Posts Tagged ‘Waiting for Superman’

My letter in Sojourners Magazine re: real reform

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Sojourners Magazine just published a blog comment/letter to the editor I wrote in response to a previous article by Nicole Baker Fulgham, “Beyond ‘Superman,’” which referenced “Waiting for Superman” in recommending that meaningful reform must involve all stakeholders having a stronger, more meaningful voice in school decision-making.

Fulgham wrote: “As an African-American woman and a Christian, I have undergone my own process to unpack the unique and often deeply held beliefs of communities that have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised within public discourse. I’ve come to believe that we have to find authentic ways to give all stakeholders a voice in the dialogue and decision-making. Otherwise we run the risk of well-intentioned school reforms being viewed with heavy doses of skepticism by those left out of the process.”

Read more of her thoughtful piece here.

PSAT for 8-14-12: Let’s not back down!

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Public Schools Action Tuesday for today is to keep up the pressure on the Teachers Rock event and Won’t Back Down movie.

Please especially work on your local movie and/or entertainment reporters. They are no doubt receiving buckets of slick PR material from Walden Media, the producers whose Waiting for Superman propaganda sucked all the air out of the school reform debate for a couple of months in 2010.

Here’s a great FAQ on the WBD movie and the parent trigger from Parents Across America to add to the “Just the facts” piece I sent around earlier.

I’m trying to get to Roger Ebert and a TV entertainment reporter I know but we need all hands on deck across the country!

We are beginning to get through to some reporters and even a star or two, as evidenced by this blog post by the great Jose Vilson:

I rarely get the opportunity to have my opinion come in direct conflict with an outstanding actress of any repute, so excuse me if I brag via quote today. The following excerpt was published in the independent media outlet In These Times, written by Josh Eidelson:

Vilson says he was particularly disappointed by Viola Davis’ participation, given The Help star’s past comments about wanting to elevate the voices of often-ignored domestic workers.

“You should also see the alignment between that and what’s going on with teachers,” says Vilson, “and the bad tone that’s being sent throughout the country.”

“I’m sorry,” Davis told the New York Times, “I just know if you don’t have a strong advocate for a child, they’re not going to make it.”

The New York Times reported that the trigger law portrayed in Won’t Back Down differs from its real life counterparts in a key respect: Unlike standard parent triggers laws which require just a majority of parents’ signatures to trigger a turnaround, the law in the movie requires support from a majority of a school’s teachers as well. Asked why, Weil told In These Times, “It was important that the law used be fictional because the film is not based on a specific actual law,” but instead “draws on many situations throughout the country.”

Obviously, we didn’t actually respond to each other, but I might as well have. I anticipated that some of the interviews regarding the two-pronged events of the movie Won’t Back Down and the Teachers Rock! concert sponsored by Walmart will have the same soundbites about helping kids and giving parents advocacy.

The crux of my argument against Won’t Back Down specifically is this: we should recognize that this movie will have a similar effect to what Waiting for Superman had on the general zeitgeist. While not very popular, WfSset a precedent for how many times a non-educator could ask a teacher (namely me) about what really happens under the presumption that the movie has more than an ounce of truth to it.

It had very little, but people bought it anyways, because the movie told them so.

I do get it, though. Parents across the country are in fact frustrated. So are many others. Many public schools aren’t working for kids, and the bureaucracy can frustrate even the most patient parent. It often feels like they get the run-around, and when they do protest, they’re often told about how poorly their child performs and that nothing can be done no matter what they say. Too often, even my colleagues fail to see that side, the side where we as educators have to be complicit in the crap when we rather not be.

Let’s work together.

Instead of supporting “parent trigger,” which replaces one school for another and turns the public school into a non-unionized charter school, let’s assure that children get experienced, high-quality educators who won’t leave after 2-3 years. Let’s have answers, and, if not, let’s work towards creating them. Let’s give the idea of a “community school” one more look over, and see how schools often provide a neighborhood spirit where poverty can’t.

Let’s be the solution.

How do we suppose students and parents get their own agency from a company that doesn’t believe in workers’ rights or fair business practices? Come on now. I’m not backing down from this vision.

Dear Teachers Rock performer:

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

As active parents, we thank you for your support for our public school teachers. We support them, too.

But you need to know that the agenda behind the “Teachers Rock” concert and the “Won’t Back Down” movie this concert promotes does not support teachers or our democratic public school system.

The WBD movie promotes a parent trigger law created by charter school operators and promoted by ALEC, which wrote the Stand Your Ground law. The real aim is to privatize public schools and get rid of union teachers.

The WBD movie is produced by the same company that produced the controversial documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which put teachers in a very bad light and presented false and misleading information about charter schools, which overall have not had any better track record in the US than regular schools.

We know that you, like the actors in the movie, aren’t aware that you are being used to promote school privatization in the guise of parent empowerment. We can’t afford a big show or Hollywood movie, but we do hope that you will at least listen to us and reconsider your participation in this event.

Thank you.

Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago)

Lots of upcoming events in real school reform

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 5 to 7 pm @ Luther Memorial Church, 2500 W. Wilson.

PURE’s Wanda Hopkins will be featured on a panel, “Critically Thinking about Chicago Public Schools.” Also featured, members of the CTU, City Council, Raise Your Hand, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, and VOYCE; CPS Board members are also invited.

“The notion of education reform is not a contentious issue for the vast majority of Chicago voters, as 82% consider reform either extremely or very important. However, not all reform is viewed the same. What shape does that reform take? Hear from members of the community involved in reshaping education so it benefits all stakeholders.”

Wednesday, May 23, 3 pm @ the Auditorium Theater, 50 W Congress

“Parents 4 Teachers is organizing a parent rally to coincide with the CTU rally on May 23. We’re meeting at 3 p.m. outside the Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Congress. We want parents there when the teachers come in to the theater to show we are behind them. The union is expecting an overflow crowd and will be conducting an outdoor rally (at 4:30 pm) as well, which we’ll be participating in as well.”

Tuesday, May 29, 6:30 – 8:30 pm @ Talcott School, 1840 W. Ohio

I’ll be bringing home the Chicago connection to the great short documentary “The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman” (here’s the flyer in English and Spanish). The program will offer Spanish translation; a Spanish-language transcript of the film will also be available. The event is co-sponsored by Parents 4 Teachers and Talcott School PTO.

Wednesday, May 30, 6 – 8 pm @ DePaul College of Education, 254 SAC (Schmitt Academic Center), 2320 N. Kenmore

“CReATE, along with the Chicago Teachers Union and the DePaul College of Education, is sponsoring an important program:  EVALUATING TEACHER EVALUATION with Dr. Jesse Rothstein from the University of California at Berkeley. CPS will be including Value Added Metrics (VAM) as part of teacher evaluation. VAM shows serious inconsistencies and inaccuracies when used for teacher evaluation. Learn more about VAM and its flaws from a nationally-recognized expert.

“This program is a follow-up to our press conference and the release of (CReATE’s) open letter on teacher evaluation. The letter can be downloaded here.

“Dr. Rothstein is a nationally known researcher and critic of the use of Value Added Metrics for teacher evaluation. The Chicago Public Schools will be using these metrics as part of the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system.

“Isabel Nuñez, a CReATE member from Concordia University, will discuss the letter as well as the CReATE testing brief.

Saturday, June 2, 10 am – 12:30 pm, UIC, Jane Addams College of Social Work, 1040 W. Harrison, 4th floor, room 4013

“Chicago activists, educators, students, academics and parents are coming together June 2 to talk about how we can use Free Minds, Free People, the powerful national gathering on education justice, to support the development of a national education movement. Be part of this critical discussion about how to connect the burgeoning, city-wide education movement in Chicago to education for liberation work across the country.

“Chicago is the birthplace of Free Minds, Free People, and one of the most important sites in the fight for education justice in this country. We expect Chicago to have a powerful voice in shaping the direction of this critical national gathering. Please join us! Please pre-register here.

“Breakfast and childcare will be provided. You must register your child in advance.
(Donations for food are appreciated)”

Waiting for Rahm: Pro-charter mayor-elect “saves” charter student

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Rahm Emanuel with charter student he saved (Sun-Times photo)

Not sure what part of this Neil Steinberg story in today’s Sun-Times to find most disturbing.

A new counselor at Chicago International  Charter School-Longwood finds a student near tears in the library. She asks him why he’s crying and he says he “hates school.” A staffer tells the counselor, “Oh believe me, you’ll get to know this kid. You’ll see him every day, because he’s a lot of trouble here. He’s not motivated, very defiant and always getting kicked out.”

Nice, huh?

Anyway, the counselor has been volunteering for candidate Rahm Emanuel. She asks the student what he’s interested in and he says “government,” so she offers to bring him to Emanuel campaign headquarters.

“He said, ‘Honestly? Are you for real? Do you know Rahm Emanuel is going to make my neighborhood safer?’” says the counselor. “He literally ran off Rahm’s platform for me. I was completely floored. He knew more about Rahm’s platform than I did.” The young man had heard Emanuel’s campaign promises on TV commercials.

OK, that explains a lot about Emanuel’s victory.

So, he’s down at campaign headquarters and Rahm asks him to help canvass and one thing leads to another and Rahm is asking the student to lead the pledge of allegiance at his inauguration. The student is now motivated in his studies and no longer crying in the library. Rahm even helps him with his homework. Save!!

But, what does that say about the charter school this young man attended? Didn’t the student seem a lot like those children with that “vacant look” in their eyes that Rahm kept talking about in his campaign ads? But I always figured Rahm was talking about those poor students in the failing neighborhood schools, not charter school students. Because Rahm’s education platform consisted almost exclusively of pushing for more charter schools. Even Rahm’s version of “parent empowerment” is the parent trigger, which is essentially a scam to use parents to close schools down and bring in charter schools.

So, if charter schools are the answer, why did Rahm have to save this charter school student?

Rrrowr! Parent trigger front group “outraged” by PURE/PAA position

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Choppers and charters

Even though the story was not even carried in the Tribune print edition, the World’s Greatest Newspaper ran a letter today tearing into a recent Trib blog post about the PURE/Parents Across America position against the parent trigger.

Here’s how they put it: “As parents, we are outraged by statements in a story you ran about PURE’s fight against parent engagement in schools.”

Right. That’s PURE – always fighting against parent engagement.

They go on:

We want to set the record straight. Charter schools are public schools open to any student who lives in Chicago. No tuition. No entrance exams. No excuses. Public charter schools are part of CPS and serve neighborhood kids just like regular CPS schools.

Well, except that some charter schools DO have entrance exams – KIPP is a notable example – and many charge significant fees which families must pay or the student is removed from the school. Oh, and then there’s the fact that charters counsel and push students out – that’s not being “open to any student” and is certainly not the way regular CPS schools serve neighborhood kids.

We need each and every option that delivers results, rather than adults promoting an “us vs. them” mentality.

Right, they oppose the “us vs. them” mentality – that’s why they wrote this letter stating their “outrage” over a parent group expressing an opinion that differs from theirs on this controversial experimental strategy.

It’s time for the grown-ups to start acting like adults. It is time that parents have the power to fix our failing system through the means they like best.

Sure. The best way to show that you’re grown up is to demand that things happen the way that you “like best,” without respect for facts, research, or track record.

Astroturfers unmasked

So, who are these outraged grown-ups? It’s always a hoot to dig a little into the folks who make up these small bands of ragtag “advocates” to see who Bill Gates is using to spread his message. My favorite used to be Rev. Patricia Watkins, who started out wearing a lot of hats for such groups as SAGE and Advance Illinois. Of course, she went on to run for mayor and to famously defend herself against Carol Moseley Braun’s “strung out on crack” crack.

Like Watkins and her multiple hats, most of the signatories of today’s Tribune letter pop up whenever charter schools need to put a parent face on.

Some are members of (though they don’t mention that) – an outgrowth of the expensive, orchestrated media push around the movie “Waiting for Superman.”

The group was recently highlighted on the web site for Michelle Rhee’s new billion dollar public school bashing venture, Students First. Don’t miss the video of noted non-parent Father Michael Pfleger speaking passionately about the need for school choice – including parochial schools like his St. Sabina Academy – and several of the parents noting that they send their children to private, not public schools.

Some “donewaiters” — most of whom are employees of charter schools or charter promoting agencies — also wrote a letter to the Sun-Times last December pushing for more charter schools. is affiliated with Education Reform Now, whose president is former NYC Schools Chief Joel Klein, a huge privatizer.

A little more digging found these interesting tidbits:

  • Trib Letter signer Denise P. Brown was recently a candidate for alderman in the 16th Ward (she lost).
  • Signer Pastor John Zayas is closely associated with recent mayoral candidate Pastor Wilfredo de Jesus. Both men’s churches are listed as favorites of the motorcycle and car hobbyists club, Christ for Life, which describes itself as (and I am not making this up) an interdenominational ministry that does not discriminate based on denominational affiliation, race, disability, skill level, experience, or make or model of vehicle(s).

Gotta love the charter movement.

WFS second thoughts

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Thanks to blogger Fred Klonsky for sharing this recent tweet from Roger Ebert:

“Why maybe “Waiting for Superman” wasn’t all that it seemed. If I’d known, my review would have been different.”

Too bad Roger didn’t pay attention to the e-mail detailing some of the many problems with WFS. which I sent him two weeks before he wrote that review.

I was hoping he would do better than just repeat the Gates-funded PR campaign talking points on the movie, since he had cut right to the bone in his review of “The Providence Effect” the previous year. In that review, he questioned why filmmakers didn’t ask key questions about the private school’s enrollment process, among other issues.

Well, better late than never.

Like Kryptonite to You-Know-Who

Leave it to the Hollywood Reporter to dish the real dirt on why WFS was passed over for an Oscar nomination:

Davis Guggenheim’s doc about poor kids and charter schools got 11 major film award nominations and won four, including the National Board of Review and Sundance Audience Prize. Most pundits thought it a shoo-in. He won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, and had major help from Bill Gates, Oprah and Obama.

Why it happened: Guggenheim’s big backers may have actually irked independent-minded Academy members. Worse, his teacher’s union-bashing film was embraced by conservatives, one of whom said his Oscar snub is “the price a political apostate pays in Hollywood for straying off the liberal plantation.” Education expert Diane Ravitch trashed it as inaccurate. A more dispassionate expert says, “The first response to the movie was that it’s about poor black kids, and it’s from the Gore guy, so it must be liberal and good-hearted. And then Ravitch and others portrayed it as basically right-wing propaganda, which unsettled the liberal members of the Academy. I don’t think the movie is as reactionary as Ravitch portrayed it, but I also don’t think it’s very good.” An Oscar doc voter agrees. “It was a great deal of hype. I felt like I’d seen the story before.”  “It also tanked at the box office, relative to what was spent on promoting it,” adds the education expert. “The true unforgivable sin in Hollywood!”

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.