Facts from “What Superman got wrong, point by point”

What are the "Superman" facts?

Waiting for Superman could and should have been an inspiring call for improvement in education. It is stuck in a framework that says that reform and leadership means doing things, like firing a bunch of people or “turning around” schools despite the fact that there’s no research to suggest that these would have worked. Reform must be guided by community empowerment and strong evidence, not by ideological warriors or romanticized images of leaders acting like they’re doing something, anything. Waiting for Superman has ignored deep historical and systemic problems in education such as segregation, property-tax based funding formulas, centralized textbook production, de-professionalization, inadequate special education supports, and the list goes on and on. People seeing Waiting for Superman should be mobilized to improve education. They just need to be willing to think outside of the narrow box that the film-makers have constructed to define what needs to be done.

The following are some facts, excerpted from “What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point,” published in the Washington Post on September 27, 2010.  The article was written by Rick Ayers, a former high school teacher, founder of Communication Arts and Sciences small school at Berkeley High School, and currently adjunct professor in teacher education at the University of San Francisco.

  • Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education. The exclusive charter schools featured in the film receive large private subsidies. Two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources. Public funding for urban programs is now being cut and progress is being eroded. Money matters!
  • Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress. Most test scores continue to reflect parental income and neighborhood/zip codes, not what schools do. As opportunity, health and family wealth increase, so do test scores. The tests are too narrow. When schools focus exclusively on boosting scores on standardized tests, they reduce teachers to test-prep clerks, ignore important subject areas and critical thinking skills, dumb down the curriculum and leave children less prepared for the future. We need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.
  • Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty. Schools and teachers take the blame for huge social inequities in housing, health care, and income. Income disparities between the richest and poorest in U.S.society have reached record levels between 1970 and today. Poor communities suffer extensive traumas and dislocations. Homelessness, the exploitation of immigrants, and the closing of community health and counseling clinics, are all factors that penetrate our school communities. Solutions that punish schools without addressing these conditions only increase the marginalization of poor children.
  • Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem. Of course unions need to be improved – but before teachers unionized, the disparity in pay between men and women was disgraceful and the arbitrary power of school boards to dismiss teachers or raise class size without any resistance was endemic. Unions have historically played leading roles in improving public education, and most nations with strong public educational systems have strong teacher unions.
  • Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement. Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…), or because they take an unpopular position on a public issue outside of school. When teachers are evaluated through a union-sanctioned peer process, more teachers are put into retraining programs and dismissed than through administration-only review programs.
  • Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation. Charters were first proposed by the teachers’ unions to create schools that were free of administrative bureaucracy and open to experimentation and innovation. While teacher unions are vilified in the film, there is no mention of charter corruption or profiteering. A recent national study by CREDO, The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, concludes that only 17% of charter schools have better test scores than traditional public schools, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse. A recent Mathematica Policy Research study came to similar conclusions. And the Education Report, “The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, concludes, “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”
  • Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them. If education is a civil right, it can’t be distributed by a lottery. We must guarantee all students access to high quality early education, highly effective teachers, college and work-preparatory curricula & equitable instructional resources. In Superman, families are cruelly paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners’ names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces – in what amounts to family & child abuse.
  • Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning. Too many people involved in education policy are dazzled by the idea of “market forces” improving schools. Teachers will be motivated to gather the most promising students, to hide curriculum strategies from peers, and to cheat; principals have already been caught cheating in a desperate attempt to boost test scores.In spite of the many millions of dollars poured into expounding the theory of paying teachers for higher student test scores, a new study by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives found that the use of merit pay for teachers in the Nashville school district produced no difference even according to their measure, test outcomes for students.
  • Waiting for Superman contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession. According to the Department of Education, the country will need 1.6 million new teachers in the next five years. Retention of talented teachers is one key. Good teaching is about making connections to students, about connecting what they learn to the world in which they live, and this only happens if teachers have history and roots in the communities where they teach. A recent report by the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that “approximately a third of America’s new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years of teaching; almost half leave during the first five years. Check out the reasons teachers are being driven out in Katy Farber’s book, “Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus,” (Corwin Press).
  • Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.” But Business Week (10/28/09) reported that “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever,” yet “the highest performing students are choosing careers in other fields.” In particular, the study found, “many of the top students have been lured to careers in finance and consulting.” It’s the market, and the disproportionately high salaries paid to finance specialists that is misdirecting human resources, not schools.
  • Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads. In one of its many little cartoon segments, the film purports to show how kids learn. The top of a child’s head is cut open and a jumble of factoids is poured in. The film-makers betray a lack of understanding of how people actually learn, the active and engaged participation of students in the learning process. They ignore the social construction of knowledge, the difference between deep learning and rote memorization.
  • Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world. The poster advertising the film shows a nightmarish battlefield in stark gray, with a little white girl sitting at a desk in the midst of it. The text: “The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom. But really, who declared this war? When did I as a teacher sign up as an officer in this war? And when did that 4th grade girl become a soldier in it? Instead of this new educational Cold War, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity.
  • Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways. According to a study by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Race to the Top funds are benefiting affluent or well-to-do, white, and “abled” students. So the outcome of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been more funding for schools that are doing well and more discipline and narrow test-preparation for the poorest schools.
  • Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers. Dan Brown, a teacher in the SEED charter school featured in the film, points out that successful schools involve teachers in strong collegial conversations. Teachers need to be accountable to a strong educational plan, without being terrorized. Good teachers, which is the vast majority of them, are seeking this kind of support from their leaders.
  • Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds to come to the rescue. Teaching has been historically devalued – teachers are less well compensated and have less control of their working conditions than other professionals – because of its associations with women. For example, 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are women, and this is also the least well-compensated sector of teaching; in 2009, the lowest 10% earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10% earned $75,190 to $80,970. By comparison the top 25 hedge fund managers took in $25 billion in 2009, enough to hire 658,000 new teachers.

We at DeFENSE want to make sure we put the real facts in your hands.

Right-wing funders for “Waiting for Superman”?

Check out this interesting blog post from Schools Matter:

“…the Anschutz Foundation, chaired and financed by Philip, is quite fond of some of the biggest players in conservative education advocacy: the Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute.  The foundation also gives to the Freedom Works Foundation, Washington Legal Foundation, and various other influential think tanks/organizations.  I won’t really get into it here, but it’s fair to say this foundation uses their philanthropic arm much the way the Koch brothers do: to further their own conservative agenda while creating a climate that is more friendly for their businesses.” (read more)

Also check out this great article by Barbara Miner at NOT Waiting for Superman:

Two decades ago, challenges to public schools were spearheaded by groups such as the Christian Coalition, a grassroots, church-based phenomenon that sought to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and to elect religious conservatives who could take over local and state school boards. Today’s bipartisan corporate reformers tend to sidestep democracy altogether by abolishing school boards, promoting mayoral control, and hiring corporate-style CEO’s who answer to a city’s power elite. No longer preoccupied with abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, they instead use their wealth to effectively control it and to dictate reform.

This developing alliance is evident in Waiting for Superman. (read more)

Very interesting.

You know that mantra that the “education deformers” use, the one that “poverty doesn’t matter”?  Well, that’s obviously where that comes from.  Why bother worrying about whether kids have enough food in their bellies to pay attention when you can just give them charters?

Problem solved!  Just don’t “trickle down” on our kids, please.

Manny Martinez (Edison) Middle School and West High destabilization

From DPS:

Dear Parents, Educators and Community Members,

There will be a community information meeting next Tuesday, October 26th from 7:30 to 8:30 regarding Manny Martinez Middle School performance.  Please join Superintendent Boasberg, Chief Academic Officer Susana Cordova and Board of Education Vice President Arturo Jimenez for a thoughtful community discussion on the next steps for Manny Martinez.

Meeting will start promptly at 7:30 in the cafeteria at West High School.  Refreshments, childcare and translation to Spanish will be provided.

This is the first of many community conversations in the West high School community that we hope you will have with us to support and understand community and student needs.

Let’s talk about the truth here.  Manny Martinez, named after a much beloved Latino west side patriarch, has been performing abysmally.    It is the “worst-performing” school in the district, and it’s been plagued with weak leadership and serious discipline problems.  Many people on the non-collaborative reform side really want to see this school closed because it makes all other charters look bad.

However, to close this middle school will mean further destabilization of West High School, simply because there are no other middle schools that will feed into it.  There are currently no middle school options in that area.  The school board recently voted to restructure Greenlee K-8 and reverted it to a K-5. There has been a fear that the district will be moving to close West High School and will be handed over to a DSST or some other charter high school.

There has been a shift in demographics, as the Baker neighborhood is yet another in the long line of gentrified Denver neighborhoods, but there is still a significant Chicano and immigrant Latino population there.

DeFENSErs, show up to this meeting and support the Westside community members that have already started to organize to support the West High students.  Let’s bear witness to the discussion beginning there, as we knit the overall DPS strategy together with the destabilization of the Montbello neighborhood schools.

What’s with the experimentation on Black and Latino students?

Join GreenDot America at a special screening of “Waiting”

Waiting for Superman — Invite for 10-22

GreenDot America, a charter school organization, is opening up its invitation list to their special screening of Waiting for Superman. This screening will be followed by a panel discussion, and at last report, the panel will include state senator Michael Johnston, Dr. Nate Easley, a parent, a student and possibly DeFENSE’s own Lisa Calderon.

The event is on Friday, October 22 at 6:45 p.m., and RSVPs are being taken at rsvp@greendotamerica.org.

The flier is above. Please share! We need as much pro-neighborhood school representation as possible.

Last night in Montbello

So, what was community’s reaction to last night’s presentation of DPS’ recommendation for the turnaround of 6 different Montbello-area schools?  Watch the video, and see for yourself:

Say no already.  The full, solid coverage is here: http://www.ednewscolorado.org/2010/10/13/9193-support-lacking-for-dps-reform-plan

Community clearly does not want what DPS is selling.

Stand for Children’s big money

An out-of-state special interest group fueled by oil company dollars is “organizing” parents in North Denver.  Stand for Children came to Denver to elect pro-charter school board candidates to the Denver School Board

(“Stand for Children’s first push in Colorado is the election for Denver’s school board — the governing body that is effectively Boasberg’s boss”— Denver Post, 9/29/2009)

Do we need pro-charter, oil money fueled organizations telling us how to vote in North Denver? Do we want out-of-state special interests targeting our elected officials?  We don’t need organizations spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to attack our representatives.

Stand’s ties to right-wing political operatives is clear….

While Stand claims to be a parent organization that supports education, in reality it is an “astroturf” (fake grassroots) organization that works to elect anti-education funding Republicans in Denver, pumping money and volunteers into an effort to defeat Democratic legislator Rep. Dan Kagan in House District Three

Stand's association to right-wing entities

Stand uses a shadowy “527” organization to bring out-of-state corporate money into Colorado, to fund their operations against school board members and other elected officials that fight for neighborhood schools.
Stand has raised over $120,000 since August alone, making it the biggest repository of big money in education “reform” in Colorado.
Huge donations come from Chicago (Bruce Rauner, $49,995) and New York (Jonathon Gray, $29,995).  Over 72% of Stand’s donors are from outside of Colorado, according to recent campaign finance filings.  Using a 527 allows Stand to white-wash giant corporate contributions before they are spent in local school board races.

Download this information as a flier below.

Stand’s Big Money Flyer

Our next event: Community discussion about Montbello turnaround plans



  • The Black Education Advisory Council (BEAC)
  • Northeast Community Congress for Education (NCCE)
  • DeFENSE – Democrats For Excellent Neighborhood School Education


Seven leading national civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, oppose the federal education “turnaround” agenda. Expanding charter schools, closing low-performing schools, massive teacher firings, and using competitive funding formulas are harmful to low-income children of color and their communities.

  • «     Only 1 in 5 charter schools performs better than community schools
  • «     Shutting down Montbello will force hundreds of high school students out of their neighborhood
  • «     Charters exclude the majority of children, and kick-out or weed-out children with challenges
  • «     Most teachers work hard and perform well, but can be fired by charters without due process
  • «     Charters have a higher rate of segregation, by class, race and language, than community schools
  • «     Charters perpetuate the school-to-jail track through zero tolerance policies & high-stakes testing
  • «     Charter administrators are often paid six-figure salaries, while teachers are under-paid
  • «     Highly paid DPS administrators are not held accountable for failing schools in their district
  • «     Charters, like vouchers, are another way to privatize our public school system
  • «     The biased corporate media promote charters and do not fairly report the full story of issues, problems and successes involving public neighborhood schools
  • «     Spanish speakers are often not provided with equal educational resources in charter schools
  • «     DPS Board President Nate Easely refuses to address community concerns about charter problems

OPPOSE DPS Reform Plans That Push Out Kids & Blame Teachers

5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, 19535 E. 46th Ave., Denver


  • Ñ       Ford Elementary: Replace with Denver Center for International Studies ECE-5 program
  • Ñ       Green Valley Elementary: Hire new principal and staff
  • Ñ       McGlone Elementary: Hire new staff under newly hired principal
  • Ñ       Oakland Elementary: Replace with SOAR charter elementary school
  • Ñ       Rachel B. Noel Middle: Phase out the current program for seventh- and eighth-graders while starting a new 6-12 arts program with 100 students per grade that will grow one grade a year. Also, co-locate a KIPP middle school within the building.
  • Ñ       Montbello High School: Phase out the current program while starting a 9-12 collegiate prep academy for 150 to 200 students per grade that will grow one grade per year. Also, co-locate a new Denver Center for International Studies 6-12 school within the building. Also open a high-tech early college.

For more information please contact democrats4excellentschools@gmail.com or call 720-933-7764


Patrocinado por

Black Education Advisory Council

Northeast Community Congress For Education (NCCE)

DeFENSE – Democrats For Excellent Neighborhood School Education


7 importantes grupos de derechos civiles incluyendo NAACP y la National Urban League se oponen a la agenda federal de  “turnaround” “darle giro”. Aumentar el numero de las escuela “charter”, cerrando escuelas de bajo rendimiento, despidos masivos de maestros y usando formulas de financiamiento como que fueran negocios, son muy dañinos a nuestros niños y nuestras comunidades.

  • « Solo 1 en 5 escuelas charter dan mejores resultados que muestras escuelas comunales
  • « Cerrando a la escuela Montbello forzara a 100s de estudiantes fuera de sus escuelas del barrio
  • « Charters excluyen la mayoría de niños y no aceptan niños con necesidades especiales
  • « En las escuelas charters los maestros trabajan muy duro con nuestros niños pero los pueden despedir sin razones.
  • « Los administradores de charters reciben altos salarios y los maestros mucho menos.
  • « Las charters trazan una line directa de escuela a cárceles para los niños debido a dura disciplina y exámenes muy estrictos.
  • « Charters segregan a nuestros niños por clases económicas, raza y lenguaje mas que escuela de comunidad
  • « Los administradores del Distrito Escolar reciben altísimos salarios y no responden a nadie por sus errores
  • « Charters, como los cupones de educación, están tratando de privatizar las escuelas
  • « La prensa esta de el lado de los charters y no reporta la historia completa.
  • « Los niños Hispanos no reciben la misma oportunidad de los de habla inglesa
  • « Oficiales electos como Nate Easley rehúsan examinar los problemas creados por las Charter


5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, 19535 E. 46th Ave., Denver

Ñ       Ford Elementary: Eliminada, en su lugar Denver Center for Internacional Studies ECE-5 (apoye)

Ñ       Green Valley Elementary: Nuevo director y personal

Ñ       McGlone Elementary: Nuevo personal y reciente director

Ñ       Oakland Elementary: En su lugar SOAR charter elementary school

Ñ       Rachel B. Noel Middle: Quitar el presente programa para 7 y 8 grados y comenzar uno nuevo para artes para grados 6-12 para 100 niños por grado y aumentara un grado por año. Tambien en el mismo sitio abriran una escuela KIPP media

Ñ       Montbello High School: Quitar el presente programa y comenzar uno para 9-12 de preparación de collage para 150-200 estudiantes  que aumentara un grado por año. En el mismo sitio poner a otra escuela para 6-12 de Denver Center for International Studies, Tambien otra escuela para High Tech early college.

Para mas informacion llame al número: 720-933-7764 democrats4excellentschools@gmail.com

Diane Ravitch speaks to LA teachers

If you haven’t read Dr. Ravitch’s book yet, this video is a primer.  She presented to the United Teachers of Los Angeles in September 2010, and she makes incredibly important remarks about the recent spate of anti-public education sentiment.  This is a message delivered to teachers, but this is an important message for us all.

You can purchase the book from the link on the right.

The true key to reform

We’re big fans of the Richard Harwood Institute over here at DeFENSE, simply because he understands that real change cannot happen without the buy-in of ALL  stakeholders, not just the power brokers.  Those of us with ties to the Denver Public Schools know that this has often been the big problem.  We know that the lackluster results of our schools has much to do with the fact that there is no global buy-in of initiatives.

Harwood makes a thoughtful analysis of the D.C. schools in the post-Fenty era.  For those that don’t know, Adrian Fenty just lost his reelection bid as mayor of Washington, D.C.  He was known in the pro-“reform” circles as being tough and courageous.  Some people have a different idea, however.

Harwood writes,

The key to reform is to root it in people’s shared aspirations for their community, and not to make it merely about best practices anointed by a cadre of professionals.

Amen.  Read on, and come back here to comment.