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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 10/27/2010

"Superman' tells false story about Emily's school

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Caroline Grannan, a San Francisco public school parent, volunteer, advocate and blogger.

By Caroline Grannan

“Woodside is a great school." -- Emily Jones

The movie “Waiting for Superman” tells the stories of five students around the country who are desperate to escape their “failing” public schools and get into the shining charters that are portrayed as their only chance of success – or at least that’s the tale the movie tells.

One of those stories takes place in my neck of the woods, here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The one white middle-class student among the five kids in the movie is Emily Jones, who lives on the suburban San Francisco Peninsula.

The story that Waiting for Superman tells is that Emily is desperate to escape her district public high school, Woodside High, because she’s a bright student who “doesn’t test well,” and due to Woodside’s antiquated and harmful tracking policies, she’ll be tracked into lower-level classes that will doom her to mediocrity.

She grasps at (as the movie shows it) her only hope – Summit Prep Charter, which does the opposite of tracking, requiring all its students to take six AP courses during high school.

Well, that story is false. Here’s the proof. On this video clip, John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation interviews Emily.

The part in the movie illustrating how the horror of tracking sent her fleeing to Summit Prep features a graphic showing students on a conveyor belt, with the select few being elevated to higher-level classes and the rest being dropped onto a march to oblivion.

Yet in the video interview, Emily chats freely with John for five minutes and mentions a number of reasons for wanting to go to Summit instead of Woodside – but never mentions or even alludes to tracking. Just after minute five, Fensterwald brings up tracking. Emily comments on tracking only after Fensterwald prompts her.

And in fact, here’s what Emily says about Woodside High: “Woodside is a great school. I really liked it and I really wanted to go there before I saw Summit.”

That’s not what Waiting for Superman portrays. If the movie misled viewers with a false story about Emily, the line “fool me twice, shame on me” applies – we can’t believe anything it shows us.

Meanwhile, parents at Woodside High have created a huge banner and posted it across the front of the school:

“Woodside High School teachers – Man, You’re Super! Thank you for teaching ALL the students in our community!”


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 27, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Charter schools, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  caroline grannan, davis guggenheim, emily jones, public school, waiting for superman  
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Thank-you for telling us the truth.

The mainstream media won't tell us the truth about "Waiting for Superman." Neither will the Obama administration.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 27, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Uhm I'm sorry I was not aware the Obama administration had anything to do with the making of this movie, smh. You people will use the tsunami in Indonesia as an excuse to pull Obama into an issue...can't wait to go see the movie for myself.

Posted by: allimo76 | October 27, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

allimo76, where did jlp19 write that the Obama administration had something to do with making the movie.
But Secretary of Education ARNE DUNCAN did appear at the DC premiere and call the movie a "Rosa Parks" moment.

Posted by: edlharris | October 27, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

It's about time someone stood up for teachers in this witch hunt. Go Woodside!

Posted by: wakeupfolks99 | October 27, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

“Superman” is SUPER-FRAUD snake oil. The canned “documentary” is scripted, produced, marketed, and directed by the greedy “reformers” with a for-profit education agenda hidden from the viewers. By attacking public education and teachers, the profiteers seek to privatize. Follow the connections and money!

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | October 27, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Ed for clarifying my comment. I forgot everyone doesn't know about Duncan and his remark at the premiere.

Allimo, if it weren't for Arnie Duncan, I would be an Obama supporter.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 28, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse


Sadly, you are right. Obama will not have the same support he had that swept him into office next time around.

Posted by: DHume1 | October 28, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse


Give us a break. For those of us of a darker hue who have gone to the majority of the schools portrayed in this movie -- we need to break up the cabal that is the notion that radical reform is NOT needed in public education.

I tutored children living in homeless family shelters in DC. I tutored kids from the projects in Atlanta. I lived in Harlem.

I have seen these "urban" schools, and I felt terrible for those kids who lost in those lotteries.

The point is not the privatization and commodification of education.

It's about thinking creatively and radically about providing the best public education that can be provided.

As someone who grew up the son of two persons who worked in public education, and as someone who made out of college nearly what my dad was making after then 25 years in the profession, hell, he ought to have chosen merit pay rather than freakin' tenure!

Who cares about Woodside, because the point was till true -- any of those inner city kids would have KILLED to go to that suburban school, and the documentary admitted as much.

I know about the Harlem Children's Zone, and that charter school and that zone is probably the BEST thing going for children in Harlem -- period!

Posted by: bukumuki | November 3, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

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