Most documentaries about education - from Frederick Wiseman's High School (1968) to Bill Moyers' Children in America's Schools (1996) - paint a similarly grim picture. All these films hold out the prospect that change is possible if society is willing to honestly confront the social, economic, and bureaucratic conditions that have made public education less effective than it could and should be.
In contrast, the two most recent high-profile films about public education -- the documentary Waiting for Superman (2010) and Hollywood's Won't Back Down (2012), starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis -- portray our public schools as beyond reform and redemption.
For the first time in years, schools are opening with public schools, teachers and unions in the forefront and the charlatans of privatization and profit -- from Goeffrey Canada and Barack Obama to Michelle Rhee and Barabra Byrd Bennett -- in retreat.
But the plan was stripped bare and revealed to the public almost as soon as it was public when members of the public and researchers for the Chicago Teachers Union discovered that an "RFP" (Request for Proposals) publication by the nation's third largest school system to "relieve overcrowding" left only one option: charter schools.
Waiting for Superman -- directed by Davis Guggenheim, who made An Inconvenient Truth about Al Gore's environmental crusade -- portrays the public school system as a total failure.
It follows several students as they attempt to get into a private charter school that is superior in every way.
Guggenheim skillfully tells the stories of these children and their families so that we can't help but root for them to win the lottery and get into the charter schools that, we're led to believe, will unleash their potential rather than stifle their creativity.
The film boils down the problems facing public education as simply one of bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by corrupt unions.
In Chicago, one year after the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, the Chicago Board of Privatizing Public Schools (aka, the Chicago Board of Education, the seven ideological tea partiers appointed by the right wing zealot Mayor Rahm Emanuel) has got to sneak its latest round of privatization in through the back door.
Instead of honesty, the Board and Barbara Byrd Bennett, the "Chief Executive Officer" brought to Chicago from Detroit to destroy the public schools here as she did those there, is trying to sneak a massive expansion of charter schools in through the back door -- under the guise of "relieving overcrowding." Unlike 2011, when right wing groups pumped millions of dollars into promoting the teacher bashing union busting documentary "Waiting for Superman," 2013 shows that the propagandists for privatization are puzzled and without a clear propaganda strategy.