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Waiting for 'Superman' (2010)
A pathetic piece of propaganda
One of the few things Guggenheim got right was that there is something wrong with the system. Unfortunately, Guggenheim pointed his finger at teachers and teacher unions but not at the real problem.
I want to discuss a study before I discuss the real problem. I cannot remember who did the study but I can tell you the major conclusions. The researchers estimated that the performance of a student is affected only 13-17% by the teacher in the classroom. Why? Answer: Students are human and they have human problems that have nothing to do with the teacher.
For instance, many students in low performing schools arrive to school starving. If you think this doesn't matter then I challenge you to go home tonight and fill up your dinner plate like you normally do, then put half of the food back (which will likely still be more than some students get at night), then go to bed (which you might have trouble doing if you still feel a little hungry), then do not eat any breakfast the next day nor compensate by drinking extra coffee. See how well you do at work when you are starving and have likely gotten less than adequate sleep. Then imagine having to do that everyday of your life but on a worst scale since the little food you do get will probably be out of a can.
As you can see, teachers have such little effect on how well their students do because students have human problems that teachers do not have the time, resources, or training to deal with. The hunger some students face is just one of the problems students have and it is actually not as big as some of the other problems students have, such as getting to school alive.
Overall, teachers have such a small effect on student performance but they have been blamed as the one of the few reasons education in the U.S. is so poor. Now you see why teacher unions are valued by teachers. Without those unions, teachers would be fired left and right for something they have little control over.
So, if teachers and teacher unions aren't what is really wrong with the system, what is? The answer is corporations. Guggenheim actually pointed this out by noting how education started declining in the 1970s. However, he chose to point the finger at educators as the reason for this. In reality, the 1970s is also when wages started to stagnate while corporations and the upper crust of America started to absorb all the profits of our hard work.
To see how income equality affects education, let us look at Finland. Guggenheim used Finland as an example of a country with high test scores that we should try to shoot for. What Guggenheim didn't mention is that Finland only tests their students once every five years. Most likely because there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that high test scores equals better education. Anyway, something else Guggenheim didn't mention is that Finland is much more equitable than America.
I don't recall the exact numbers but a study done in the 2000s showed how the income gap in America was in the thousands of percents (I believe 3,400+%)while that in Finland was under 100 (I think 50-60%). So, in Finland, the students are still human but the problems these students have are much more manageable because their parents have the resources needed to manage them. The reason students in Finland have better test scores is that the students in Finland arrive to school having eaten enough, have universal health care, etc.
A more direct example of how corporations are the problem are the standardized tests. Recall that there is no evidence supporting higher scores equating to better education. Instead, what standardized tests show is that you are better at following directions and conforming which means you are better suited for a job in the service industry. This is why corporations, including corporate media like this movie, constantly talk about improving test scores; better scores equals better workers for the service jobs that are quickly becoming the only jobs available to most Americans.
I can go on about the misinformation in this movie since there seemed to be a misleading fact or quote every five seconds. However, I am limited to 1,000 words so I can't go on showing how corporations and income inequality are the real culprits of the poor state of education in this country. Now that you know though, you can look up literature about income inequality to further education yourself. Since I cannot go on about income inequality, I feel I should use the few words I have left to address the most misleading of facts the movie presented; the facts about KIPP schools.
Guggenheim made it seem like KIPP schools dramatically improved test scores but what the move didn't tell you is that KIPP students are in school 62% longer than students in public schools (which means many KIPP students spend more time in school than their parents do in work). Also, KIPP schools only allow students to take electives if they have high grades in their core(tested on standardized tests)classes. Thus, KIPP students spend more than 62% extra time on the subjects tested on. Lastly, just as KIPP schools accept public money without having to follow public rules (Guggenheim points out this means no tenure or teacher unions), another public rule KIPP schools don't have to follow (which Guggenheim conveniently ignored) is that KIPP schools can expel students who are doing poorly. Thus, KIPP schools can artificially increase their test scores by expelling students who will lower the average right before they take the test. Overall, the test score gains don't look particularly impressive when all of the facts are laid bare. Especially when you realize that all KIPP schools don't have impressive test scores (also conveniently left out by Guggenheim).