As I was watching the documentary “Waiting for Superman” I felt something was wrong. There were many statements in that documentary that seemed to conflict with other readings from our class. I also noticed some suspect use of statistics and a distinct lack of citations that caused me to doubt what I was watching.
This is an ongoing motif in our class conversations. Education and reform are very charged political topics. There are many special interest groups with different values invested and competing. It can be difficult to test the truth value of any statement, on such an opinion charged topic.
For example, this Huffington Post blog, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonie-haimson/factchecking-waiting-for-_b_802900.html ) has done some research and has called into question one of the movies central points, that fewer teachers get fired, per capita, then either doctors or lawyers.
Waiting for Superman claimed ” …in Illinois, 1 in 57 doctors loses his or her medical license, and 1 in 97 attorneys loses his or her law license, but only 1 teacher in 2500 has ever lost his or her credentials.”
Fallacy of false equivalence aside, these numbers are simply not true. The article that I linked to, not only explains that the numbers are un-cited, but also contradicted by real data from around the nation.
Another article, (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/?pagination=false ) also claimed the documentary was misleading. The article says “The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.”
However, although The Huffington Post is a leading news agency, they are known for leaning left, and the article linked above is to one of their blogs. How can we be certain they are not also trying to fool us? I want something more reliable than a blog vs. blog showdown.
Here are two questions that keep me up at night:
- How can we navigate through (fact check) such biased and politically charged information?
- Is there any way we can remove the political agenda from education and reform, and look at the situation objectively?