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October 13, 2010

Grading School Choice

Ross Douthat

In this fall's must-see documentary, "Waiting for 'Superman,' " Davis Guggenheim offers a critique of America's public school bureaucracy that's manipulative, simplistic and more than a little bit utopian.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Guggenheim's cause, the plight of children trapped in failing schools with lousy, union-protected teachers, is important enough to make his overzealousness forgivable. And his prescription -- more accountability for teachers and bureaucrats, and more choices for parents and kids -- deserves all the support his film promises to win for it.

But if propaganda has its virtues, it also has its limits. Guggenheim's movie, which follows five families through the brutal charter school lotteries that determine whether their kids will escape from public "dropout factories," stirs an entirely justified outrage at the system's unfairnesses and cruelties. This outrage needs to be supplemented, though, with a dose of realism about what education reformers can reasonably hope to accomplish, and what real choice and competition would ultimately involve.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at October 13, 2010 2:03 AM
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