The problems within America's public education system are on display in the new documentary Waiting For "Superman", which opens Friday in the Tampa Bay area (actually in only one theater, The Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar).
As CL film critic Joe Bardi writes in our current issue, the film takes big shots at the teachers unions:
"Superman struck me as a decidedly anti-partisan movie, willing to poke at every U.S. president of the last 50 years regardless of party and plant a stick firmly in the eye of the teachers unions, who more than anyone else come off as the major obstacle to reform.
Randi Weingarten, the head of the 1.5 million-strong American Federation of Teachers, is not depicted favorably in the film. And she's got some things to say about it.
Weingarten was in Tampa on Thursday along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan as part of a visit to a Hillsborough County public school, where they learned how the district has become a model for the rest of country in its successful partnership between the local union, the school board and the school district (which led in part to its being awarded a $100 million grant by the Gates Foundation).
When CL asked Weingarten about Waiting for "Superman," she praised it for showing the "urgency" about how America's schoolchildren are being under-served. But she also calls it misleading.
"It does not show one great public school," she says. "It does not show one great public school teacher. It does not spend any time at all showing the long-term work that we've seen in Hillsborough that has created so much success for so many kids."
Weingarten thinks that director Davis Guggenheim (best known for winning an Oscar for the 2006 documentary on climate change An Inconvenient Truth) relies too heavily on stereotyping teachers unions.
"I don't want to take anything away from the urgency of it, but it's just a very simplistic movie that is factually wrong about who unions are, who we try to be and has overly simplified the problem, in a way that the solutions that are proposed in the movie are not real solutions."