Schoolhouse Rut

Documentary seeks out what’s wrong with the school system and how to fix it

In Waiting for ‘Superman,’ documentarian Davis Guggenheim petitions the same level of cultural awareness about American education myths as his film An Inconvenient Truth delivered regarding global warming. The filmmakers methodically explore America’s public education crisis with data and graphs that show how the majority of U.S. high schools have become “drop-out factories.” With U.S. students’ math scores lagging behind 30 other countries, you know we’re in trouble. A significant crux of the problem comes from a teacher’s union contract—with the American Federation of Teachers—that tenures teachers after just two years, upon which time it becomes impossible to fire them regardless of their success rate.

Harlem charter school founder Geoffrey Canada (Harlem Children’s Zone) discusses his effective approach to teaching children. Canada has enjoyed tremendous success with sending his program’s students on to college. Canada’s passion and commitment to educating young people carries a refreshing ring of clarity. We also follow newly minted Washington, D.C. public-school system chancellor Michelle Rhee as she attempts to clean up the nations lowest performing school district.

The subject switches to the nation’s best charter schools as the primary option over an abysmal public school system. The problem is that charter schools have a limited number of spots. As such, lotteries are held to randomly choose students.

Utilizing five case studies of children whose parents have entered their child in charter school lotteries, Guggenheim arrives at the harsh reality that under our current system, many children will be blocked from a significant opportunity for financial success.

Waiting for ‘Superman’ opens alongside Freakonomics, which supports this film’s emphasis on how today’s students will be the ones ruining or running the country 20 years down the road. It also comes out at the same time as Charles Ferguson’s important documentary Inside Job, about Wall Street’s heist of our economy. All three films are mandatory viewing for anyone who cares about saving our country.

Waiting for ‘Superman’ (PG) ★★★★☆