Waiting for Superman (documentary)

Posted in Film on Jul 23, 2010


“This is not just a movie, it’s a movement.” (want to be part of it? there’s an easy way at the bottom of this post)

davis guggenheim and lesley chilcott

That’s how Lesley Chilcott, producer of the documentary Waiting for Superman, described her film when I attended an advance screening of the film. The documentary will be released this Fall and is directed and co-written by Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Waiting for Superman stirred every emotion and left me inspired to want to help transform childrens’ lives. Yeah, yeah – big talk…but this is no time for skepticism, this is the time to make our ideals a reality because what’s at stake is our nation’s future! Too much drama for you in that statement, too? Well, the truth is dramatic: our education system needs our help.

Whether or not your child attends public school (or even if you don’t have children), everyone is impacted by what happens at public schools. High school drop-outs (1.2 million annually) are more likely to need social welfare assistance and get involved with crime. And on that note, here’s a mind-blowing statistic: one prisoner costs $33,000/year in tax dollars, while the average amount spent on one public school student per year is approximately $10,000.* Our country is spending more in 4 years for an inmate than it spends on 13 years for a child’s education.

We vaccinate our kids to reduce disease and increase our chances for health; education is like a vaccine to help keep away poverty, crime and despair while increasing opportunities and fulfilling aspirations.

Waiting for Superman illuminates some of the issues plaguing the public education system, including the luck-of-the-draw lottery system for families looking for alternatives when their neighborhood public school is inadequate. During the post-screening q&a, one of the key messages that Lesley highlighted is seemingly one of the most obvious: good teachers make the difference. Yet contracts with teacher unions in some areas, along with tenure which can come as quickly as a year or two after starting to teach, make it extremely difficult to fire low-performing teachers. And it’s not uncommon for contracts to make it impossible to pay a good teacher more. Is there another field where tenure comes after just 1 or 2 years? Or a work environment that doesn’t allow merit-based rewards?!

The film showcases what some of the innovators in education are doing, but getting back to Lesley’s hope that this is not just a movie but a movement, Waiting for Superman also helps you take a step to making a difference. There’s nothing easy about changing bureaucracy, but doing something beats doing nothing. The film’s website, which will be continuously updated, has useful tips, statistics and Calls to Action.

You can even do something for education merely by agreeing – or pledging – to see the film. As of July 23, there were 22,000+ who’ve pledged to see the film when it comes out in Fall. When 50,000 people say yes to seeing it, an organization called First Book will donate 250,000 books to schools across the nation. Other milestone numbers of pledges trigger additional donations from other companies. Might it be self-serving for the film? Who cares! The result is that kids benefit from receiving books…and regardless, you’ll see a well-made, high-impact documentary.

Even if you know a lot about how the education system works in the US, see the film and bring friends who may not know as much because Waiting for Superman succeeds in presenting information clearly. And wherever your opinions lie with regard to public education, we can unite on the mission to reward great teachers, oust low-performing teachers and make it possible for educators to work with students so they want to stay in school and learn. It’s imperative that we find solutions that benefit all students, not just the adults who work in education.

*2006/07 school year; source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics

  • 2 responses to "Waiting for Superman (documentary)"

  • lenore
    8th August 2010 at 13:40

    Hi Liz – You raise a great question. At the screening I attended someone asked a question about this of the producer, Lesley Chilcott. She responded along the lines that while they recognize that there are many subjects to address about the public and charter school systems, they felt like they could not tackle everything.

    My takeaway was that the message was centered more on elevating the status of teachers so it becomes a desirable career for talented people, as well as compensating and creating a fair system where the ineffective teachers are let go the great ones rewarded…in other words, great, effective teachers = success in schools.

    I’m just an observer of the film…so far from being an expert in the area of how to fix public schools or what even truly goes on there bureaucratically. I simply wrote my thoughts after seeing the film – and still believe that however someone feels about the film, it opens a dialogue and raises awareness for issues in public schools and, hopefully, helps us work towards solutions.

    If you are interested in an answer to your specific question about how charter schools address and succeed in the area of learning issues, I might suggest contacting the film makers through the Waiting for Superman website, or maybe even better, contacting one of the charter schools to get the important information you seek.

    Thanks again for raising this important question. If you learn anything you want to share, please do. Be well, Lenore

  • Liz DeLuca
    8th August 2010 at 12:44

    I was fortunate to see Waiting for Superman at the chilmark Film Festival on Martha’s Vineyard this past July 2010. As a mother who has raised 3 children with learning disabilities, I was disappointed that this entire population was not mentioned as part of the educational process. It was as if they didn’t exist. One child chronicled that the mother was trying to find an alternative school for may have been a child with learning challenges but the closest the movie came in discussing this was the tutor suggesting outside testing be done on her son, which I would have certainly recommended as well. How can the greatly successful schools like the Harlem Success Academy, the Kipp Schools, the Ron Clark Schools, the Milton Hershey Academy Schools have such success and not mention how they educate those children that come to them predominantly by lottery, deal with learning issues that I am certain they have had to deal with over the years and still be successful? I look forward to a response. Sincerely, Liz DeLuca