by Max Brantley
A friend shares a Washington Post article that I missed while on vacation. It's Valerie Strauss' article on the reason "Waiting for Superman," the documentary about charter schools, wasn't nominated for a documentary film Oscar. (And the wonderful "Gasland," about the ills of natural gas fracking, was.)
Short version: It was dishonest, down to some staged footage of some of the most touching moments.
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.
Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond ... Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?
Some charter schools do great work. So do many conventional public schools. But the charter advocates get away with sweeping denunciations of conventional schools and escape too little searching examination of their own movement. I don't think Ravitch will be asked to testify for the charter school expansion bill pending in Arkansas, but I'd urge every legislator to read her New York Review of Books piece before an automatic "aye" for the Billionaire Boys Club's legislation.