America’s education system needs a Superman



Jody Michael

The documentary “Waiting for Superman” was released in September with a lot of buzz. It gives needed exposure to the problems in American public education. Last year’s Sundance Film Festival attendees voted it the year’s best documentary at the event. The director, Davis Guggenheim, also directed Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Knowing this, I was glad when I finally had the opportunity to watch it this weekend. To put it succinctly, it’s one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

Compare it to, for the sake of contrast, “Super Size Me.” McDonald’s has affected America in quite a pathetic way, but that is an easy problem to avoid: Just eat less fast food.

“Waiting for Superman,” on the other hand, exposes a seemingly endless number of problems with our education system. Short messages during the credits reassure the viewer that we can all take easy steps to make a difference, but many of the possible solutions have both pros and cons.

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior news major. Contact him at [email protected].

Tenure, for example, is good because it prevents schools from firing good teachers just to hire a younger and cheaper replacement. But tenure is also bad because some tenured teachers lose the motivation to teach, and some bad teachers earn tenure they never deserved.

Former Washington, D.C., public school chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed to overhaul tenure in the nation’s capital: Teachers could keep their tenure and earn a small pay raise, or they could lose their tenure and have the opportunity to earn much larger performance bonuses.

This compromise had the best of both worlds: job security or financial comfort, whichever pleased each teacher. But the teacher’s union refused to agree to Rhee’s proposal because the large differences in certain teachers’ salaries could create conflicts that would cause unnecessary distractions in the schools.

Among other mind-blowing revelations: The average prisoner’s cost to taxpayers is more expensive than a four-year college degree. America has more high-skill, high-paying jobs than it does Americans who are qualified for those jobs. And in many cities, random lotteries determine which kids get to attend the best schools and receive substantially higher odds of graduating.

Plus, our federal, state and city governments all have their own education regulations that oftentimes contradict each other. Sometimes, a failing grade in one state is a passing grade in another. Why is that? Even worse, will we ever see the day that our governments are effective enough to fix these ambiguities?

Examples like these are why I thought the movie was so sad. Not only did it show me so many problems with America’s schools, it left me with the sinking feeling that we might never have exceptional, accessible schooling for everyone.

Nonetheless, “Waiting for Superman” provides quite a learning experience. I strongly encourage you to watch it and share it with everyone you know, because we cannot possibly find the solutions for our education system if we do not know the problems.