Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Waiting for Superman Makes List of Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full of Crap

Waiting for "Superman" -- Charter Schools Kind of Suck, Too

The Film:
Waiting for "Superman" is one of those documentaries that made everyone who watched it instantly call their friends and tell them they had to drop everything they're doing and see it right away. Even President Obama declared himself a huge fan.

According to this award-winning film, only 20 to 35 percent of eighth graders in the U.S. read at grade level, an alarming statistic that explains so much of the Internet. It follows a number of families as they try to get into charter schools, which offer a free alternative to the crushing bureaucracy that is killing our public education system. Tragically, not all of the families get in, damning those kids to schools where they'll hopefully at least be taught how to tell when their pimp is cutting their crack with too much baking soda.

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The Fallacy:
Waiting for "Superman" was all about improving the country's education, but it's so poorly researched and one-sided that it might actually be making things worse.

Let's start with that "only 20 to 35 percent can read well" statistic: The real number is closer to about 75 percent. Also, you might remember a throwaway line about how only 1 in 5 charter schools performs better than public schools -- yeah, that's sort of a big deal, movie. Thirty-seven percent of charters actually perform worse.

Via Wikipedia
Unfortunately the director went to a charter school, so math isn't his greatest strength.

The film focuses on the charters that perform better, of course, but at least one of those is achieving its results through fishy means. One of the administrators of a school shown in the film, the Harlem Children's Zone, expelled an entire class of children that he feared would throw off his glowing performance statistics. It turns out that when teacher pay and/or school funding is tied to student performance, a model that the film advocates, it opens the door for all kinds of shady shit, including flat-out expelling low-performing students the day before the test to boost their numbers.
In the movie, not getting into a charter school is the worst thing that can happen to a poor family, but studies have shown that school choice itself matters little to a student's success -- shockingly, it's more about how seriously the students themselves and their families take their education. And that ghetto public school might not actually be so bad: According to administrators from Woodside High School, which the film claims only sends a third of its students to college and only graduates 62 percent of them, the film excluded students who go to out-of-state colleges in their statistics, and their graduation rate is more like 92 percent. Shit, being left behind is starting to sound awesome.


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