Reactions to Waiting for Superman.

by Risa Green


I saw Waiting for Superman over the weekend, which, if you don’t know, is a documentary about the deplorable state of public schools in America. Aside from telling us what we already know – that many public schools in America are in a deplorable state – the filmmakers do a great job of explaining why they’re that way, and how they got that way.


What surprised me the most is that it’s not about a lack of funds. There’s actually a lot of money out there for public education. The problem, they tell us, is a lack of good teachers, and unions that care more about protecting their members than they do about educating kids. What it requires – and what it costs – to fire a teacher is, frankly, obscene. In New York, teachers who have behaved criminally in the classroom – criminally, as in sexually abusing students – get paid their full salary and benefits to sit in a room and read magazines while they wait for a hearing, which on average can take three years to happen. Oh, and by the way, at a cost of a hundred million dollars a year. And that’s just for the teachers who are criminals. The ones who just suck get to keep on teaching, because the teachers unions have negotiated contracts that make it nearly impossible to get rid of them.


Now, let me say this: my mother was a public school teacher and a member of the NEA, and she participated in her fair share of strikes and picket lines. She also worked for some horrible principals who wouldn’t have hesitated to fire anyone who disagreed with them, and the only reason she was ever able to go over their heads and make complaints to the superintendant was because she was protected by her union contract. So I get it. There are a lot of politics in public schools, and teachers do need protection if they find themselves on the wrong side of a principal with an agenda. But at the same time, they shouldn’t be bulletproof. There needs to be a middle ground that allows for principals to get rid of fundamentally bad teachers. There needs to be a reworking of the tenure system in American public schools. It’s a big, hot button issue that a lot of states are struggling with right now, especially with midterm elections coming up. Nobody wants to piss off the teachers unions in an election year. But if you see this movie, you’ll realize that we have no other choice.