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Waiting for Superman - The Rhode Island Premiere

Thursday, October 21, 2010

 

Waiting for Superman, the high anticipated documentary on public education in the US, opened last night to a packed audience of more than 500 at the Showcase Cinema in Warwick. Sponsored by RI-CAN - The Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, the theater was filled with invited educators, politicians and community activists. The movie is the brainchild of Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, and it is very clearly the most important education documentary to be produced in recent decades, perhaps ever.

Five children, five failing schools

The movie follows five children as they attempt to escape failing schools and be accepted to highly successful charter schools in their area. In the midst of tracking the children, the film explains the issues surrounding poor performance in our nations’ schools. Statistical experts pull the covers back on data points that show the lack of progress in test scores, and the difference a good teacher can make. Education innovators like Geoffrey Canada from the Harlem Success Academy show us that EVERY child can learn and go to college, regardless of their socio-economic background. And we watch Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of Education in Washington, DC as she falls victim to the incredible power of the teachers’ unions.

Shedding necessary light

It’s not a pretty picture, but the film shines a spotlight on some key issues. The first is the debunking of the myth that poor kids can’t learn and that their parents don’t care about education. The SEED schools, KIPP Academies and Harlem Success Academy prove that all kids can learn given the right teachers and tools. The film also illuminates the incredible power and roadblock that teachers’ unions represent in fixing our schools. We learn that the teachers unions give more money to politicians every year that the NRA or the AFL-CIO. And while I think everyone will agree that most teachers do an amazing job in difficult circumstances, some are underperforming, and you can’t get rid of them. 1 in 57 doctors will lose their license to practice medicine across the US this year; only 1 in 2500 teachers will be fired. The process established by the unions makes it nearly impossible to fire a teacher, even in the most egregious situations. And so, we shuffle failing teachers from one school to the next. Sadly, one year with a bad teacher can put a student so far behind peers that he or she will never catch up.

Frustration, inspiration

Waiting for Superman will make you laugh, cry, think, and most of all, enrage you. According to Kids Count statistics, Rhode Island falls dead last among the six New England states in student achievement. Whether your kids are in a successful or failing school, that should make you angry. There are solutions; innovators like Geoffrey Canada have shown us the way. Now, it’s time for communities to rise up and demand better education for our tax dollars, and it’s time for all the great teachers to reform their unions from within, so that all kids get the education that they deserve.

To join the movement to reform RI schools, go to: www.ri-can.org

 

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