Rep. Mike Coffman The film “Waiting for Superman,” directed by Davis Guggenheim and produced by Lesley Chilcott, is a documentary that analyzes …
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Rep. Mike Coffman
The film “Waiting for Superman,” directed by Davis Guggenheim
and produced by Lesley Chilcott, is a documentary that analyzes the
failures of American public education by following several students
through the system. The documentary is a clear indictment of many
of our nation’s urban public schools which are labeled in the film
as “drop out factories” because, on average, 40 percent of their
students fail to graduate.
It would be hard to label Davis Guggenheim as a right-wing
conservative since he previously directed another documentary, “An
Inconvenient Truth,” that championed former Vice President Al
Gore’s thesis about the impending perils of global warming.
The documentary sheds a harsh light on these mostly urban
schools and examines the myth that poor children are the problem
and not these union-dominated bureaucratic school districts.
The film also debunks the myth that the amount of funding for
public education is directly proportional to student achievement
since the District of Columbia and New Jersey respectively have the
two highest per pupil funding levels nationally while they also
share in the distinction of having the lowest achievement scores on
The movie places most of the blame at the feet of powerful
teachers’ unions who have a choke hold on the political process and
leverage their power to stifle innovation and reward poorly
performing teachers with everlasting job security.
One part of the documentary describes a ritual in these
underperforming schools called the “dance of the lemons.” It begins
at the end of every school year with the transfer of poorly
performing teachers from one school to another. Each principal
prays the teachers received are not as bad as the ones transferred.
This dance of the lemons is done in lieu of firing bad teachers
because their union contracts protect them, irrespective of how bad
they’re in the classroom, by making the disciplinary processes mind
numbingly difficult to administer and as legally cumbersome as is
The documentary closes with a focus on charter schools, public
schools that have been released from the stifling bondage of union
contracts, as the solution. It gives real life examples of how
charter schools can free up the creative energies necessary to
educate all children.
The last scenes of the documentary dramatized the emotional
desperation of parents and their children anxiously waiting for
their number to be called at lotteries designed to ration the
limited number of openings at these sought after schools. These
families are forced to play in a game of chance and bet whether
their children will have a future or be forced to return to the
same broken schools that will condemn yet another generation to a
culture of poverty where there is no hope for them.
I cheered for the lucky winners and felt terrible for those who
Early last year in Congress, a little known legislative
provision was buried inside of a much larger bill passed at the
request of the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National
Education Association. The purpose of the amendment was to put a
stop to a program that allowed poor children to escape the gang
infested schools of inner city Washington, D.C. for private schools
where they could receive an education at a fraction of the cost to
The politically powerful union won, the legislation passed, but
the debate over school choice in public education is just beginning
and I predict it will be the leading civil rights struggle of this
decade and that at the end, freedom will prevail.
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