Monday, September 20, 2010


Dear Friends:
Here is my brother Rick’s review of Waiting for Superman, Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary film on K-12 education.  This movie is likely to be a major hit this fall because of the compelling personal stories it tells.  Yet Rick thinks the director’s superficial knowledge of education leads  to simplistic conclusions, including that “bad teachers’ are the central problem in our schools. I have not seen the film, but I hear that Guggenheim is on Oprah today, so it must matter.
This piece of criticism was on the front page of the Huffington Post, and there was much commentary there.  Rick was just contacted by the Washington Post  and has been asked to write a point-by-point refutation of the film’s policy positions for that paper’s education blogspace next week. 

John S. Ayers
51 Vista Lane | Stanford, CA 94305
cid:image003.png@01CB3E05.5AE00320: Direct: 650.566.5125 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              650.566.5125      end_of_the_skype_highlighting | Cell: 708.714.0961 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              708.714.0961      end_of_the_skype_highlighting  

Dear Friends, 

On Sept. 24, a new film, "Waiting for Superman," will draw media attention to public education across the country. Unfortunately, most of it will be negative. So we've started a project to talk back to the film and the message it promotes. We hope you will join us at

The message of the film is that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their unions. The film's "solution," to the minimal extent it suggests one, is to replace them with "great" charter schools and teachers who have less power over their schools and classrooms.
This message is not just wrong. In the current political climate, it's toxic. 

The film was made by the Academy-Award winning director of "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary that helped awaken millions to the dangers of global warming. But this film misses the mark by light years. Instead of helping people understand the many problems schools face and what it will take to address them, it presents misleading information and simplistic "solutions" that will make it harder for those of us working to improve public education to succeed. We know first hand how urgently change is needed. But by siding with a corporate reform agenda of teacher bashing, union busting, test-based "accountability" and highly selective, privatized charters, the film pours gasoline on the public education bonfire started by No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top. 

Rethinking Schools has never hesitated to criticize public schools. We do it in every issue. We've been working for over 25 years to bring social justice and racial equality to our classrooms, our schools, our districts—and our unions. We know many of you have been doing the same. But this film does not contain a single positive image of a non-charter public school or a teacher. Despite a lot of empty rhetoric about the importance of "great teachers," the disrespect the film displays to real teachers working on the ground in public schools today is stunning. Not one has a voice in the film. There are no public school parents working together to improve the schools their children attend. There are no engaged communities. There is no serious discussion of funding, poverty, race, testing or the long and sorry history of top-down bureaucratic reform failure. 

It's as if someone made a film about global warming and did not mention cars, oil companies, or carbon dioxide. 

The film has an undeniably powerful emotional impact, and the stories of the children and families it highlights are compelling to all of us. But the film uses these stories to promote an agenda that will hurt public schools and the communities that depend on them. It's time to speak up for ourselves, our students, and our schools. 

Please join us at or email us at and let's get to work. 

[Right now, the link will take you to a Facebook book page that anyone can view, though only those with a FB account can post. In a few days, the same link,, will take you to a brand new NOT Waiting for Superman website that's almost ready to launch. Both sites will remain active for the duration of this campaign.] 

Stan Karp
for the editors of Rethinking Schools

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