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‘Waiting for Superman’: A simplistic view of education reform?


“Waiting for ‘Superman,’” which opened Sept. 24 in New York and Los Angeles, has generated buzz for months in education circles. The film also offers a broad-brush indictment of America’s school system and teachers unions, prompting praise from reform advocates. Yet, in the eyes of some education observers, the movie oversimplifies the problems facing U.S. students and implies a silver-bullet fix for struggling public schools, reports the Christian Science Monitor. “It gives the reform community something to rally around … but I do worry that … it makes [the issues] more about sentiment than about understanding,” says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I don’t just want people to like charters or support merit pay. I want them to understand what problems we’re trying to solve and how we can do charter schooling or merit pay in smart ways.” The documentary’s title comes from a story told by Geoffrey Canada, who founded the Harlem Children’s Zone to offer cradle-to-college services and charter schools to some of New York’s most disadvantaged kids. When his mother told him as a kid that his beloved Superman hero wasn’t real, he was devastated to think that no one was strong enough to save him and his friends from their Bronx ghetto. But many observers criticize the film’s focus on charter schools, and they say it paints a black-and-white picture of reformers such as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee (hero) and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (villain)…

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