education business.
Several people have also indicated their comments were filtered out by a moderator.
Thus far, Davis Guggenheim has not responded.
-0-
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November 1, 2010

Ravitch on how wrong ‘Superman’ really is

Filed under: Education Policy,Testing Issues,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 11:28 am
This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch on her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website.
Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

Dear Deborah,
I reviewed “Waiting for ‘Superman’” for The New York Review of Books. I thought the movie was very slick, very professional, and very propagandistic. It is one-sided and very contemptuous of public education. Notably, the film portrayed not a single successful regular public school, and its heroic institutions were all charter schools.
There are many inaccuracies in the movie.
One that I describe in my review is Davis Guggenheim’s claim that 70 percent of 8th grade students read “below grade level.” He has a graphic where state after state is shown to have only a small proportion of students reading “on grade level” or “proficient.” The numbers are based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
But Guggenheim is wrong. NAEP doesn’t report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does he understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP’s “proficiency” level really is. To score below “proficient” on NAEP does NOT mean “below grade level.”
NAEP has four achievement levels.
The top level is called “advanced,” which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are “advanced” probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.
Then comes “proficient,” which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below “proficient” cannot read at “grade level.” He is wrong.
The third level is “basic.” These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP’s “basic” as their own definition of “proficient.” This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be “A” students.
“Below basic” is the category that appears to be what Guggenheim means by his reference to “below grade level.” But in 8th grade reading, 25 percent of students are below basic, not 70 percent\
\If Guggenheim knew what he was talking about, he might have said that 70 percent of 8th grade students were unable to score the equivalent of an A, but that would not be an alarming figure. It would not be a very dramatic story had he said, in sonorous tones, “25 percent of our 8th grade students are ‘below basic’ in reading, and that figure includes students who are learning English and students with disabilities.”
(more…)

Waiting for sanity in education reform

Filed under: Education Policy,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 11:23 am
By George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and executive director of the non-profit Forum for Education and Democracy, a collaboration of educators from around the country.
This fall brought not only the start of another school year but plenty of noise about schools as well. A movie, a manifesto, and a mayoral election in Washington D.C. all amplified the ongoing debate about who the real education reformers are. Noise and more noise.
Thank goodness for the sane voices that arose in the midst of all this. There is Diane Ravitch with her continued campaign that brings us back to what is really at stake when filmmakers try to bend public opinion. And Mike Rose, always close to the ground, reminding us of what school reform really involves.
Now comes the news that, in light of whatever is going to happen on Nov. 2nd, the Obama administration is looking for ways to work with the next Congress and has targeted, among other things, No Child Left Behind.
Yikes.
With the level of animosity and acrimony currently filling the airways it is hard to imagine that Congress and the president will do anything together, let alone the long overdue overhaul of NCLB. I worry about the common ground they might actually reach: grading teachers by student tests scores, breaking unions, putting every kid in a charter school. None of these strategies has been proven as a recipe for the schools our children need and our communities deserve, but lack of evidence has never stopped us before.
With all of this in mind I have decided to trek off to Washington this weekend and join Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Why? Because I want to talk to some folks and see if they might accept a few basic principles around what it would take to shore up our public school system. I want to see if they are willing to take seriously the Jeffersonian ideal that public education is vital to a healthy democracy, and the notion that now, as much as any time in our history, we need such a system of public schools.
I haven’t been invited to speak at the rally, but if Stewart calls, here is what I might say:
“America’s public schools are a national treasure and it is past time that we started treating them as such. Every one of you here today probably has a schoolteacher to thank for the fact that you can read, add, and think rationally. A teacher who opened your mind to new ideas, who helped you speak that mind and listen when others spoke theirs. It’s a great system, and it opens its doors to every kid no matter their race or nationality, no matter what language they speak or if they can speak at all, no matter rich or poor, motivated or not, whole or impaired.
“We have spent too much time the blaming our schools for all that ails us. Sure schools could do better—but so could the banks, big business, and Congress. Schools, our teachers, and our kids, are not responsible for the economic strains our nation feels; or for the loosening bonds that threaten the civil discourse our republic requires. They are, however, part of the solution to these threats to our social security. But only if we come together on a few things in the name of a saner approach to making sure every kid has a good public school to attend.
First, we have to admit that as much as schools can do, they can’t do it alone. It is hard for a child who is homeless, hungry, or in pain to heed the lessons of her teacher. America should, as part of education policy, work to see that every child is safe and secure, has good medical care, a roof over her head, and food in her stomach.
“Second, we must all admit that there is no doing a good school system on the cheap. America is 14th among the 16 industrialized nations in how much we spend on our kids’ education. But it is not just how much we spend, it is where we spend it. In the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that considers all of what it takes to raise a child, the charter schools are spending one-third more than the public schools in the city, and they still are struggling.“This is not a condemnation of that important work—it just means we should admit that we are going to have to invest heavily and in a targeted way if we want our schools to work for all our kids.
“Third, over 90% of our schools are good old regular public schools—not a charter or a choice, just where kids go to school. If we are serious about every child having a good school, it won’t be by creating a few fancy alternative schools. It will be by improving all of our schools.
“Fourth, we already know what works. All our schools–charters, magnets, public–have had successes, but we don’t seem to learn from them. Successful schools are places filled with good teachers who are well supported, where strong connections are built with students and families, where kids do real work not just read textbooks or listen to lectures, and where kids are evaluated by what they can do not by what test question they can answer. They also are places not segregated by social class.
“So what would a sane person, perchance a sane Congress, do to help and support our kids and schools? Hate to be simplistic, but here you go—We have to shore up our safety net for all kids to have access to health care, food, and shelter; use federal resources to get dollars to kid in the most need; and focus on all schools using the lessons learned from our most innovative and successful schools and getting the regulations and rules that prevent this change out of the way.
“This is what I wish for my school, your school, all schools. We don’t need Superman. We just need some sanity.”

October 24, 2010

More on Harlem Children’s Zone and Geoffrey Canada

Filed under: Poverty,Privatization,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 10:53 am

Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems

By SHARON OTTERMAN Published: October 12, 2010 NYTimes

President Obama created a grant program to copy his block-by-block approach to ending poverty. The British government praised his charter schools as a model. And a new documentary opening across the country revolves around him: Geoffrey Canada, the magnetic Harlem Children’s Zone leader with strong ideas about how American education should be fixed.

Last week, Mr. Canada was in Birmingham, England, addressing Prime Minister David Cameron and members of his Conservative Party about improving schools.

But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

The parent organization of the schools, the Harlem Children’s Zone, enjoys substantial largess, much of it from Wall Street. While its cradle-to-college approach, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty for all 10,000 children in a 97-block zone of Harlem, may be breathtaking in scope, the jury is still out on its overall impact. And the cost of its charter schools — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about their utility as a nationwide model.

(more…)

October 21, 2010

Follow the Money:Who’s Behind the Movie “Waiting for Superman”

Filed under: Education Policy,Poverty,Privatization,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 1:31 pm

In the article “Ultimate $uperpower: Supersized dollars drive Waiting for Superman agenda,” investigative journalist Barbara Miner looks at the money behind the movie, its promoters and those who will benefit from the movie.  She writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

To view the article and/or to obtain a downloadable PDF go to

www.NOTwaitingforsuperman.org.

October 16, 2010

Diane Ravitch Says Charters Are A Lead Bullet

Filed under: Charter Schools,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 1:03 pm
October 13, 2010- Washington Post
This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch on her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website.
Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.
Dear Deborah,
Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for ’Superman’” has dominated the air waves for the past few weeks with its message that public education is a failed enterprise and that privately managed charters are the answer to our nation’s education problems.
The film doesn’t include a single successful public school teacher or public school. It is a one-sided, propagandistic attack on public education which echoes the prescriptions of those who have devoutly wished for the privatization of education. I imagine the shade of Milton Friedman chortling as his ideas about school choice become the rallying cry for the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and various big-city superintendents allied with allegedly liberal forces.
(more…)

October 13, 2010

Harlem Children Zone Schools Under the Microscope

Filed under: Charter Schools,Poverty,School Reform,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 12:17 pm

Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems

By SHARON OTTERMAN Published: October 12, 2010Top of Form

President Obama created a grant program to copy his block-by-block approach to ending poverty. The British government praised his charter schools as a model. And a new documentary opening across the country revolves around him: Geoffrey Canada, the magnetic Harlem Children’s Zone leader with strong ideas about how American education should be fixed.

Last week, Mr. Canada was in Birmingham, England, addressing Prime Minister David Cameron and members of his Conservative Party about improving schools.

But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

The parent organization of the schools, the Harlem Children’s Zone, enjoys substantial largess, much of it from Wall Street. While its cradle-to-college approach, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty for all 10,000 children in a 97-block zone of Harlem, may be breathtaking in scope, the jury is still out on its overall impact. And its cost — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about its utility as a nationwide model.

Mr. Canada, 58, who began putting his ideas into practice on a single block, on West 119th Street, in the mid-1990s, does not apologize for the cost of his model, saying his goals are wider than just fixing a school or two. His hope is to prove that if money is spent in a concentrated way to give poor children the things middle-class children take for granted — like high-quality schooling, a safe neighborhood, parents who read to them, and good medical care — they will not pass on the patterns of poverty to another generation.

“You could, in theory, figure out a less costly way of working with a small number of kids, and providing them with an education,” Mr. Canada said. “But that is not what we are attempting to do. We are attempting to save a community and its kids all at the same time.”

Few would deny that a middle-class renaissance is under way in the sections of Harlem where Mr. Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone have focused their efforts. The zone extends from 116th to 143rd Streets, between Madison Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

All children who live in the zone have access to many of its services, including after-school programs, asthma care, precollege advice and adult classes for expectant parents, called Baby College. The organization has placed young teaching assistants, known as peacemakers, in many of the elementary school classrooms in the area and poured money into organizing block associations, helping tenants buy buildings from the city, and refurbishing parks and playgrounds. By linking services, the program aims to improve on early-childhood programs like Head Start, whose impact has been shown to evaporate as children age.

Amid the facades of new condominiums that signal gentrification, however, deep poverty remains. So does low student performance in most of the neighborhood’s public schools, despite modest gains over the past decade and a growing number of better-performing charter schools, a development Mr. Canada helped pioneer.

Last month, the Obama administration awarded $10 million in grants to 21 neighborhood groups around the country to help them plan their own versions of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and the president is seeking $210 million for next year, although appropriations committees in the Senate and the House have earmarked only $20 million and $60 million, respectively.

But there has been some criticism. Grover J. Whitehurst, a co-author of a Brookings Institution analysis of the zone, said there was still too little evidence that its approach, of linking social services to promote student achievement, justified an investment of federal education dollars, and urged that a more rigorous study be conducted.

“My quarrel is not with an effort in Harlem funded largely by philanthropy, it’s with the federal approach to scaling this up,” Mr. Whitehurst said. “It just doesn’t rise to the level of evidence the president and the secretary of education said they were going to apply in determining their investments.”

In awarding the grants, Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasized, the government hoped neighborhoods would coordinate and stretch their existing services, while asking the private sector to step up and match financing.

“The cost is going to vary community to community,” Mr. Duncan said, “but we think this is an absolute investment.”

In 2009, the Harlem Children’s Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project’s operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, who also sits on the children’s zone board, said that while test scores were important, so was treating Harlem’s childhood asthma crisis, which is a cause of absenteeism. “What it’s about to us is dealing with all of the issues these kids encounter,” Mr. Cohn said.

The zone’s two charter schools are open to all city children by lottery. Officially, the schools spend, per student, $12,443 in public money and $3,482 in private financing each year. But that does not include the costs of a 4 p.m.-to-6 p.m. after-school program, rewards for student performance, a chef who prepares healthy meals, central administration and most building costs, and the students’ free health and dental care, which comes out of the zone’s overall budget, said Marty Lipp, the zone’s communications director.

Regular public schools in New York City spend about $14,452 each year per general education student, less than half of which is generally for classroom instruction.

In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on. Mr. Canada called the dismissal “a tragedy.”

On a recent Thursday, the current high school students, neatly attired in blue and white uniforms, got special help in college note-taking skills, and chatted animatedly about velocity in an advanced physics class. Most were well below grade level when they first got to the school and took three or four years to catch up; many are now ahead.

“You really have to put money into personnel,” said Marquitta Speller, who has been the high school principal since January. “I don’t think you can experience the same level of success without the same level of resources.”

But most of the seventh graders, now starting their third year in the school, are still struggling. Just 15 percent passed the 2010 state English test, a number that Mr. Canada said was “unacceptably low” but not out of line with the school’s experience in lifting student performance over time. Several teachers have been fired as a result of the low scores, and others were reassigned, he said.

Giving administrators the ability to fire teachers for poor performance is one of the central suggestions of “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ” Over all, 38 percent of Promise Academy I’s students in third through sixth grade passed the 2010 English test under the state’s new guidelines, placing it in the lower half of charter schools citywide, and below the city’s overall passing rate of 42 percent. In Harlem as a whole, just 29 percent of children passed.

Promise Academy II, an elementary school that occupies part of a public school building, did better, with 62 percent passing in English, among the top 10 percent of charters. But because it lost more ground than comparable schools, it got a C from the city on its annual A-to-F report card, and an F in the student progress category. Both schools continued to outperform the city in math, with 60 percent passing in one school and 81 percent in the other.

A few recent studies have broached the question of what was helping the zone’s students raise attendance and test scores: the interlocking social services, or what was going on in the classroom? But they were based on state test results in years when the exams were easier to pass, and they may now be less conclusive.

One study, by the Harvard researchers Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer Jr., found that while Promise Academy students who entered the sixth grade in 2005 had raised their test scores so much by the eighth grade that they had “reversed the black-white achievement gap in mathematics” and reduced it in English, there was “at best modest evidence” that the social programs were driving that success. In 2009, nearly all the students passed the math test.

“The challenge,” the researchers wrote, “is to find lower-cost ways to achieve similar results in regular public schools.”

Mr. Whitehurst’s 2010 Brookings analysis went further, noting that test performance at the two charter schools was only middling among charter schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, even though higher-performing schools, like those in the lauded KIPP network, had no comparable network of cradle-to-college services.

Dave Levin, a co-founder of KIPP, took issue with the study, noting that most of his schools already had counselors and college-advice programs, and all were expanding to serve kindergarten through grade 12, just like Mr. Canada’s. But KIPP schools do try to stick to the per-student spending of the surrounding district “to demonstrate what schools can do on the money that they have.”

“I think there are differences, but we are both deeply committed to meeting all of the children’s needs,” Mr. Levin said.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is not the only block-by-block effort to ease poverty, though it is unusual in its intensive focus on children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for example, is wrapping up projects in seven cities called Making Connections Neighborhoods that promoted a “two-generation approach” with job-training programs for parents. An effort that turned around the East Lake Meadows neighborhood in Atlanta used the construction of mixed-income housing and the renovation of a golf course as the fulcrum.

While it is still years away from confirming its broader theories about poverty, the Harlem Children’s Zone has already had some impact on thousands of children. Its after-school college advice office has helped place 650 students in college, and it supports them until they graduate. Its asthma initiative has drastically reduced emergency room visits and missed school days among its 1,000 participants. Preschool students have made bounds in kindergarten readiness. Parent satisfaction in the charter schools, as measured by city surveys, is high.

And Mr. Canada has achieved superhero status among those who admire him for his vision. Lisbeth B. Schorr, a senior fellow of the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington, said, “The fact that the impact has not been proven doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”

October 11, 2010

Criticism of President Obama’s Glorification of “Waiting for Superman”

Filed under: Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 3:37 pm

Obama, the ‘Superman’ movie flack?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 11, 2010 Washington Post

President Obama is welcoming to the White House the five charming students who starred in the education film “Waiting for Superman.”

Thank you, Mr. President, for helping Davis Guggenheim promote “Superman,” which presents an often misleading and sometimes dishonest look at the public education system. The $2 million grant that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave to market the movie worldwide apparently wasn’t enough to whip up publicity.

The five students in the film are shown trying to escape their troubled traditional public schools by participating in lotteries for admittance to public charter schools. It is, for sure, emotional.

Through no fault of the kids, Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. (The film also fails to mention that the biggest research study on charter schools shows that test scores in only 17 percent of them are better than their local traditional schools.)

The film also unfairly demonizes Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and promotes reforms that are driven by business practices not really suited for a civic institution.

Obama saw Superman and said in an interview last month with NBC’s Matt Lauer that it was “heartbreaking” and “powerful.”

That was the same interview in which he said that schools in the D.C. public system were making progress but were not as good as the private Sidwell Friends School where his two daughters attend. He didn’t, of course, mention that Sidwell would never adopt the standardized test-centric practices that his own policies are forcing on public schools.

But I digress.

Obama has long expressed support for charter schools, and his main education initiative to date, Race to the Top, encourages states to allow more charters to open. And, of course, it is always delightful when the president shows the White House off to young people. What a great educational experience.

Still, Obama’s embrace of the “Superman” stars seems like an extension of the film’s marketing campaign, which is doing just fine already, thank you.

The $2 million Gates grant, details of which you can see here, was issued last August to Participant Media, LLC, with this purpose: “to execute a social action campaign that will complement Paramount’s marketing campaign of Waiting for Superman.”

If Obama really wants to help promote education films, he could take a look at “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that isn’t backed by a Gates grant but, as my colleague Donna St. George wrote, explores “the strains of competing in a pressure-packed academic culture that is highly test-driven and pushes some students to the edge.”

His time would better be spent by talking to education experts who aren’t enamored with his policies and using his extraordinary intellect to come to understand how he is getting education so wrong.

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Categories:  Charter schools, School turnarounds/reform | Tags:  davis guggenheim, kids and obama, matt lauer, obama, obama and sidwell, obama daughters, president obama, sidwell friends school, students go to white house, superman film, superman kids, superman kids at white house, superman movie, waiting for superman, white house

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