EDUC 121: Response to Waiting for Superman


As you reflect on the documentary we viewed this past Wednesday, I’d like you to choose one of the discussion questions on the handout you received that you find the most compelling based on your reactions to the film.  What did you learn about the charter school movement that you didn’t understand before?  What surprised you about the state of urban (and suburban) public schools as they were portrayed?  What shocked, angered and/or heartened you?  These are questions that I hope will help you choose a discussion question to respond to here.  In addition to writing about the issues related to the question you’ve chosen (using evidence from the film), I’d like you to return to this blog and read through your peers’ posts and comment on any that resonate with you.  Our goal is to build discussion in this space around the issue of charter schools and public schooling as portrayed in the documentary.  For guidelines, please post an answer to the question of your choice (minimum of 400 words).  Then, return to this blog to read your peers’ responses and choose a minimum of one to comment on.  You are not limited to responding to only one peer’s posting.  

30 Responses to EDUC 121: Response to Waiting for Superman

  1. Kenzie Miller says:

    Kenzie Miller
    While watching Waiting for Superman I found the dropout and graduation rates astonishing. We saw all of these young children who had high expectations for themselves and their future. Sadly, these expectations were out of reach if they did not find a better school. Most of the schools they would be transitioning into were no better than the ones they were currently in. In fact, many of the schools they were going to be attending down the road were given the label “dropout factory.” I was felt really bad for the children and their parents because they were doing everything they could to get the best education but good schools openings were limited.
    Daisy, who wanted to be a vet or doctor, had high expectations for herself. She had a great support system but her hopes and dreams were out of reach unless she got into a better school. I was taken aback when they said that fifty – seven percent of Daisy’s classmates would graduate. Then we hear Emily’s story. Emily was a good student but she had low test scores and grades. Emily like Daisy had high expectations for herself but the middle school she was supposed to attend only had a fifty percent graduation rate. I could feel the excitement Emily had when she was accepted to Summit Prep, which has a ninety- six percent graduation rate.
    However, the dropout rates/statistics are what shocked me the most. I was again taken aback when I heard there are approximately two thousand “dropout factories” in the United States. It made me question if what is supposedly being done to help schools and education in general is really worth it. Most of the students that dropout are on the streets, dead or in jail. This is sad because if they could have gotten a better education they would be off doing great things. Although all of these statistics are shocking the two I found jaw dropping are sixty percent of inmates in Pennsylvania are high school dropout. The other shocking statistic is all the students in Harlem know more people in or who have went to jail then college. It is sad.
    Overall, I think the education system has a ways to go before the graduation rates increase and the dropout rates decrease. I still believe the graduation rates are low because. I saw this first hand with my graduating class. My graduating class started off with two hundred and nine students which was small to begin with for a school of one thousand. Come graduation day only one hundred and eighty students graduated.

    • lowee says:

      The dropout rates were definitely a shocking factor in this film. One of the statistics that i thought was interesting that the funding spent on these prisoners could have helped them get through college as well as have enough money left over to use for a few years in college. It is amazing how many dropouts there are. I question the same thing as well. Schools and education systems in these communities are really hurting. It could be the lack of funding, family issues, problems with friends, or it could also be the school itself. As i wrote about, the school could be the large issue, and not the community, if a school system is set up with the right teachers, and the right teaching methods, students might be more willing to stay in school and keep that education going, instead of getting involved harsh situations that could lead them to drop out of their school. What methods will work, and can be used to improve a school system that is strong enough to keep troubled students inside the school system and close the achievement gap? Do any exist? or will we continue to face this issue?

    • Casey LaTorre says:

      I agree completely with what you have said here. While I do understand that that there are various reasons why children drop out of high school (and not all these reasons are in their control), I have always had a hard time empathizing with those who drop out due to frustration. Watching Waiting for “Superman”, I felt the frustration for these children and their families. Kenzie, you put it perfectly when you said, “We saw all of these young children who had high expectations for themselves and their future. Sadly, these expectations were out of reach if they did not find a better school”. Watching the lottery, I found myself on the edge of my seat. I genuinely cared for the futures of the children documented. When most of them didn’t get in, I worried about what would happen to them – Would they get in to another Charter School in the future? Would they be sent to the local dropout factory? How would this affect their life, and their views on education? 10 years down the road, would they still have the same dreams and expectations for themselves?

      So, after much thought, I feel that I can almost empathize with those dropouts now. Knowing that there is nothing that you can do about your education, which is statistically bound to fail, how would you feel? With all that frustration, students are left with two options: push themselves harder than ever, or dropout.

      • Giulia Pagano says:

        I completely agree with our concerns for the documented candidates who, unfortunately, did not get into their ideal schools. I don’t believe a child’s future should be placed upon the random drawl of a number or name. However, in focusing on the negative aspects of being trapped into one of these “dropout factories”, we easily forget the resiliency of the students involved. In the example of the hispanic girl who was extremely dedicated to her studies, I do not believe that her future will “waste away” if she does not get into her desired school for many reasons. Even though she may still be young, she is extremely invested in her studies, which in my opinion shows a great of dedication to her education. Not only does she have a great support system at home that encourages her to continue to pursue her dreams, but she is also independently interested in succeeding. This is important to mention because if a student is dedicated to his/her studies for the interest of reaching independently-created personal goals, and not just to satisfy his/her parent’s wishes, he/she is most likely going to be motivated to stay in school regardless of where they are and what their conditions might be.
        Although we might be tempted to place the blame on the quality of schools, school districts, and teachers, we must also have faith in those students who are dedicated enough to rise above the rest as they overcome some of the greatest injustices in our country’s educational system. I believe this resiliency in certain individuals is what makes for the great leaders and scholars because they are equipped with the right qualities to overcome adversities in our nation.
        This is not to say that we should leave future generations up to fate. However, this movie almost presents the students of “dropout” factories as “doomed” individuals. This is not right. Instead of focusing on moving children out of failing schools, our government should be placing more emphasis (and funding) on improving these schools and catering to the students who are there to learn and succeed.

    • Paul Anderson says:

      I was also surprised with the sate in which our public school system is currently in with all the emphasis on education in the news. I always knew that there were “dropout factories”, but I thought these were isolated schools. The film made me realize that there are a ton of schools out there that are not doing what they are meant to do, educate. I was astonished at the sheer number of schools that had such a high dropout rate. I also felt like areas were being “trapped” because of the education system. By this I mean elementary schools that under perform feed into middle schools and high schools that also underperform. This causes kids to either dropout or graduate without the necessary credits to perform in college. Because of these dropout factories areas surrounding these schools become depressed due to the fact that they do not have the standard education to hold a high paying career. These areas also see an influx of crime. For instance, in Pennsylvania 60% of inmates are high school dropouts. This is thought to be a direct result of the dropout factories. The cost of the average inmate is enough to send them to a private college with extra money to spare. If we increased funding for schools we could cut down on crime, in the long run save money, and educate the masses much better.

  2. lowee says:

    Waiting for “Superman” discusses important issues in today’s public schools and in all the communities. One part that really stood out to me was in regards to the environments inside and outside the school community. I believe that the relationship one holds in their neighborhood, can affect their achievement in the classroom. The big issue with neighborhoods could be the parents’ ability to accumulate enough money to keep their child in school.
    As we see in one story, a parent did not have enough money to keep their child inside the school system and was forced by the principal as well as the education system to keep the child from attending their own graduation. This shows that communities have a significant impact on the child’s achievement. Although the child may be doing well academically, their social life outside of the school community can greatly affect them.
    In other situations dropouts have made up a large part of the communities where some of the charter schools are located. As we see in the film, one charter school specifically chose a community because of the low income and the large amount of dropouts, or social issues inside the community. I thought this was very interesting. A charter school is independently run but uses public money, and they specifically chose an area of New York City that had the worst problems.
    In this situation the school board felt that it might be the school academics that are keeping children away from school and not the social issues. I always thought that the school community really puts a toll on the students’ lives and their achievement in academics. By choosing a location based on specific issues, I thought that was wise, and hopefully that will produce better results and keep children in school. It was intriguing that the school system choose to do this in order to see prove that the school system is the best way out of a harsh situation. The students, no matter where they come from in society can see that a good education can bring them opportunities and change.
    A long with this, teachers in these communities really worked on stepping up and holding a huge responsibility for the child’s life. Teachers are an important part in academics and in order to grasp the attention of troubled neighborhoods, new teaching methods, more hours, and teacher-to-teacher communication, demonstrated a closing of the achievement gap. This film really proved a theory on disadvantaged students and that those kids who are disadvantaged or troubled, can learn and can improve academically and socially from good teachers who show compassion their students achievement.

    • David Foster says:

      Completely agree with you on this. A big message I got from the film was that disadvantaged students are just that: at a disadvantage. There is nothing inherently inferior or idiotic about them, and a lot of the time they have to put up with conditions the ‘better’ students would have trouble with. The parents’ money problems are an excellent example. If the student doesn’t have money for resources like paper, pens, a printer at home, then they are going to have a harder time taking notes or printing out typed assignments. And it’s not the student’s fault if their family has money problems and can’t pay tuition.
      Also, as you pointed out, socialization can be a big issue. If they’re hanging with bad influences or exposed to drugs/alcohol, either from friends or by parents at home, then that’s going to have a big impact on their lives. But there is no reason why a student kept on the right path shouldn’t be able to walk to the end, provided teachers are there to help when they stumble. Teachers are some of the biggest influences in kids’ lives, and if they take their jobs seriously and do it well, and are provided with the resources to do it well, then the sky is the limit for their students, no matter what neighborhood they live in.

      • Madison Parks says:

        I agree with what has been said here, about the inner city students who are simply disadvantaged. Watching the film initially made me believe that the majority of students who attend the ‘disadvantaged’ schools will grow up without the prospect of a future; the only way to obtain a decent career would be to move the students from the district. I remembered that we talked about a similar movement in class called ‘white flight’. Although that movement pertains to the desegregation of schooling, I think the same principle applies here. Parents in the film are taking their students out of the ‘failing’ districts in which they live, in order to place them in higher performing schools, so that they can be more successful. All of the students featured in this video are part of this movement. By removing the highest performing percentage of students from these districts to districts that can ‘meet their needs’ is causing the ‘failing’ districts to fail even more. The students left in these schools have fewer goals, maybe because their home environment is different from the students’ who are leaving the district. Initially, watching the film I believed that this is a cyclic process that won’t every change.
        However, when I was reading some of the issues that opponents had to this documentary, I realized that the documentary left out a huge portion of students and schools in America. High performing public schools were not analyzed and low performing charter schools were not criticized. I feel like the ‘dropout factories’ could be improved by using data to analyze public schools with high rankings. I don’t believe the way to fix the failing schools is to create specialized charter schools. To fix the institutions already in place, the failing schools need to have more advantages for the disadvantaged students who they teach.

  3. David Foster says:

    Tod Dickson’s comments in Waiting for “Superman” that a college-prep curriculum is standard for all their students, and that he feels, “every kid should be able to get to the highest level of curriculum,” raised an interesting question in my mind. How necessary—and thus beneficent or harmful—is college and college-prep to the students of the USA? Holding every student to the same high standards is good on paper, but what happens when students can’t keep up due to personal crises, or when their preferred future would have them measured on a different scale? This relates a lot to the tracking issues the documentary brought up; several decades ago college was the exception, not the norm, and only the best students were pressured to go. Now there is the common cultural expectation that people who don’t go to college are failures or unfortunates who will never make the most of themselves.
    Think those are too strong terms to use? Just ask yourself what you think of someone who you learned never went to college. You’re talking with a storeowner, librarian, carpenter, actor, or author who mentions that they never went to college. Even if they’ve made their lives successful and productive, isn’t it common to feel a stab of pity for them at being unable to “live up to their full potential”? And heaven help you if you dropped out of high school, because your chances of getting a good job have dropped a lot too.
    This isn’t because of the high-standards mentioned in the first paragraph, I feel, but rather both are symptoms of a different form of cultural ailment. We place too much importance on college. Yes, it would be good if everyone went, but not if it’s detrimental to those who don’t want to go. Tracking and mandatory college-prep puts more pressure on students than they may feel they want to put up with, and it generates a lot of stress and completion over applications and entrance. I personally took three AP classes my junior year and four my senior year, and I nearly crashed. In fact, I completely flunked one of those classes (AP Psychology) which I only took because I felt I needed too if I wanted to go to college at all! That isn’t healthy to put people through, and if we could just make college less critical in the public perception—or even just the necessity of a good/famous college, like the Ivy Leagues—we could solve a lot of our students’ problems and make them feel more welcome in the classroom.
    This brings me to the final point that Waiting for “Superman” got me interested in: tracking. I believe that holding everyone to high standards is good, even if they don’t feel the need to go to college (which is a different stress) because I’ve personally seen comparisons between high- and low-track classes. When I was taking the all-year AP Psych class and realized after the first semester that I was in danger of failing, I signed up for a PSP (lower track) Psychology course for my second-semester elective. The teacher was great, but the curriculum was not. There was almost no classroom discipline, we went into very little depth of our subjects, and overall it just couldn’t compare to the AP version. Worst, the students could tell that it wasn’t a great class set-up and stopped caring. PSP classes should have been a great chance to not teach to the test, and instead I mostly learned how bad exasperation and dismay tasted.

  4. Casey LaTorre says:

    Last week I signed a petition to grant a Dickinson professor, who I feel is a vital part of our community, tenure. I, like many others, fell victim to the misunderstanding of what tenure entails. I thought that a teacher who was willing to put time and effort into their job ought to be rewarded. Waiting for “Superman” made me re-consider what I thought I already knew. It doesn’t matter how long an educator has been teaching or how many hours a night they prepare for class, if they are not effective in that they cannot produce educated students, they do not deserve tenure. While the purpose of tenure is to protect the teachers, there needs to be rules set in place to protect the students. Our educational system is lacking enough quality teachers, which is likely due in part to the fact that quality teachers are not rewarded any more than an average or poor quality teacher. Teachers play a vital role in student success. Only 1 in 2,500 teachers have ever lost their teaching credentials. That statistic is astounding. It is so frustrating to learn that public schools are left with little options to getting rid of teachers are the ineffective. Rather than helping the situation, local, state, and national governments all seem to have different opinions on the matter at hand, generating little to no progress.

    As we heard in Waiting for “Superman”, different states have developed different ways to get around tenure contracts and deal with chronically bad teachers. Commonly referred to as the “Dance of the Lemons,” “Pass the Trash,” or the “Turkey Trot,” principles within districts shuffle around the poor teachers, hoping to find that perfect fit between teacher and school, where a bad teacher can find themselves in an environment they can finally thrive in. This method is creative, and even has the potential to work. For a perfect example of how tenure is ineffective, look at New York State, where ineffective teachers are paid full salaries plus benefits to do nothing and sit in the “Rubber Room”. This method is costing New York nearly $100,000,000 a year, which is money that should instead be going toward funding better schools or providing scholarships for less-fortunate students.

    Teachers ought to be given tenure more conservatively, on a case-by-case basis. Not every teacher ought to be granted tenure, especially if they are not effective in the classroom. Although the discussion revolving around tenure was not the main point and purpose in Waiting for “Superman”, it was one that I felt important nonetheless. One of the benefits to Charter Schools is the ability to pick and choose teachers that are top-notch, and more important the ability to fire teachers that do not meet minimum requirements. Before America can have effective schools and effective school districts, the focus should be placed on effective teachers.

    • Matthew Williams says:

      It is funny that you brought up the fact that you signed a petition to grant a Dickinson professor tenure. Last week was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing. My professor mentioned she was granted tenure and everyone seemed excited so I went along with it and asked one of my classmates afterwards what exactly tenure meant. He said that basically she has her job secured and there is no threat of being replaced. Naturally I began asking more questions. How long does this process take? Is the job secure forever, until the professor chooses to quit? He did not really know and I did not know if I was in the position to ask the professor myself. After the film I was astonished at how easy it was for a public school teacher to receive tenure. The film even went into details stating that on average only 1 in 2,500 have lost teaching credentials compared to 1 in 57 losing their medical licenses and 1 in 97 losing their law licenses. I was shocked that the film made it seem like it was a right to be able to teach and not a privilege. Teachers began to grow complacent once granted tenure and I feel that this was a huge issue that explained the problems with public education today. Ultimately I feel that a strong foundation for public education requires a strong teaching core and teacher tenure is allowing mediocre effort. There should be a motive for bettering one’s ability to teach, such as higher pay for successful teachers. Unfortunately this brings us to another issue- teachers unions. Initially they attempted to gain respect for teachers; however, this has now sculpted itself to becoming something that does not allow teachers to receive pay based on performance. Teachers unions also has a huge affect on the ability to fire a poorly performing teacher which brings us to the core issue of failing schools in my opinion.

      • Hayley Advokat says:

        I would also like to comment on and talk about the topic of tenure. The statistic that I found very compelling during this documentary is the comparison of different jobs losing their licenses within the last few years I believe it was. The documentary said that 1 in 57 doctors lost their licenses, 1 in 97 lawyers, but 1 in 2500 teachers lost their licenses. That difference is unbelievable. I am not saying that we have to fired more teachers simply to keep the trend, but however, I think this statistic shows something. Tenure helps prevent those who need to resign from resigning. To be honest, I do not know much about tenure, and I feel hesitant to make this assertion, but I don’t see the point in it at all. Teachers that receive tenure will secure their job, well if a teacher loves teaching, and wants to be there, there is no need for the reassurance of tenure. In my opinion, the teachers that benefit the most from tenure are the ones who are not doing their job correctly, and have a fear they will be fired because of it. They use the excuse of having tenure as their safety blanket. I think it was Michelle Rhee (superintendent of the D.C school district) that proposed the idea that I felt was the most beneficial alternative. Teachers have the choice to keep tenure and get a modest raise when deserved, or double their yearly pay and take tenure away. This is a bit of a generalization, but I believe that all those who would pick the second option are the teachers you want around anyway. They are not worried to lose their jobs, because they know teaching is where they belong, AND they get a much higher salary just for doing their job the right way!

        • Madison Parks says:

          I was talking to my parents about tenure today because I was interested in their first-hand view of the subject. When I watched the film, I was also very surprised by the statistic and thought that tenure should be revoked. When I asked my parents their view on the tenure policy (both of which are tenured), they said that they understand the issues with the policy, however, they support it. I told them the statistic about teachers’ job security compared to doctors and lawyers, and they said that although doctors and lawyers don’t have tenure, they have their own kinds of job security. Still not convinced, I asked them their reasons for approving the policy. They told me that tenure protects them from the subjectivity of their bosses. For example, it would be fairly easy for a teacher to be fired without tenure, because an administrator could deem them ineffective implicitly. There would be nothing for the teacher to do to prevent the job loss and without tenure, teachers could be lose their jobs for personal reasons. Through talking to my parents, I still don’t believe that tenure is the greatest policy to ensure job security, but because of the lack of objectivity in the teaching profession, I believe that tenure is the only policy so far that has an impact on objectivity.

        • Devlynn Chen says:

          I think that it is interesting that the teacher I interviewed felt that job security was the largest threat to him even though tenure protects him. I wonder why he still feels insecure about his job even though his contract protects him. In response to the attitudes of tenured teachers, I feel that it is possible that the concept of tenure is an American policy. The documentary mentions that tenured teachers feel entitled to x, y, and z benefits. But have people considered the possibility that the American attitude of entitlement is negatively affecting education?

          In addition to tenure, teacher turnover seems to be widespread problem. I do not understand why schools do not compensate teachers more in order to decrease the teacher turnover. From my understanding, the cost-benefit of teacher turnovers is not more costly than beneficial.

        • Jong Ho Choi says:

          The tenure system in public high school introduced in the documentary certainly was not pleasing to me. I understand that teachers are granted tenure to ensure that they are not penalized or fired by taking actions that are in interest of the students but not necessarily of the administration. However, if the teachers are using such privilege in their favor only and students are not receiving the education they deserve, then there ought to be a policy that takes away their tenure status. I thought Rhee’s proposal was both reasonable and quite effective in the long run. If the teacher gives up tenure status, he or she gets almost double the salary of what he/she was being paid. I think the reason why the teacher association is so against this proposal is not because of losing the tenureship itself, but losing the insurance of not being fired. I know this kind of sounds repetitive, but I believe there is a difference between wanting to keep tenure to take risks for the students versus wanting to hold on to tenure so he/she won’t be fired from not doing the best job of educating students. My thought is that if you are capable of educating students, why are you afraid of letting go of tenure for double salary? Nobody is going to fire someone who is good at his or her job.

  5. Matthew Williams says:

    In the movie Waiting for “Superman,” we travel with five families on their journey to enroll their children in public schools where students are challenged and supported in programs that prepare them for college. Many of these schools that promoted students to reach their highest expectations were based off of the lottery system, in which we discovered that the chances to get accepted were extremely slim. Of the five families only one student got accepted. It was sad that so many students felt the need to find an alternative school to the one that they lived closest to. I feel that the movie revealed the many errors in our public schools today by showing us many schools that were characterized by low expectations and low achievement. The movie encouraged individuals to identify if a failing school meant that it was located in a failing neighborhood or if the failing neighborhood was the way it was because of the failing school. There were several cases that the movie examined, frequently pointing out that the issue was teachers just did not care and simply pushed failing students through the school system. One of the schools revealed to be a so called “dropout factory”- a school in which 40% of the students do not graduate- was Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. This school was identified as one of the worst in Los Angeles; however, that is not why it stuck in my head. I was intrigued to discover why this school was so notorious for its extremely low achievement because not only was I from California, but my roommate actually attended Roosevelt High School. I remember getting back to the dorm room after the viewing of the film to ask him about the issues in Roosevelt High School but instead he asked me questions. Did the film explain why it was the way it was? Did the film reveal the neighborhood in which the school was located? Did it reveal the magnet program the school had to offer? My answer to all of the questions was no, so I was eager to hear the details of why it was the way it was. He started off by saying Boyle Heights, which is where the school was located, was the worst of the worst considering cities in Los Angeles. He said not only were there a surplus amount of gangs but the poverty was astonishing. He explained that much of the city was first generation Mexican immigrants that could barely speak English. He asked me if I would do well in a school that only spoke Chinese because that is what English looked like to many of the students attending Roosevelt High School. He enlightened me that although the film said many of the children coming from Stevenson Middle School, which my roommate also attended, had a third grade reading level was because they were trying to read in a brand new language. My roommate went on to clarify that the high school was not all bad, in fact he said he was in their so called “magnet program,” where determined and gifted students were still challenged by a college preparatory program. He said that one student that was in the same classes as he was, excelled in math ultimately completing all levels of calculus by his sophomore year. Nevertheless, he was still a prisoner of gangs and ultimately dropout of high school. My roommate amazed me with what he said and he even showed me a mixtape by the kid that had dropped out due to gang activity. In the mixtape he explains the harsh realities of Boyle Heights and I found myself wondering how in the world schools like this could be prevented. I honestly came up with no answer.
    ^^^ Above is the mixtape describing Boyle Heights and I recommend that you listen to Hell on Earth as I felt that this song portrays the city most accurately.

    • Kenzie Miller says:

      It was really neat that your roommate was able to share his personal experience about Roosevelt High. I found it interesting that all the questions he asked you were not answered in the movie, it made me wonder if all the other schools were inaccurately portrayed. I was taken aback when I read this line,”My roommate went on to clarify that the high school was not all bad, in fact he said he was in their so called “magnet program,” where determined and gifted students were still challenged by a college preparatory program.” The movie made Roosevelt High appear to be this horrible school to attend, when really it was attempting to help every child achieve their maximum potential in some way or another. The part you mentioned about the Mexican Americans struggling and the comparison your roommate gave were great. However, after reading about your roommates experience, it makes me again wonder are the schools in the movie doing more than what is portrayed to help the students. It was sad to hear the story about your roommates classmate, whom excelled in math but, ended up dropping out because he got caught up in a gang.

      • Hanna Norman says:

        It’s really cool that you were able to make a personal connection to the documentary. I think that the point you make about the things that were left out of the documentary is related to the sheet we got about the arguments made in the counter-documentary, “The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting for Superman.” I think that although the documentary was extremely well made and powerful, there were surely a lot of things that were left out and a lot of details that were manipulated to make the film more dramatic in a way. The acknowledgment of the “magnet program” your friend was a part of, for example, shows that Waiting for Superman failed to identify some very important positives about Roosevelt High while focusing solely on the negatives. This goes along with one of the counter-documentary’s arguments, “does not show successful public schools.” I think it’s interesting because while I was watching the film, I did not consider how biased the production of it was towards downgrading public education and glorifying charter schools, but after reading the counter arguments and hearing stories such as your friend’s, I realize that it is unlikely that everything they said was as bad as they made it seem.

    • Giulia Pagano says:

      Thanks for sharing this website. I found it extremely interesting to listen closely to what was being said by this student. I also wonder how a young boy can be exposed by so many horrific things in this life. I have to agree that the song “Hell on Earth” depicts a perfect picture in our minds on how it is to live in Boyle Heights. The rapper goes on to talk a lot about his childhood from about 8 years old to now. It’s scary to hear about the reasons he ended up on the streets, and how one of the main reasons was because of what his mother did around him that influenced him to do the same. It is clear that kids were bringing weapons, pills, and drugs into school, but is was not clear whether his struggles started within the school walls. Although this is just one story out of many, I am convinced that the schools, such as the one in Boyle Heights, are not used as a facility to foster such behaviors. In fact, after listening to some of these songs, I am even more convinced that it is the area and the neighborhood around the school that is the source of these problems. Yes, the schools should be put to the task of fostering a caring community within school grounds, but the administration can only do so much. The rest of the responsibility, I believe, relies on the parents and the surrounding community to perpetuate that caring community. Most of the experiences that this young rapper draws from his childhood are mainly seen on the streets of Boyle Heights and not in the school hallways. That being said, a greater emphasis should be placed on improving communities around such “failing factories”.

  6. Madison Parks says:

    Although I didn’t attend school in a district similar to those featured in the film, I was able to see similarities in the school districts featured and the school district that I attended. The districts in Waiting for Superman were inner city and had predominantly students of color. My district encompassed a relatively poor farming town, but was predominantly white. Despite the difference in urbanization, I was able to recognize that many of the issues that the students in the film faced were also present at my school. Students in the inner city schools are not as successful as those in charter schools because of funding. I believe that many of the issues that schools face would be solved with bigger purse strings. The charter schools implemented new strategies to teach the same students, which enabled them to be successful, but also these privately owned public schools seem to be wealthier than other schools in the area. Also, the charter schools have smaller class sizes and more teach professionals. If new teaching methods were to be implemented in the school that I attended, I believe that many of the students would experience more success. However, with funding, I believe that my high school classmates would have more drive due to the higher number of resources. Funding is an issue for public schools across the country, and if funding were to increase, student success would also increase.
    One of the first quotes of the movie seemed to summarize the problem with public education in America. Geoffrey Canada said he realized that “no one [was coming] with enough power to save [them].” He was talking about when he found out that superman was fictional, however that quote directly relates to the difficulty that American education faces. No one, currently, has enough power to fix or change the issues in the system, including the inequality in charter and public schools. Also, those with power and vision who are trying to change the institution are facing opposition from teachers’ unions and the general public because the policies required to implement change are unfavorable.
    For the education in America to improve and to enter the competition with other leading nations, the general public’s attitude toward education must change. In the film it said that American schools haven’t changed since the 1970s, when they were the best in the world. However, Americans have changed. The importance of education has increased, as the desire for education has decreased. To combat the problem that schools in my district face, is for the public to reestablish the value in education.

    • Ethan Rayner says:

      This brings up an important issue of how America’s education system is slipping compared to other nations. We also saw this disparity in American Teacher which showed how far American education and test scored have slipped compared to other nations since the 1970s. I also found it comical how the US ranks among the highest in confidence, however our test scores are very low compared to other countries. This means that American students possess false confidence that they rank amongst the highest achieving countries. I agree with you that the importance of education has increased however I believe it is not the desire that is decreasing, but rather the resources and the emphasis we place on the teaching profession that are lacking. Like the documentary stated, teaching should be considered a privilege instead of being seen as a default profession. Nothing will change without good teaching and without the resources to properly educate these teachers, we will be stuck in the past and continue to sink in the world rankings.

      • Hara Connell says:

        I agree with both of you though I would just add to Ethan’s point about the emphasis we place on teaching. I would argue that American mentality and culture, to a certain extent, has changed over the years. Some would argue that less responsibility is being placed and students in modern day. Though the demand for education is increasing, teachers are asking less and less of their students so that their students’ passing will be ensured. This attitude is not only extremely detrimental to student success but also propagates a very dangerous mentality amongst the American public: that students, and their education, should not be invested in. This leads into issues of funding and teacher training, and indeed effects all areas of education.

  7. Ethan Rayner says:

    Waiting for Superman documents the tragic state of urban public schools. Through Geoffrey Canada’s life story we find out that kids waiting for a ‘Superman’ to come save them from their current situation unfortunately does not exist. What surprised me about the documentary was how public school is the only option for most kids and only the lucky are able to attend private or charter schools. This is an issue because of the disparity between public and charter schools in urban areas such as New York or Washington, DC. I also thought it was surprising how they chose which students would get to attend these schools through a lottery. They did not make admissions decisions based on merit like colleges do, rather it is based it all on a lottery system. Therefore the lucky get to attend successful charter schools and children like Daisy, who was a very ambitious, intelligent girl did not get selected in the lottery and by default will attend public school. This causes a feeling of rejection that you could see on the faces of the parents and students who did not get into the charter schools. This also adds to the disparity between the public schools and the charter schools because everyone hopes to get into charter schools and their fall-back is to attend public schools.
    Another thing that stood out to me in this documentary was the current state of teacher’s unions. We think of unions as protecting teachers, however this is not the case. From the documentary I found it startling how the teacher’s union is hindering progress in teaching. This is because of how easy it is for a teacher to get tenured and once they’re tenured it is almost impossible to fire them for the remainder of their career. Therefore it is difficult to reward good teaching because of how tenured teachers all get paid close to the same salary. Teachers are not motivated to teach more effectively because they know they will get paid the same amount of money. This is incredibly detrimental to the teaching profession. I found it ironic how unions, which are designed to protect teachers end up doing more harm than good for the teaching profession. This effect is directly felt by urban, public schools which become known as “dropout factories”. These schools regularly have less than 40% of students graduate. This poses the question that the documentary eludes to: is it the bad neighborhoods that cause the schools to be sub-par or the sub-par schools which cause the neighborhoods to be bad? I think the schools play a big role in adding to the violent and drug ridden neighborhoods but I also think the negative pressure from the poor neighborhoods is enough to detract students away from the public schools. Its a two way street but it calls into question a huge issue our generation is faced with and it is a questions that needs a solution.

  8. Hanna Norman says:

    While watching “Waiting for Superman,” I found the connection that was made between schools and achievement levels and the environments in which they exist to be very interesting. I remember one quote from the documentary that discussed how people often blame failing schools on failing neighborhoods. I thought that this was very interesting because in a perfect world, there would be no correlation between a school and the neighborhood it exists in because every school would be a good school in itself. However, since so many of our country’s schools are struggling and failing, we seek out explanations for this failure. Unfortunately, since many of these failing schools are in bad neighborhoods, to blame the environment surrounding the bad schools is easy. In my opinion, this is a problem because once a school has been pegged as bad on top of a neighborhood that has been pegged as bad, families will avoid populating the neighborhood, student motivation will decline, teacher motivation will decline, etc. I think that there is likely a strong correlation between failing schools and failing neighborhoods, but I don’t think that this correlation needs to exist. If a school finds a way to succeed in a failing neighborhood, I think that it would have the potential to change the entire community. I think that students in bad neighborhoods would be more likely to stay out of trouble if they had a good school to attend. In relation to this, I found the statistic about high school dropouts in Pennsylvania very interesting: 68% of inmates in Pennsylvania are high school dropouts, and it is more expensive for the state to keep these inmates in prison and feed and clothe them than it would have been to fund their private school education. I think that this goes to show that there is potential to help students in failing neighborhoods and help them get out of situations with failing schools, but the effort needs to be put in to doing so.

  9. Paul Anderson says:

    Local school boards and state departments of education are currently in charge of setting the standards for schools. I think this is the first issue with the public school system. The film gave the example that a student can fail a test in one distract or state and drive 20 miles to another and pass the same test. What does this say about standards? Why do some states or distracts have lower standards? The film describes the lower standards in place as just to push kids through the system regardless of the level of achievement that they have reached.

    I personally think the first step in fixing the school system is by having high national standards that are followed by every school. I also think that unions should be eliminated. Unions were originally created to protect workers from near slave conditions. There are now laws in place that protect people from poor working conditions as well as fair pay. Unions are now taking away from the education system rather then protecting it like it was originally aimed to do. Unions are protection teachers with low performance levels. According to the film one out of every 57 doctors loses his or her license to practice medicine. One out of every 97 lawyers loses their license to practice law. In many major cities, only one out of 1000 teachers is fired for performance-related reasons. Why? Tenure. This means that bad teachers are being kept in the classroom. While there is a process in terminating teachers for poor teachers many schools feel that they cannot for financial reasons. New York City fired only 10 of its 55,000 tenured teachers. The cost to eliminate those employees averages out to $163,142. With schools being underfunded they feel like they cannot afford to fire the bad teachers. This shows the vicious circle that schools are trapped in because of unions. While there are advantages to unions I think the cons out weigh the pros. Unions are in place to protect the teachers when schools are in place for students.

    So I feel that it is the responsibility for the average Joe to sustain a good public school system. It is important that people see past the politics when electing people to represent them and see what they are truly going to do for the education system. If all people demand good public school systems then change can come. All people should be invested in education even if they do not have a child in the system because it means the future of our country. People should stand up to demand good education for children.

  10. Hara Connell says:

    By watching this movie I learned a great deal about the charter school movement that I hadn’t previously known. One aspect that was particularly new and surprising to me was the role of the Teacher’s Union in impeding reform. I had not previously considered how unions could have an agenda that is not necessarily dedicated to betterment of schools. Certainly it is important for teachers’ rights to be accounted for and respected, and indeed a force dedicated to teacher protection is equally important. That being said, if the activities of this force are a hindrance to the profession as a whole they are part of a greater problem.

    Some of the effects of the Teacher’s Union on the school system I found particularly shocking. The inability for schools to readily get rid of bad teachers, for instance, is quite troubling. I do not believe that a teacher who is performing poorly in their job should be allowed to continue. As the documentary discussed, a certain “dance of the lemons” occurs and instead of being fired, bad teachers are simply sent to teach in other schools. I find this extremely distressing, as it is the students who will suffer as a result of it.

    What was perhaps even more aggravating however was the “Rubber Room” system that exists in New York. This is again, a result of unions imposing rules preventing teachers from being fired. The idea that teachers who are let go from one school get paid to wait for reassignment is completely mind boggling to me. Essentially, some bad teachers are getting to quite literally do nothing. The money spent on these inactive teachers could be going towards creating better schools for American youth.

    I was also extremely confused and maddened by the Union’s refusal to allow teachers to opt out of tenure for increased incomes. I felt that the solution put forward regarding the removal of tenure was an excellent compromise that would have allowed schools to have a stronger happier workforce. That the Union would prevent such a reform due to self-interest is extremely concerning and suggests to me that the teachers unions are perhaps a threat to bettering the American public education system. It is pointed out on the handout, however, that perhaps the Union’s were demonized by this particular documentary. For what reason then did the Union not allow such reform to pass? It would seem that their motives are somewhat questionable.

  11. Devlynn Chen says:

    I feel that everyone invested in a community is responsible for creating and sustaining great public schools. In the documentary, Geoffrey Canada, founder of the pilot charter school program states “accountability standards” as the reason for why his charter school has the best test results of all students. I think that high expectations for students are definitely a strong reason for better results. On a personal level, I have experience in a public middle school where high expectations were not emphasized. When I look back, I cannot recall any significant things I learned in those years. If I had been placed in a school where excellence was the standard, I probably would have retained more of my learning as opposed to having the years blur by me. This relates back to my point that everyone should be responsible for creating and sustaining great public schools. If everyone can contribute to holding the education environment accountable for keeping education at a higher standard, then students can excel. Teachers as well as parents would be responsible for keeping track of the student’s progress and making sure the students get appropriate assistance when in need. When students are told what is expected of them and feel the pressure from teachers, parents or other students to do well, it results in better prepared students. Switching from a low academically standard middle school to a high achieving high school made me realize the difference in my performance was due to the high expectations the administration, teachers and peers placed upon as I walked through the halls.

    I believe that the root cause of low performing schools is the community’s emphasis on the importance of school. I think that if a community, as a whole, places negative view upon schools, everyone in the community will eventually believe schools are not worthwhile. As a result, many schools in these districts become drop-out factories because no one believes in the system because the system fails them. A potential solution to the endless cycle of failing schools is to introduce people with a strong faith in the school system to the community. Although a potential backlash can be that the people would be unwelcomed and may be met with an opposing force from the community. These people would have to be extremely determined to change the low-performing schools of this district. I have not been in any schools that are failing but the schools in the documentary were very close to home. This indicates that even though I may not see it, the problem still exists.

  12. Hayley Advokat says:

    Watching Waiting for Superman really got me thinking about and looking at education in a very different way. This was actually the second time I had watched the documentary. I still was so impacted by each student’s need and want to go to a better school, and participate in everything that the public education system had to offer them. However, it is disheartening to know that exactly what the system has to offer, is not exactly all it is talked up to be. Then, when students hope to look else ware, they are left in these enormous lotteries with all the odds stacked against them. Their educational future is entirely based upon chance. I feel so fortunate now to have had the academic opportunities that I was given. I think that I took for granted some of the things that came my way in the education sphere. A reoccurring theme amongst this movie, our conversations in class, and in the United States today is how we can better our teachers. 100 million dollars are spent each year on teachers in the “rubber room” where they are held if they are considered sub-par at their job. Many schools have terrible teachers and do the “lemon dance” in the hopes that they will get lucky and find a new better worse bunch. These less than focused teachers are who are responsible for these “dropout factories” where over 40% of the students will drop out before graduation. Someone above listed the statistic of dropout students that get sent to jail, and how much more government funding is being spent on them in jail, rather than if they went to a four year college. These statistics in the movie are astounding. I mentioned Michelle Rhee in my post above, and I think she did an amazing job in getting things started. Even though many teachers, and people did not like her choice of strong initiatives, these bold moves are what have to be made in order to start seeing a significant change in our public school systems.

  13. Jong Ho Choi says:

    One of the things that struck me the most is how stressful the selection process for the charter schools was and how desperate everyone was about getting in the charter schools. From the reactions of the people introduced in the documentary, it felt as if being enrolled in charter schools was the only way out for the future. I could not believe that there are so many people who see charter schools as the only options. At first I was thinking that the people are responsible for the biases they hold against public schools and those that are called “drop-out factories”, but later I started to think that for that many people to think in such ways, the school must hold responsibilities in acquiring such negative fame. These two attributes form a vicious cycle that keeps on getting worse, and what is even worse than that is that there is not much done to resolve the problem. Unless this dispute is taken care of, there will only be more and more students who drop out and less and less students who get the opportunity to continue their education, a privilege every student should be granted.

  14. Arielle Misrok says:

    Just as Kenzie did, I found the dropout rates of the so-called “failure factories” to be absolutely mind-blowing. Coming from a small, high performing, suburban public school where such a high percentage of students graduate and go on to college, I found it hard to believe that so many students are not graduating high school or even middle school. Because I did not know much about the conditions of these schools and how hard it is for the students to succeed, I found this documentary to be extremely effective. Coming from personal experience, I know my parents moved to Ardsley when I was three years old because it was a high performing school district. The property taxes in Ardsley were higher than a lot of towns around us and I used to think it was because our school district performed better than the ones around us, but this documentary forced me to rethink my old beliefs. I worry that I was maybe a little too overconfident about my grades and achievement than I should have been. With that said, I feel as though my school did an excellent job preparing me for college.
    Another thing I found interesting in this documentary was the debate over the concept of tenure. Because my mom is a teacher, I thought this debate hit close to home. Before watching this documentary, I truly believed that tenure could only be a positive aspect of the field of education because it helped teachers teach with the confidence and comfort that their job would not be taken from them. After my mom got tenure, she was so happy about it, and I could not imagine any way in which tenure could be detrimental to students. After watching this documentary, I really believe that tenure has a negative impact on students and schools as a whole. Once teachers receive tenure, it is so easy for them to lose motivation to teach to their full potential. Also, if they start performing at a lower level than they previously had been, there is no way to fire them. I believe that teachers should be paid and rewarded based on merit. If a teacher isn’t performing well, I believe schools should have the freedom to fire them and in their place, insert a better teacher who helps students reach their full potential for learning. With tenure, schools will continue to remain stagnant in their progress.

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