At 4 p.m. (Pacific Time) today, James Willcox, CEO of the Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools, appears on the Oprah Winfrey Show along with Bill Gates and Director Davis Guggenheim to promote the much-hyped “Waiting for Superman” documentary by Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Oprah is giving $1 million awards to six organizations, including Aspire, which operates about 30 publicly funded, privately run charter schools in California, including seven in Oakland and Berkeley. Kids and teachers at Lionel Wilson College Prep, a middle and high school in East Oakland run by the charter management organization (API 797), are watching the pre-taped show at the school this afternoon. Here’s a quote from an Aspire news release:
“It’s an honor to be recognized by Oprah’s Angel Network as part of her call to the country to make sure every student has a chance to attend a high-quality public school,” said Aspire Public Schools CEO James Willcox. “The upcoming movie “Waiting for ‘Superman’” will challenge our country to do just that. Our success with the nearly 10,000 students Aspire serves across California is a tribute to our teachers and our team—and a reason to be incredibly optimistic about what we can achieve in every public school across the state and across the country.”
“Waiting for Superman” is about the failures of America’s public education system and why it should matter to the average American. Guggenheim makes the argument that those failures perpetuate societal ills, from national security and crime to poverty, and that it’s essential to “change the odds” for families who can’t afford a private education. He said the idea for the film stemmed from the guilt he felt while driving by his neighborhood school in Los Angeles while dropping his kids off to private schools.
It comes out on Friday.
From the clips I saw at the Education Writers Association conference in May, it promises to be compelling, provocative and heart-wrenching, if a bit simplistic. I don’t know how you produce a mainstream film about public education in America that captures the complexities of the system in less than two hours (and without putting people to sleep). But the central metaphor — the charter school admissions lottery — seems to imply that charter schools are the only ticket out for poor and working-class kids, as though neighborhood schools were something of a lost cause.
At the EWA conference, Guggenheim said the film is actually the product of two movies woven together. One strand followed a number of public school kids through the system; the other featured animated graphics and interviews with today’s most prominent education reformers and underwriters, including D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem Children’s Zone.
This film will certainly get more people talking about public education, teachers unions, graduation rates and global competitiveness. Do you plan to see it? Have you caught an early screening? If and when you go, give us your review.