Editorial: theseattletimes.com, June 16, 2010

Waiting for charter schools
The much-buzzed about documentary "Waiting for Superman" argues convincingly for public-education solutions that include charter schools

A FILM critic described the documentary "Waiting for Superman" as a bucket of ice water in the face of complacency. Yes, and once the flotsam of emotion surrounding public education is washed away, there is only the clear truth: Public schools are failing too many children.

Not all, but enough to make "Waiting for Superman" a call to arms for charter schools. Kids navigating broken glass and drug dealers deserve better than overcrowded public schools and entrenched teachers.

The documentary follows a group of parents juggling unemployment, underemployment and their own educational deficiencies to ensure their children's academic success. A grandmother sends her grandson to a charter-run boarding school to get him away from the streets that claimed her son and because she sees brilliance in him that his teachers missed.

Well-aimed digs are pointed toward public schools. The "turkey trots" and "lemon dances" in the movie are apt names for the annual process of reassigning poor-performing teachers to other schools.

Credibility comes not only from the film's unwavering lens on urban public education but from its maker, Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim, who exposed climate change with Al Gore for "An Inconvenient Truth" and delved into the world of three legendary guitarists in "It Might Get Loud."

The title invokes a childhood memory of charter-school expert Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone. When his mother told him comic book heroes don't exist, Canada saw that no one would be coming to rescue him.

Charter schools and the education-reform movement could be superheroes of a sort. Too many people get hung up on the charter-versus-public-school debate without considering the real-world applications of various kinds of schooling, from home schools to boarding schools. Charters are not a magic bullet; as Canada found out, no such thing exists. But among the many ways to save a child, charters can be one way.

— Lynne K. Varner


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