What Parents Really Want

By Guggenheim, Davis | Newsweek, September 20, 2010 | Go to article overview

What Parents Really Want


Guggenheim, Davis, Newsweek


Byline: Davis Guggenheim

It's not about charters vs. public schools. The director of 'Waiting for Superman' explains why.

If you read the paper, there are a lot of confusing facts and opinions about education. The latest debate is about charters vs. mainstream public schools. Now the debates are part of the essential process of hammering out our differences and testing our ideas. But too often pundits focus on labels and rhetoric while forgetting about what really matters: families and their kids.

If you are a parent, thinking about the beginning of school, the debate in the local paper is not the essential truth you have to confront. I have three kids, and this week I am not thinking about educational policy. I'm hoping--no, praying--that each of my kids gets a good teacher; that the school is safe; that the principal has high expectations for every kid. And frankly, what the school is called--"charter," "private," "public"--is irrelevant.

I saw this with other parents when I was making my latest documentary, Waiting for Superman. I spent two years talking to families in different cities and towns across the country. And it didn't matter what their ethnicity was or how much money they had. Every parent looks for the telltale signs: Is the teacher bright and focused? Are kids walking to class with a sense of purpose? Is there an excitement for learning?

In fact, of all the parents I interviewed, at kitchen tables or in minivans, not one used the word "charter," or any other hot-button words. Parents know that all these debates boil down to a relationship between a child and a teacher, and that relationship has the power to instill a love of learning.

Last year I got excited about a great choice for my 12-year-old. It's not a charter, but a mainstream, magnet, public school, 30 minutes from my home in Los Angeles. It's called LACES, and it's ranked (in this magazine) as one of the top high schools in the country. Other parents told me the teachers are amazing; the student population is diverse. So I called the school and spoke to a very kind woman in admissions who told me that if I wanted my son to go to LACES, I should have started five years ago! …

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