More Like Waiting for America(Movie Review: “Waiting For Superman”)

I was alerted earlier this week, or even possibly the last one, that a phenomenal documentary exposing the problem areas of the United States’ educational system was to be released in theaters. I was asked to tune into Oprah, no go there, and I found myself attempting to find more information online. As the movie’s release approached, I was bombarded with information regarding the educational systems, teacher’s salaries, and a host of other maladies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to view the movie in its entirety, I was left to watch the trailers. (*cough*hands off the net*hack*).

The documentary, “Waiting For Superman”, as the trailer suggests, is a purview of the underlying asili of this nation, that only a certain portion of society is worthy of a thorough education. As prisons fill, and joblessness increases, so does the gap separating those that will be able to assist the country in an intellectual manner, from those that will be dependent upon them. It is no surprise to me that the antics of women ‘swirling’ around the net, promoting more division through the internet, than assistance plowed their way through twitter during this movie’s release.

Although, as stated, I haven’t seen the movie yet, a sister’s who’s twitter handle is @Chey_marly_mom was able to venture out and…well, I’ll let her discuss “Waiting for Superman” in her own words…

More like…”Waiting for America….”

If you have a pulse or are moderately abreast of current events, then chances are you have heard some of the buzz around the new documentary discussing this country’s education crisis, ironically entitled “Waiting for Superman”. I happened to catch wind of the film while reviewing this past Monday’s episode of Oprah. The documentary written and directed by Davis Guggenheim, features DC Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee; Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and other experts in education, as they chronicle the experiences of 5 real life families and the overwhelming problems facing America’s school system. As a mom with two children in grade school, I was glued to the TV and knew that I would make it my business to see this documentary for myself.

So after work yesterday evening, I ventured to “Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema”, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Before I go any further, I find it utterly ridiculous that a film with such presupposed importance and “must see” requisition, is playing in a handful of theaters (two in NYC to be exact) and in only two cities thus far (New York & LA)… How is a “ground breaking” film with Oprah’s seal of approval supposed to reach the masses and ignite a movement, let alone start a conversation if its release is limited? With that as a consideration, many people will likely not have an opportunity to see this documentary. However, I recommend that you view the trailer online and Google search the title to learn more about the film and the growing anticipation for it to be the stepping stone toward reforming America’s education system.

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Spoiler Alert: There simply is no way to discuss or review this documentary without disclosing the premise. In a nut shell, America’s ENTIRE school system is failing and producing a generation of adults who are/will be ill equipped to perform this country’s most highly skilled jobs or even enter today’s competitive job market due to the incredibly poor/low achievement rates in math, science & literacy. The US currently ranks 25th in math and 21st in science, worldwide. Statistics strongly dictate that high school students are dropping out at alarming rates and that graduates are being set up to compete and FAIL in a shifting global job market they have not been equipped to compete in. In the film, failing high schools are sadly referred to as “drop out factories”. One distressing example from the film is Roosevelt High School in LA; where only 1 out of 100 seniors will meet college admissions standards & 54% of students overall will not graduate! In the past 40 years, out of 60 thousand students… 40 THOUSAND have dropped out. I wish I could reference all of the disturbing stats and figures that where evidenced. Unfortunately, my memory isn’t that savvy & frankly I was disgusted, heartbroken and consumed with the defeated faces of the students… while thinking of my own children.

The documentary introduced viewers to five real life families battling in the trenches of America’s education system. I was touched by them all and brought to tears by Bianca’s story. A kindergartner from Harlem whose mother Nakia was unable to afford the tuition for her daughter to continue attendance at her private school. As a result she was not permitted to walk in her graduation ceremony. They live in a community where the “zoned” (designated according to address zip code) public schools are depressed and failing. Nakia was laid off from her job which meant that Bianca would ultimately have to attend a school in her neighborhood or get lucky and win the “lottery”. Lottery: defined as… a gambling game or method of raising money, as for some public charitable purpose, in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for certain prizes. Lottery: defined with regards to the education system, is an “opportunity” for a child to obtain an education at a Charter School (a school within or out of the community that is not pigeon held by district rules and regulations usually producing students with at a higher achievement rate than zoned schools). All five families in the film were subjected to this lottery process with the hopes they could “win” a chance for a promising future at their districts prized school; oftentimes located miles from their homes. The entire theater was still when the lottery process and results sadly displayed just how unfair the system currently is and how America has officially made education (once again) a civil rights issue. So much for “no child left behind…”

Education reformers such as Geoffrey Canada, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and Newark mayor Cory Booker, are on a campaign to remedy what is ailing the system. Each of them has made tremendous strides in reform that have been wonderful for SOME children. But there are clearly roadblocks in the system that’s preventing a significant overhaul. Unions such as the ACLU appear to be an impediment to even addressing some of the most obvious resolutions to the problems: firing bad teachers and paying great teachers their worth. [pullthis]Tenure, guaranteed pay to teachers for life– even if they go to prison, perform poorly or are under investigation for sexual accusations– is the REAL lottery, and needs to be re-evaluated.[/pullthis]

In the film, shifting around bad teachers from one school to the another school is referred to as the “dance of the lemons”, the “turkey trot” and “passing the trash”. On screen, teachers are depicted as animated figures floating and “dancing” on a map of the Milwaukee school system. Demonstrating in a satirical way how chronically bad teachers are traded among principals in different districts with the hope they can make “lemonade” with another school’s “lemon”. In New York City, over 100 million is spent annually paying out salaries & babysitting teachers who are up for review/suspension while they report to the city’s Re-Assignment Center, also known as the “Rubber Room”. They are seen reading news papers and playing cards while they wait for their hearing. The film goes on to divulge that in Illinois, “one in 57 doctors lose their medical licenses; one in 97 attorneys lose their law licenses; but for teachers, only one in 2,500 have ever lost their credentials.” Disgraceful!

The system is further entangled in a web of political ascendancy. Teachers unions such as the NEA and AFT are the largest political interest group and 90% of their donations are campaign contributions to the Democratic Party. Smh!!

So now what?

The truth has reared its ugly head and America is now going to reconcile these issues by any means necessary and expeditiously, right? *Not holding my breath* The problems are astounding. Sitting in the theater watching this documentary left me with the feeling of every word synonymous to defeat. As I previously mentioned, I have two children in grade school. My eldest daughter goes to a public Magnet school (public school with specialized courses or curricula) where she is an Honor Student and an Art major. My babygirl is in Pre-Kindergarten at a private school that my husband and I pay tuition for her to attend. I have a tremendous amount of concern for their futures and I have as much concern for their peers’ futures. EVERY child in this country is deserving of a competent & competitive education. The mediocrity of America’s education system is a criminal offense! How do the powers that be knowingly allow for the future of our children to be destined for inadequacy? The breakdown in the system appears to have begun decades ago although there seems to be some debate on the cause or source of its inception. And the problem is not immune to any one area in the country. In the film, Emily an 8th grader from a wealthier family living in an affluent LA neighborhood was desperate to attend the district’s Charter school because her college campus-like, state of the art zoned school, “track” student achievement levels; another issue plaguing America’s school system. Standardized tests as a measure of intelligence haven’t proven to be a successful metric of achievement. And I didn’t find it unusual that the question arose that whether the breakdown in (urban) neighborhoods are the CAUSE or RESULT of the failing education system. How many of us have been made privy to the implication that children in underdeveloped neighborhoods simply can’t learn or are not teachable? *sigh*

After viewing this film, one can’t help but wonder if the damage to the entire system is irreparable…? And none of what I have recounted diminishes the required responsibility of learning & achievement reinforcement in the home by any means. Parents have simply got to do better. On Friday’s Oprah Show, the topic was revisited with reactions from teachers & administrators such as Geoffrey Canada, and politicians with varied opinions on what was revealed in the documentary and what are we going to do as a result. A pledge was made by Newark mayor Cory Booker, the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg to further revitalize and repair the Newark school district under the leadership of Mr. Booker. Zuckerberg donated 100 Million dollars to that effort. Newark is on its way to potentially being a model for education reform in this country, while the rest of the country is waiting for…?