SEATTLE - From Oprah's TV show and the Internet to movie screens here in Washington, the film "Waiting for Superman" is getting a lot of publicity for the dim picture it paints of public education. It follows five students and their parents' desperate wishes to get them into private charter schools, with few other options.
Sandra Schroeder, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, thinks the movie uses a broad brush to condemn not only public schools, but teachers and their unions. She says the problems portrayed in the film are exaggerated, and not typical of most schools.
"Their whole theme is how bad education is and how bad the teachers are. Certainly kids in inner cities and in poor rural schools are struggling to achieve, but the vast majority of our kids get a great education in the schools they're in."
The film has gotten some good reviews, and Schroeder says if it prompts more parents to get involved in their children's schools, that's a good thing. She notes teachers are feeling the effects of major school budget cuts, and that most care deeply about the futures of their students.
"Waiting for Superman" was produced by a company known for making activist documentaries with specific viewpoints, including "An Inconvenient Truth," about global warming, and "Countdown to Zero," about nuclear weapons. It calls this film "a campaign designed to create a movement." Viewers should keep that in mind, says Schroeder.
"It's just a movie; it has been created to have an emotional impact. If you really want to understand what's going on in schools, you'll get both sides of the stories - the stories not only of the filmmakers and these charter school promoters, but also the teachers and their unions."
The production company, Participant Media, says its goals with the film are to set higher academic standards, recruit and reward great teachers, create and nurture excellent schools, and increase literacy rates. Schroeder says school districts already work on those goals, every day.