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A Success Story That Didn’t Make the Cut

Edwize contributor Jonathan Gyurko writes on the Huffington Post that “Waiting for ‘Superman’” filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, favoring “dramatic narrative” over “documentary accuracy,” left his footage of Green Dot New York on the cutting room floor.

By all indications, Green Dot New York is already a success. In just two years, 100% of students in the school’s inaugural class have passed the state’s demanding mathematics exam; 100% passed the state science exam; 97% are on track to graduate in four years. Notably, these impressive results were posted by students who have overcome personal challenges: nearly 10% have a learning disability; another 10% are English Language Learners. And family income is low: 88% of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

Some reasons for this success include small classes that are scheduled in blocks for more meaningful instructional time; teachers have manageable work loads and keep office hours to give students extra help; and weekly grade-level meetings keep students from slipping through the cracks. These and other features operate in a culture of trust, hard work and high expectations that is shared and nurtured by the students, teachers, and school leaders.

Unlike many popular reforms, the school’s founding by Green Dot and the UFT is a powerful and relevant example of management-labor cooperation. This collaboration is codified in a different kind of labor agreement that some philanthropists and academics have advocated for years. It includes provisions sought by many district leaders. Weingarten herself has touted the school as a model partnership that yielded a mold-breaking contract.

Davis Guggenheim, conveniently, had much of this on film. Given his belief that teacher tenure “is the most intractable problem in public education,” Green Dot New York, with its thin, no-tenure contract, was a model worth depicting. Yet his new movie, “Waiting for Superman,” leaves the school — and its promising, scalable innovations — on the cutting room floor. Apparently Guggenheim was more interested in dramatic narrative than documentary accuracy. In depicting hero reformers saving innocent children from villainous unionists, Guggenheim has told a theatrical story that aims for moral indignation through over-simplification. His calculated omission of Green Dot and similar efforts, such as the Union Park High School in Chicago, present caricatures instead of characters and ignore the category-defying examples that represent relevant and replicable alternatives that can drive sustained change.