Waiting for Superman (Davis Guggenheim) 2010

This is a documentary directed by the person who also made An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud. This movie is about the failing school system in America. The number of drop outs are rising and our proficiency in science and math are dropping rapidly. In addition to trying to find reasons for the problem, we follow several families that are trying to enroll in better charter schools. The schools have a limited number of slots and the applicants have to win a lottery in order to get in.

 

This is a complicated issue with many things holding education back. One of the main issue that Guggenheim takes on which will raise controversy is that of the teachers union and the concept of tenure. Many of the unions use tenure, where after two years it becomes a near impossibility to terminate teachers from employment. Unions block any kind of merit pay or evaluation system and they make elected school superintendents useless. I can already tell there is going to be a big backlash against this movie by teachers but there should be fair evaluations of teachers.

 

Now to give them credit, I will say it is not all about teachers. Guggenheim rather quickly dismisses the fact we are spending enough on schools. But when you consider schools are still packed way beyond capacity, teachers are being fired by the recession, and budgets are low enough that teachers have to pay for many school supplies, you can’t say that money doesn’t have some part to play. However, I do agree that money is not the sole factor in quality of education. The quality of the teacher is a prime factor in how well the students learn.

 

Guggenheim does a good job in making the presentation interesting. There are plenty of different animations and subplots to go to so that the movie is not just a series of talking heads. The analysis of the situation is interesting and the personal stories are compelling in their own right. I don’t think this documentary is perfect. I think it does a good job though in outlining the problem for people not familiar with the topic and presenting a hypothesis not immediately considered (due to public opinion and how we view teachers). I think Guggenheim is a good director and I recommend this movie to people interested in the subject.

 

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