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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 09/25/2010

Season of the education film: Do they help or hurt?

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Sean Slade, director of Healthy School Communities, part of the Whole Child Initiative at ASCD, an educational leadership organization.

By Sean Slade
We are in the season of the educational documentary. Much has been written about the four films coming out for theatrical run and community screenings this fall about the state of the U.S. public education system: Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, The Cartel, and Race To Nowhere. But far less has been mentioned about what happens after the final credits roll.

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies for the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, summed it up nicely when talking in this Education Week article about the film that has garnered the most publicity so far, Waiting For Superman.

“I think it’s naive to imagine a single movie or book is going to change permanently what the public is concerned about or how it thinks about an issue,” Hess said. “People are busy. They have jobs and kids. They are supposed to be worried about national security and highway safety and Internet stalkers and any number of things. Even if they walk out of the movie fired up, there’s lots of other causes and demands.”

Any lasting effects of Waiting For Superman or the other films will be determined by the success of the engagement activities connected to each of them. "What happens next is what matters," he said. "Is there a strategy to linking those people into the issue in an ongoing way?”

So what do the films have planned for the day after?

The Lottery, The Cartel and Waiting for Superman -- all of which highlight charter schools in a positive light -- provide general links on their sites for people to find out more about their school’s test scores or their district’s financial situation, depending upon the film. They tell viewers to contact advocacy groups, donate to similar organizations, and to become a mentor or a teacher, or a watchdog for public finances. The suggestions themselves suggest that the filmmakers believe they have definitively made their points, and all that is left is action. Discussion over.

The film Race To Nowhere takes a different stance. This film, which looks at the pressures faced by schoolchildren and teachers in a test-obsessed era and paints a different picture from the other three movies, tells viewers to continue the debate in their communities, schools and homes and search for answers that work at the local level. This approach presumes that the film is the start of the conversation and not the end. It is also, somewhat ironically, the only film which has designed direct actions and discussions that actually involve students.

The film fits with ASCD’s commitment to the Whole Child and Healthy School Communities in particular but it was the commitment to an ongoing dialogue that prompted ASCD’s executive director, Gene Carter, to write the Forward to the Facilitation Guide that accompanies the film.

He wrote: "Challenges, when discovered, need to be addressed. Problems, when they arise, need to be solved. This is never so true as when we are talking about our children--their health, their growth, their education and their development. It is not enough to alert people to issues and then walk away. It is not enough to uncover problems and then neglect to work through them. It is not enough to lay blame and then move on."


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By Valerie Strauss  | September 25, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  education documentaries, education films, race to nowhere, school reform, the cartel, the lottery, waiting for superman  
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Next: Will Rhee be a footnote in school reform history?


crucial website for
background info. about
charter schools --

The purpose of this Web site is to provide the public with a source of independently collected information about U.S. charter schools.

For instance, compare what you learn from my entry for the 3,500 student
"CATO School of Reason"
to the content provided by the
pro-charter Center for Education Reform
in their compilation:
"Closed Charter Schools by State: National Data 2009" (63 page pdf).

In the CER's document, the reason given for closure is "Management." The explanation is "Inadequate record keeping, suspect relations with private and sectarian schools." Well, the story is much bigger and dirtier than that, as you'll learn when you read the articles compiled in my entry for the same school.

This site is a non-billionaire funded (and un-bought off!!!), non-union affiliated, one-person operation in the name of public service. I post the information as quickly as I can, but have a massive backlog due to the sheer number of stories. Please check back periodically for new additions.

And be sure to check out my other blogs:


Posted by: tellthetruth10 | September 25, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

These are a range of charter schools
(including non-profit and for-profit,
parent & community designed,
also corporate chain schools,
and scam schools (schools for scandal).....

view the website
listed below
for crucial
about the actual performance
& management of charter schools
in the U.S. =>


Posted by: tellthetruth10 | September 25, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

These are a range of charter schools
(including non-profit and for-profit,
parent & community designed,
also corporate chain schools,
and scam schools (schools for scandal).....

view the website
listed below
for crucial
about the actual performance
& management of charter schools
in the U.S. =>


Posted by: tellthetruth10 | September 25, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

This approach presumes that the film is the start of the conversation and not the end.

That's probably the most important point for all of the films, regardless of where you stand on the issues.

The uncomfortable fact is, the media - movies, tv, internet, etc., has powerful influences on our lives and thinking, particularly attitudes. I'd love to see a filmmaker address the issue of other 'teachers' in students' lives aside from their parents and schools, and the impact of media shows and advertising has to be way up there.

Case in point:
I watched the second part of Oprah's Education presentations yesterday and was completely aghast - while her guests were impressive, there were NO TEACHERS to give their view, the show was interrupted every 3 1/2 minutes or so to advertise something,
and Oprah had the audacity to give a public job pitch for Ms. Rhee. Oprah has enormous influence, and unfortunately, a lot of people take her 'sound bites' to heart without thinking much further....some conversation!!!

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | September 25, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I've written this on other sites. Since A Nation at Risk report in 1983, education has become the new "threat" like communism. We have allowed all levels of government control the debate and agenda for political gain. Corporations are amassing fortunes through the tests schemes and the privatization efforts to "fix" the problem. First it was the local control issue, so states had to create mandated curriculum, then it was a national effort in No Child Left Behind, and now since the politicians and corporations want to be left blameless, it is the teachers, the unions, the students, the parents. Who's profiting from all this? Well, we know who haven't, the millions of kids used as guinea pigs who are not being well served in k-12 and can't afford college with no skills or help in finding any enjoyable employment.

Posted by: lnesbitt | September 25, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for giving voice to the movie Race to Nowhere. I've seen it three times and each time it inspires me more. It encourages individuals to take action, not just politicians.

Posted by: poodle2 | September 26, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

Newsweek claims that "Waiting for Superman" beautifully details Michelle Rhee's work in DC. I wonder if they will ever tell the truth about her.

I lost respect for Newsweek for their anti-teacher attitude. I am not renewing my subscription because of it.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 26, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I started to watch the trailer on the cartel, and it started by saying teachers were misleading parents. It also had Michael Bloomberg criticizing teachers.

I guess it is open season on teachers. Perhaps Bloomberg is attacking teachers as a pathway to the presidency.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 26, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I think all teachers working in the inner city should leave teaching, and let the anti-teacher forces like Jonathan Alter, Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates teach the kids in the inner city.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 26, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

You`re correct,traditionally there has been no movement only rhetoric.

We must all understand that teachers are poorly poorly trained to teach Reading,Spelling and Writing-their teacher prep licensing courses are flawed and the new research has not been integrated-this has been going on for 20 years-what you have out there are partial decoders and students who are reading from memory rather than through a brain process-
The problems are seeded in the early grades and it never stops-we are in quick sand from Grade 2and 3 forward.

Universities must be forced to teach the teachers on explicit systematic synthetic phonics beginning with building phonemic awareness knowledge(speech sounds) at the oral pronunciation level.Without this standardized Universal knowledge the disaster of whole language flawed pedagogy will never stop.
The idea that it has stopped is ridiculous-with teachers not knowing how to teach Reading we have 2 victims-the teachers and the Unions when in reality it is the Universities!Ego driven professors.Honour research,Doctors do it.

Posted by: Reading101 | September 26, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

You forgot one very good documentary that actually covers all the issues and does so with the data. "A right Denied" by the same producer who created "2million minutes" another documentary you forgot that covers the other "achievement gap" the gap between our college bound best students and the rest of the worlds average students. If every middle school student in the US were required to see all of these documentaries it would do more good than free ipads for all.

Posted by: Stallcup | September 26, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

One chancellor down, one to go.

New York City Chancellor Joel Klink*, I sincerely want you to enjoy your warm fuzzy delusions about "Waiting For Superman" because they may not last very long. I mean, did you hear what happened to Michelle Rhee? She's plays a "chancellor" just like you right? And she was one of the stars of your movie right?

Excuse my French, but damn Joel, she didn't even make to the big premier yesterday in NYC and LA, before she was turned into a quivering bowl of jello standing next to the man who will fire her soon in DC. If you haven't heard about Sept. 14th in Washington, that mayor that Bill Gates put in charge of the public school system, Adrian Fenty, got stomped in a re-election bid. I mean he got beat like a hedge fund manager trying to steal something from Sen. Perkins there in the Big Apple! Go figure. Rhee, the "warrior woman", campaigned for him and everything.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't she like to mouth the same hypocritical blather you do about education being "the Civil Rights struggle of our generation" while overseeing a thoroughly racist public school system? You may want to retool that Newt Gingrich-ish slogan, paragon of the Civil Rights Movement that he is. It looks like people may be on to you folks. Rhee kind of made it easy. Just before the election she entertained her new teachers with a story about taping the mouths of Black children shut to keep them quiet. According to her, there was blood when the tape came off, but for some reason she wasn't arrested. Would have been off to the rubber room under your leadership right? And I know you are slicker than Michelle, all that CEO training, and you don't have any classroom stories to tell, because you've never set foot in a classroom, except to visit one of your precious charter schools.

But I digress, because I just have to tell you the most startling thing of all. As a civil rights crusader, you need to really put your ear up close to this essay now. D.C. is broken up into eight or nine wards for purposes of voting. In the wards where white voters are concentrated, four out of five supported Adrian Fenty. I mean Joel, those people love themselves some Bill Gates, some quisling mayor, and a chancellor who will tape those Black kids mouths shut and take a broom to the teachers. But listen, in the African-American wards, where parents actually have their children in the DC public schools, and where the Black teachers replaced by white Teach For America missionaries live, they voted four out of five to run Michelle Rhee out of town!

Joel, you do know that Superman is fictional character? Ironically, he was a D.C. Comics creation. Seems like an omen maybe. You might want to check and see if there's a seat for you on Bloomberg's plane to Bermuda when Superman doesn't show up.

* The misspelling of CEO of Bertelsmann Inc. Joel Klein's name was an intentional act of ridicule and an homage to the long running TV series Hogan's Heroes.

Posted by: natturner | September 26, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Have you posted your website on Oprah's blog?

Posted by: tutucker | September 26, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Other mayors will learn from Fenty’s loss that voters can turn on you if you fail to heed your community and give your superintendent too long a leash.

Oh really.

Or will they simply come to recognize that the gargoyles, such as yourself, guard the troughs of corruption so carefully
constructed in our society.

That the mob-like networks use students as their props to maintain their gravy train.

God forbid, someone might actually try to ensure that our children have the excellent educational opportunities they deserve, when this might interfere with job security for teachers or illegal drug distribution networks in our schools.

A principal who challenged this, lost his life earlier this year.

And the gargoyles won again.

From your first utterance, your words shout the names of your affiliates in history. Bad company indeed.

Posted by: inojk | September 26, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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