Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: Waiting For Superman

Last night a few of us went to see the educational document Waiting for Superman (which I mentioned in a previous blog post on Educational Reform Documentaries).  This film, which was made by the director of "An Inconvenient Truth," seeks to do the same thing with this documentary that they did with Gore's movie--to raise public consciousness about a crucial issue and to spark a grassroots movement to start taking action to solve the problem.

This documentary, as you might expect, is really well done and contains lots of shocking data.  But I found it more heart-wrenching and depressing than "An Inconvenient Truth."  What they have done in this movie is to personalize the almost-unbelievable statistics about the failure of public schools to education urban minority youth by focusing on the stories of a few specific children in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York City (among others).  OF COURSE, these children are photogenic and adorable youths with dreams for a better future being raised by loving and concerned lower-income families.  As the documentary cites the statistics about how poorly these children's schools are serving their communities--backed up with footage of schools that demonstrate bad teaching, depressing buildings, and uncaring school administrators--the families pin their hopes that their children can beat the odds by winning a lottery entrance into one of the charter schools whose track records have produced almost universally successful  graduates.  Unfortunately, the odds are against them; at one of these schools, there were over 700 applicants for under 50 available spaces.  By the end of the movie (at least if you are a softie like me), you care so much about these children that it is almost too stressful to even watch them go to the public lottery to see if their son, daughter, or grandson will manage to win one of the coveted spots.

The question the movie poses is, Why should these children have to win a lottery for a shot at a decent education?  Shouldn't that be the right of every American child, or at least all those willing to put in the effort required (as these examples all are)?

The movie isn't completely depressing.  In particular, it highlight schools that are working, that have a 96% graduation rate in communities where the comparable public schools have 2/3rds of their students dropping out.  It does a great job of capturing the vision, the energy, the thinking, and the settings of educational reformers who are doing a great job in preparing their students to succeed in college.  And it suggests why all schools aren't doing a similar job.

So, if you want to learn about such highly-technical educational terms as "dropout factories," "the dance of the lemons," or the infamous New York City "rubber room," or if you want to hear the story of Anthony in DC, Daisy in LA, or Francisco in Harlem, check out "Waiting for Superman."  Particularly here in Wake County NC, where the community is engaged in an intense debate about how our schools should be structured, this film sheds lights on disheartening data we would like to ignore and raises questions we might not want to answer--but we should anyway.


  1. Here is something relevant from another angle, by someone I respect (even when we work in different directions):

  2. We have a situation like that in Wake County, where the person who contributed the most money to the winners in the latest school board elections is developing private and charter schools that are receiving some public money AND who just happened to have the current school board Chair on HIS board until it was dissolved a couple of month ago. This can't help but create an idea of conflict of interest among the public. For the details, read the article at: