By Caroline Grannan
“Woodside is a great school." -- Emily Jones
The movie “Waiting for Superman” tells the stories of five students around the country who are desperate to escape their “failing” public schools and get into the shining charters that are portrayed as their only chance of success – or at least that’s the tale the movie tells.
One of those stories takes place in my neck of the woods, here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The one white middle-class student among the five kids in the movie is Emily Jones, who lives on the suburban San Francisco Peninsula.
The story that Waiting for Superman tells is that Emily is desperate to escape her district public high school, Woodside High, because she’s a bright student who “doesn’t test well,” and due to Woodside’s antiquated and harmful tracking policies, she’ll be tracked into lower-level classes that will doom her to mediocrity.
She grasps at (as the movie shows it) her only hope – Summit Prep Charter, which does the opposite of tracking, requiring all its students to take six AP courses during high school.
Well, that story is false. Here’s the proof. On this video clip, John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation interviews Emily.
The part in the movie illustrating how the horror of tracking sent her fleeing to Summit Prep features a graphic showing students on a conveyor belt, with the select few being elevated to higher-level classes and the rest being dropped onto a march to oblivion.
Yet in the video interview, Emily chats freely with John for five minutes and mentions a number of reasons for wanting to go to Summit instead of Woodside – but never mentions or even alludes to tracking. Just after minute five, Fensterwald brings up tracking. Emily comments on tracking only after Fensterwald prompts her.
And in fact, here’s what Emily says about Woodside High: “Woodside is a great school. I really liked it and I really wanted to go there before I saw Summit.”
That’s not what Waiting for Superman portrays. If the movie misled viewers with a false story about Emily, the line “fool me twice, shame on me” applies – we can’t believe anything it shows us.
Meanwhile, parents at Woodside High have created a huge banner and posted it across the front of the school:
“Woodside High School teachers – Man, You’re Super! Thank you for teaching ALL the students in our community!”