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Tom Donohue: We Can’t Wait for Superman

Every American must demand more from our education system

The 2010-11 school year is well under way and with it, a season of new beginnings.

Tom Donohue
Tom Donohue

We send our children into the classroom with an expectation that they will learn and succeed in core academic subjects, be given opportunities to explore their interests, and be prepared to enter college or a career upon graduation. For students who are lucky enough to attend good schools and receive instruction from good teachers, this is the case. But far too many young Americans are not so fortunate. These students are trapped in low-performing schools, often with no way out. While school reform has been debated for years, there’s been too little action.

A groundbreaking new film, Waiting for “Superman,” may permanently change that dynamic. This movie tells the story of five children as they try to make their way out of failing public schools and into charter schools. Along the way, viewers are exposed to the low expectations and poor results that exist in our public school system.

The statistics are alarming. Among developed countries, the United States ranks 21st out of 30 in science literacy and 25th out of 30 in mathematics literacy. Perhaps our greatest shortcoming is the 1.2 million students who fail to graduate from high school each year.

But the movie is at its most powerful when it goes beyond facts and figures to show the human impact of a failing education system. Take, for example, Anthony, a fifth-grader living in Washington, D.C., who wants a different life than the one that caused his father to die from drug addiction. But Anthony’s path to a brighter future — acceptance into a high-performing public charter school — will be determined by a lottery. The school to which he is applying has only 24 slots for 61 applicants. This is tragic — and maddening.

Because a superhero isn’t coming to save our schools, it’s up to every American to demand more from the educational establishment. A good K-12 education isn’t just for the privileged few; it’s the birthright of every American child.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been at the forefront of efforts to shake up K-12 education so that every child is prepared for higher education or productive careers. We continue to advocate for commonsense reforms, including greater accountability in schools, merit pay for high-performing teachers, fair removal of ineffective teachers and expanded access to charter schools.

The chamber is proud to promote Waiting for “Superman.” Click here for more information about the film and campaign. Click here for more information about the chamber’s education activities.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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