Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) obviously likes to galvanize people around a crisis.
In his latest film, Waiting for "Superman", Guggenheim turns to education, presenting a compelling and fascinating study of the ways America's public schools are failing their students.
Inspired in part by the three public schools Guggenheim drives past every morning while taking his own kids to private school, Waiting for "Superman" delves into the "crisis of public education" through the eyes of five students and their families as they search for better alternatives to their neighborhood schools.
Since 1971, the amount of money spent on each student in this country has doubled, but test scores have stayed roughly the same. U.S. students have continued to fall behind their peers in other developed countries, especially in science and math, and the current generation will be less literate than the one before it.
Waiting for "Superman" argues that the school a student is districted to determines his or her destiny and that going to a public school is often tantamount to a losing ticket in the lottery.
With interviews from those on the leading edge of national education reform, the film takes a critical look at problems seemingly hardwired into the American educational system: tenure guidelines that don't allow school systems to fire bad teachers, encouraging principals to shuffle those teachers from school to school with each new year; dividing students into three "tracks" for professional, clerical, or manual-labor careers, even though a majority of U.S. jobs now require a college degree; so-called drop-out factories where the majority of the students never graduate and aren't expected to.
The film takes a broad, unflinching view of public education, even positing that failing schools create failing neighborhoods. If you have 40,000 students drop out in the 40-year lifespan of a high school, as one principal in California noted, what does that do to the community in which they live?
The somewhat unfortunate title of the film comes from the realization by Geoffrey Canada, the inspiring leader of the Harlem Children's Zone, that there is no Superman waiting in the wings to save us. To increase college graduation rates in the area, his organization shepherds children from before birth to college with the mantra "whatever it takes."
The film's other flaw is its heavy-handed pro-charter-school stance. With select charter schools one of the few bright spots in student test scores and achievement in the past decade, it's probably to be expected. The problem is — shown clearly and heartbreakingly in the film — that's great for children who are lucky enough to get into one of those schools. What about the students who don't?
Opening Friday, October 22nd