MOVIE REVIEW: August to June

What exactly is a regular public school, as opposed to a charter school? Is there such a thing? For that matter, is there a typical charter school?

“Waiting for Superman” paints a flattering but false picture of charter schools. About 5,000 charter schools are now operating, with an enrollment of about 1.5 million students, but one reliable study indicates that only 17% of charter schools outperform regular public schools, while 37% significantly under-perform their public counterparts. So there clearly is no ‘typical’ charter school that will save education.

“Waiting for Superman” also uses its broad brush to paint ‘regular’ public schools as ineffective and hamstrung by union rules. How accurate is that? Is there such a thing as a ‘typical’ regular public school?

The question is rhetorical, of course. America has nearly 100,000 public schools, 95,000 of which are not chartered. And they run the gamut, from disgraceful ‘dropout factories’ to stellar magnet schools to ‘ordinary’ schools that outshine even fancy and expensive private schools. (See our portrait of Mt. Vernon Elementary, for example.)

Because over 90% of our students go to something other than a charter school, salvation (if that’s what we are pursuing) must be found elsewhere.

We are working now on a piece for the PBS NewsHour about entire districts that seem to have figured out how to educate nearly all of their children. And there are ‘models’ and ‘approaches’ that work, like E.D. Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” schools and “Community Schools.” Stay tuned for that.

But I want to tell you about one particular public school, the subject of a lovely film, “August to June.” Continue reading