Political pressure on teachers unions has been mounting for months, with national attention focused on charter schools, merit pay and other approaches to education that unions generally hate.
Now the pressure is moving to the big screen in a manner sure to pervade the public consciousness in a whole new way. Three new documentary films explore public education, taking stances that have inflamed teachers unions and brought applause from organizations that support charter schools and other union-busting changes.
The films criticize tenure and highlight how difficult it is for school districts to fire bad teachers. They present the unions as a major cause of problems in America's public schools. The solution, offered in two of the films through compelling stories of children trying to get into better schools through a lottery, is charter schools.
It's not the first time filmmakers have turned their lenses on schools, but the cluster of documentaries – and the massive publicity push associated with one of them – illustrates a new chapter in American education: the growing influence of charter schools and the philanthropies that support them.
Charters – public schools that are free from many of the regulations that govern traditional schools – have been around since the 1990s but have enjoyed increasing support under the Obama administration. Most charter schools are not unionized, making them a natural adversary for teachers unions.
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