I haven’t seen “Waiting for Superman,” and I don’t expect to. I’ve read enough reviews to see the film as yet one more one-sided and vicious attack on the public school system and teachers’ unions. The movie also apparently celebrates public charter schools as the uber-answer to all the problems in America’s educational system.
I thought of “Waiting for Superman” as I was reading a recent report in the Pocono Record. (H/T to our friends at Blog from the Capital.)
According to the northeast Pennsylvania newspaper, a congregation in the community has been shamelessly profiting from its relationship with a charter school located at the church facility.
Reported the Record, “More than $4 million in public money flowed to Shawnee Tabernacle Church by way of the Pocono Mountain Charter School over the past five years, according to documents made public Thursday.
“Since 2005,” the newspaper continued, “the church charged the charter school some $3.5 million to rent a building to which the school had limited access after hours. The school spent another $900,000 on improvements to the property.”
Change seems to be brewing. The Record says the Pocono Mountain School District's board of directors has voted unanimously to revoke the school's charter. After 16 hearings and 2,000 pages of testimony, the seven directors concluded that church and state had become inappropriately entangled at the charter school.
Let’s hope that wise decision stands.
This incident is just the latest in a long string of church-state abuses involving “public” charter schools. A fundamentalist charter school in Idaho wants to use the Bible as a primary textbook, a charter school in Minnesota is in court because of its alleged promotion of Islam and a Hebrew language charter school in Florida dropped a textbook after complaints that it was infused with religion. In many states, financially strapped Catholic schools are converting to publicly funded charters while remaining on church property and keeping many of the same staff and students.
In addition to these constitutional concerns, some studies indicate that charter schools often do no better than public schools. A 2009 Stanford University study, for example, found that, in the aggregate, students in charter schools fared worse academically than students in traditional public schools.
All Americans want our educational system to be the best we can possibly achieve as a nation. Many school districts are already doing an extraordinary job – often in difficult circumstances. On the other hand, we also recognize that many school districts do not perform well, especially in communities beset by poverty, addiction and crime.
The bottom line: as we look for ways to improve public schools, we must not be distracted by simplistic “solutions” that really aren’t solutions at all. Charter schools may be part of the answer, but they are not a panacea for all of our ills -- a cartoonish Hollywood documentary notwithstanding.
I was disappointed to see that the students featured in “Waiting for Superman” were recent guests of the president at the White House. I understand that the Obama administration likes charter schools, but that’s no reason to assist in promotion of an anti-public-school propaganda film.
I think I’ll take in “Secretariat” this weekend and forget about “Waiting for Superman.”