Watching Waiting for Superman last week left me exhausted. For too many years, education reformers have fought hard against the very injustices in the education system portrayed in the film. The good news, however, is that this newest declaration against the intolerable conditions of a broken public education system could finally call enough attention to the persistent problems to change things for the children whom we care so deeply about.
Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, is interviewed throughout the film. Canada talks about his childhood and how disappointed he was to learn that there was no real Superman who would save him from the hardships of his own difficult childhood. His anecdote inspired the title of the movie.
The movie shows over and over again why ineffective teachers should be replaced with successful ones and how important that is to children’s academic progress. Fighting against such commonsense ideas are the teachers unions, which oppose the teacher evaluation, merit pay, and firing of poor teachers.
Waiting for Superman shows several examples of successful charter schools that serve some children but do not have enough spaces for all children to receive a quality education. The reason they don’t have enough spaces is that education unions have stood in the way and opposed increasing the number of charter schools. This is just sad and unacceptable.
The most powerful message in the film was articulated by the families of the five children from various parts of the country who all wanted the best possible education for their children. The children were wonderful as they talked about what they want for their future.
It was very moving to listen to the parents and students articulate their dreams. As an education reformer who has organized parents for 15 years on behalf of school choice, I have heard these same heart-rending aspirations directly from thousands of parents and children in our nation’s capital and across the country.
The most dramatic and heartbreaking part in the film was witnessing the charter school lotteries, which are held to determine which few students of the many who applied will be accepted to schools known to successfully educate and graduate students. Sitting with their parents in crowded auditoriums, you can see and feel the children’s profound disappointment as they realize that they have lost something special that they and their families badly wanted: brighter hope for their future.
We need to provide parents and children with a full range of choices now—not wait for the broken education system to heal itself. Charter schools and voucher initiatives are succeeding. We know the solution—now it’s time to open the path of opportunity across this land, not just in a few pockets where reform has broken through the union lines.
American education must live up to its ideal and actually educate all children in the United States, recognizing their talents and allowing them to soar!
Virginia Walden Ford is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.