'Waiting for Superman' reflects Obama's school views

A couple of months ago I tracked how close this is to Obama. I'll paste it in here but there are interesting hot links on the website.

Fewer than Six Degrees of Separation Between Barack Obama and Waiting for Superman

By Susan Ohanian*

I have not seen the film "Waiting for Superman." Nor have I signed the pledge at the film website promising to see it. As of the date I'm writing this, 24,091 people have made the pledge, making the whole thing seem like a religious cause rather than a movie.

Here, I just provide a little background on the people associated with the film.

Jeff Skoll was the first president of e-Bay and used his fortune from that to set up a film-production company Participant Productions— which has produced some really good films, including "Good Night and Good Luck," "The Soloist," and "The Kite Runner" as well as the oft-mention "Inconvenient Truth."

Most of Skoll's films have a strong moral message. He says, in fact, that he makes movies to inspire social change. Clearly, this is a fellow who believes in righteous causes. And now he is showing hundreds of thousands of public school teachers that one man's righteous cause may be another's indignation.

According to their website , "The Skoll Foundation celebrates social entrepreneurship and social innovation through film and broadcast partnerships designed to spread the stories of social entrepreneurs." Such partnerships include the PBS NewsHour and the Sundance Institute, "which help drive large-scale public awareness of social entrepreneurship and its potential to address the critical issues of our time."

Skoll's Silicon Valley donations include $300,000 to Teach for America. "over two years for recruitment, training, professional development and support of college graduates who teach underserved students for two years in the Alum Rock Union, East Palo Alto and Redwood City school districts."

In 2008 The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepeurship" gave Wendy Kopp a "social entrepreneurship" award.

Now, if you want to get conspiracy-theory minded, Davis Guggenheim, who wrote and directed "Waiting for Superman, made a bio of Barack Obama's mother, which premiered at the 2008 Democratic National Convention before Barack Obama's speech accepting his party's nomination. He also directed an Obama infomercial which aired in 2008. Guggenheim is best known as director of the blockbuster "Inconvenient Truth." (2006)

Guggenheim went to Sidwell Friends & Brown. Skoll has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Stanford. What more could you want from people making "an exhaustive review of public education?"

The Synopsis at the film website includes this statement:

Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education,

surveying drop-out factories and academic sinkholes,

methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly

intractable problems.

However, embracing the belief that good teachers make good

schools, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative

approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools

that have--in reshaping the culture--refused to leave

their students behind.

In an interview with Take Part , Guggenheim says, "And look at Michelle Rhee, she was a teacher and a lot of the reformers are coming out of Teach for America. There are battle lines drawn between the reformers and some teachers, and that's an uncomfortable truth that is part of the film. . . . Steve Barr of Green Dot, who has schools here in LA, is taking over Locke High School in Watts. It's like David and Goliath seeing him against the LA Unified School District -- and he might be winning. There are so many stories that are worthy and inspiring that we couldn't put in the movie."

It comes as no surprise that Bill Gates loves the film. He even showed up at the advanced screening at Sundance, where it won the audience award for best documentary. Gates told Reuters, "Many of these high schools are terrible, and this film, 'Waiting for Superman' by Davis Guggenheim, which I have a very minor part in, tells this story in a brilliant way."

Guggenheim is featured on The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website.

This all gets even more tangled, circling back to the Skoll Foundation and the Obama administration desire to promote nonprofit social entrepreneurship. On May 27, 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama and the Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Patrick Corvington announced the initial phase of philanthropic commitments to match Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grants. Participating groups are: Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation ($10 million over two years), John and Ann Doerr's Family Foundation ($5 million over two years), the Omidyar Network ($10 million over two years), the Open Society Foundations' Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation ($10 million for one year), and the Skoll Foundation ($10 million over two years).

Alistair Bomphray saw the movie and his review is worth reading.

On 9/14/2010 5:11 PM, Monty Neill wrote:


> Many of you will have heard of the coming film, Waiting for Superman > (WS), made by the director of An Inconvenient Truth. There is a huge > PR campaign that has been launched not only for people to see the > film, but to get involved in education, including in part to promote > actions such as more charter schools. >


> Time mag said the film promotes lots of testing, charters, and > 'standing up to unions' -- and the Time article clearly supports all > three as 'solutions' to the education crisis.


> Today, I was on a one-hour phone conversation about the film and the > campaign, hosted by Ford Foundation, and including education and > community activists and others from around the country. A few points > from the conversation:



> - Ford has sponsored local involvement around this film and wants > local folks to be involved; they have helped fund Stand for Children > and United Way to be local chairs (see below for Boston). They are > doing this because they conclude the film will have a major impact, > and they want folks to be involved, including shaping the local > discussion.



> - It does show how inadequate some schools are, and shows examples of > what one phone call participant said was good teaching, but said is > also ahistorical, and asocial in that it does not indicate the social > structures surrounding schools (e.g., structural poverty and racism -- > it lacks class or racial consciousness).



> - Apparently, the maker of the film is now concerned it will persuade > people the solution is charters, the enemy is unions - but he did not > intend that. (A few people on the call had seen it, and they conclude > the film will likely do that. The film-maker's comments are apparently > part of a published interview, but I've not tracked that down.) Of > course, that is the agenda of many of those promoting the film (Time > mag, for one, at >,8599,2016978,00.html.). > Backers of the campaign around the film include such pro-testing, > pro-privatization foundations as Gates, Broad, Fisher, Walton - a > listof "partners" is on WS site at >



> - People on the conversation pointed out that the website has both > factual errors, misleading claims and a one-sided perspective, > including around charters (more below). It may be the Ford-backed > efforts will lead to some changes, corrections, more balance -- but it > remains unknown how receptive the sites owner (the film company) will > be given their reliance on Gates, et al.


> I pointed out that any effort to get involved in this campaign or > respond to it will have to include addressing the misunderstandings > and misinformation people are likely to leave the film with. That > means we start swimming upstream. Any strategy to respond to the film > needs to account for that and the surrounding promo such as the Time > article.


> After the phone call, I went again to take a closer look at the WS > website.


> Now, the official overall stated agenda is not what Time said; rather > it is: "The campaign will focus on four primary initiatives where > Americans can make the greatest impact: making sure we set world-class > academic standards so all students are prepared students for life > beyond high school, recruiting and rewarding great teachers, creating > and nurturing excellent schools, and increasing literacy rates." These > are hardly objectionable, but very vague - what do they actually mean?


> What is a "great teacher" and what does it mean to "reward" them? How > much of all this, for example, revolves around test scores? The > website says pay in part based on "student achievement," which is > usually code for "test scores."


> On the 'teacher' section of the Mission page, you can see some Q&A > which is some cases is at best highly questionable, such as that good > teachers can by themselves overcome the effects of poverty. Under > 'prepared students' there big push to have states sign on to the > common core standards - though even conservatives have concluded there > is no connection between standards and test-score results. The 'good > schools' section says both charters and regular schools need to be > excellent, then say little of substance as to what that means (what is > 'excellent'?). They have various facts here too, but nothing on the > 3-1 within-state resource inequities that are roughly true in most > states, compounded by similar inter-state disparities > ( > Under the 4th area, literacy, they misuse the NAEP levels, treating > below proficient as below grade level or somehow not literate. Also, > they use the worst international comparison data.


> Overall, the main messages I hear a) the ways in which the movie is > already being used to attack public schools and teachers, b) the > website is skewed and flawed, but not as much as say what Time mag > suggests the movie calls for.; and c) there is going to be a lot of > talking and maybe, maybe, a lot of action around it.


> The website lists cities they now have campaign managers at > - you can click on > a city; other cities are in the works. Below is information on Boston, > where I live.



> The Boston Campaign Manager is Rachel Kriete,781-891-1300, > - from the email, she > must work for Stand for Children. This could be a real problem in that > Stand is pro-charter, was a proponent of the terrible bill that became > law earlier this year. I think, am not certain, they get Gates $ (did > not see a list of funders on Stand website.) Ford wants the campaign > managers to assemble teams of people, leadership groups, committees - > and to be inclusive in doing so. We shall see. I don't know if > "Boston" means only Boston or the metro area or what. If anyone wants > to get involved, I assume you can email or call Rachel. If you do, > keep me posted - I wonder if the teams will be inclusive of voices > that recognize the strategies, as articulated by Time, lack evidence > they have or will succeed in improving education.


> The page for Boston has some > links. One is to > write Gov Patrick to support adoption of the national standards; the > other asks people to volunteer in school, but leads to a page that > features Dallas, TX and lists corporations and groups that are > providing supplies to cash-strapped schools (and no doubt the > corporations are volunteering to pay higher taxes).


> Also on the Boston website are links to 4 schools they say are good > (don't say why or how) - one is a Boston charter, 2 regular Boston - > and one is in Seattle (?).



> In any event, this will be unleashed on us in October - so what do we > do? I am currently agnostic on whether agreeing with Ford to get > involved and use the momentum, countering the film and its main > backers as needed, trying to advance a different specific agenda (the > 4 main official goals being vaguely fine). The decision to do so may > well depend a lot on local activists, their particular situations > politically, their resources, etc.


> Monty

> -- > Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Interim Executive Director, FairTest; 15 Court > Sq., Ste. 820; Boston, MA 02108; 857-350-8207 x 101; fax 857-350-8209; >;; Donate to FairTest: >

> __._,_.___


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