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Local Educators Respond To "Waiting For Superman"

Waiting For Superman Poster
Waiting For Superman

The latest documentary by the guy who made "An Inconvenient Truth" has been in theaters almost a month, but it is still sending reverberations throughout the local education community. The reaction has been most defensive among proponents of traditional public schools, which the filmmaker skewers.

"Waiting for Superman" follows several children, mostly in urban school districts, who are not getting the education they need and are trying to enroll in charter schools.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim told NPR that the film is purposefully controversial to provoke conversation, and on that measure at least, it could be considered a resounding success.

Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen saw the film with 800 or so of her colleagues at the Bob Bullock Museum last week.  Carstarphen responded with a defensive blog post in which she praised the work of her district.

The District is now at a "tipping point" to lead the nation in providing a high caliber, free public education to our 86,000, diverse student population. 

The film is also highly critical of labor unions, and particularly the practice of granting tenure to public school teachers, which - the film claims - makes it hard to fire lazy or ineffective educators. Tenure is not granted in Texas, where teachers work on short term contracts. But Texas AFT president Linda Bridges says the critique is unfair.

"The message of the movie is that charter schools are great and perfect, and public schools are not.  I don't think that's a realistic portrayal of public education, not only in Texas but across the country," Bridges told KUT News.

But Guggenheim defended his intentions in the NPR interview, saying he is not out to lay the blame at the feet of traditional public schools.

"It's important for people to understand that charters are not the silver bullet. Charters are an experiment, in a lot of ways. And it's a very new experiment. But out of this experiment has come these high-performing charters — and now there are a bunch of them," he says. "The KIPP [Knowledge is Power Program] schools, Aspire, Yes, Geoffrey Canada's schools. ... They're proving that it's not as hard as we've made it."

KUT has reported on KIPP Austin's successes, and it's critics, and we've explained how AISD hopes to adopt a version of the Harlem Children's Zone depicted in "Waiting For Superman".  What are your thoughts?  Have you seen the movie? Is it fair to teachers and traditional public schools? How would you improve student outcomes?

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.