Waiting for Superman

Image ©2010-2011 TakePart LLC

Several weeks ago, I was able to see, in conjunction with Race to Nowhere, Waiting for Superman. Instead of a heavy focus on the students and their plight with an apparently broken system, Waiting for Superman took a broader approach when focusing its lens on the issues of education in America. While viewing the film, some key ideas from the film seemed to grab my attention. Here are some ideas I found most poignant in the film:

  1. The idea of America’s public education system as outdated. It was built in the early 1900s as a way to prepare students for the world it was designed in. The world continued to evolve and change, while the public education system did not. It remained static.
  2. On the idea of being outdated, many middle class, average students fall victim to a practice called “tracking.” Tracking was a way to prepare students for different levels of proficiency for career fields they were likely to enter. Lower tracks were designed for labor jobs, such as factory workers, middle tracks were designed for jobs like secretaries and accountants, and higher tracks were reserved for those continuing education to become doctors or lawyers. As mentioned earlier, the world has changed, but the system has not. Kids sent on lower tracks experience lower quality teachers and underperform on tests. The film posits that tracking puts these students at a similar disadvantage to students from poor neighborhoods.
  3. Poorer neighborhoods have consistently low-performing schools unceremoniously dubbed “dropout factories.” It was once believed that poor neighborhoods caused these schools to perform lower, but now the thinking has reversed: the schools, with their poor teachers and organizational structures, disadvantage the community.
  4. Magnet and charter schools have been offered as a solution to remedy the poor performing areas, as alternatives to public education. Some have become very successful, but others have not.
  5. The film made particular note of teacher’s unions. The film was made before the incidents concerning unions in Wisconsin, and it takes a very hard stance. Many speakers in the film note that the teacher unions are working to protect the interests of the teachers, the adults, and this sometimes works against their own best interests and the interests of their students. This was highlighted with the Washington DC district and Michelle Rhee, who attempted to renegotiate teacher contracts with new guidelines for pay incentives.
At the climax of the film, you witness the lottery system for various charter and magnet schools across the United States, as selected students, who you become familiar with through the course of the film, see whether or not they get into the school of their dreams. It is a difficult fifteen minutes to endure, and even though I have seen this film before, watching the final scenes was no easier. The film brings to light many issues facing American education, asking the viewers what can be done to change the system for the betterment of all.
Waiting for Superman is a film by Davis Guggenheim about the American Education system. Find out more about their social action by visiting their website.

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