Waiting for Superman - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Waiting for Superman Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 18, 2010
This documentary deals with the vast and crumbling educational system of the United States, and the roadblocks that keep children from gaining a thorough and full education. Director Davis Guggenheim first started his research ten years prior while covering a public school classroom and from there gained insight into the problematic system now in place to educate the nation's children. Guggenheim looks at the various causes of the gap between us, as an industrialized first world power, and the rest of the world in terms of education. There doesn't seem too much of a problem when it comes to federal funding, because the education budget has increased drastically in the last several years, and so Guggenheim more times than others points to the ineffectualness of the school system itself. Most problematic seems to be the teachers unions in place at this time. Though they do protect all teachers from discrimination, pay decreases, and unwarranted attacks via the US government, it also tenures ineffective and sometimes negligent teachers into positions that they should not be holding. They are guaranteed their job, and if they are found to be wanting, are not dismissed but given credence to be moved through the system as easily as some of these kids. Guggenheim also looks at the problems that have more to do with poverty, unstable homes, and the lack of direct aid to stricken neighborhoods. These children especially have a higher dropout rate with the equivalency in reading level of an elementary school child, and that has more to do with having a grading system that moves children up grade levels without warrant and those students not getting enough attention with giant class sizes. Teachers are not paid enough, children are tested unfairly, and overall the dropout rate is enormous throughout the country. Guggenheim unfairly puts a large emphasis on the role of charter schools, showing that they are intensely effective when it comes to test scores and college acceptance rates when they are only 17% superior in math test scores. The film also misrepresents some statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, by saying that seventy per cent of eighth graders cannot read at grade level, which is false. Overall though, the evils of the system and the ineffectiveness alike are represented and many of the points raised are valid.
Super Reviewer
April 24, 2012
I want to take a moment and talk about a particular class that this film reminded me of. Tenth grade Math. Now, I have never been that big of a fan of math. Hell, I have always sucked at that class (the one thing my father never gave me: his brain). But for the first half of the school year, I got this blessed angel of a teacher that actually taught the material. With her teaching me, I was able to actually do very well in her class to the point that I was one of her top students. Then, after winter holidays, she had to teacher a recovery class for those students that missed too many days the previous semester and I got thrown into a new math class. Within two months, the class that was said to be the best in tenth grade math became the absolute worst. My B average turned into a failing grade. Nobody was doing good. That was when I figured out what made a class good or not. It is not about studying (though that does help a lot). It is about having good teachers. With the way things are in America (being the laughing stock of the world of education), it is easy to see why we are: all of our teachers are terrible.
Waiting For Superman is something of a documentary that I believe should be required viewing in schools because it points out why we are failing, why no one is graduating, why are just terrible. Davis Guggenheim does an expert job keeping your attention threw out the entire one hundred minutes as he goes into great detail of America's education history, the impact our schools are having on families, and the probably outcome if things never change. A documentary is suppose to enlighten one on a topic, and this documentary does more than enlighten: it gets you angry. Angry at the school board, angry at the people in charge, and sparks a feeling of change that needs to happen.
Being in one of the best public school systems in America, I thankfully did not have to deal with most of the problems that are expressed in this documentary. However, I do have friends that go to the worst out of the worst here and from what they have said and viewed, this documentary is the best at just flat out showing all that is wrong.
But what got to me most was the economic side of this problem. There is a segment in which we are shown how much money is actually spent on Education. Schools and knowledge is considered one of the main topics for the American government to improve. Yet, we are so poorly funded in education due to all of the money being spent on prisons, detention centers, and any other little problem that is little in comparison. The main problem we have is with low employment and while the shortage of money is a key factor, an even larger factor is the low rate of children that actually graduate and strive for something better. This documentary proves that the only way for things to get better is if we make education better, keep children and teenagers in school, and have them trained and inspired to continue on to do great things.
Another point which I found interesting is also a major problem that I have with schools: terrible teachers that keep their jobs and where a good chunk of the money goes to. In this documentary, you learn that it is next to impossible to get rid of teachers due to some clause in their job description which confirms their employment for life. What. The. Crap? Okay, so, let us say that you get a teacher that is as terrible as the one I mentioned earlier. If I had it my way, I would make damn sure that I get a teacher that CAN teach in his position and have him get a job else where. But, in reality, unless the teacher decides on himself, he/ she can not get fired. The other part is where money goes to now a days. Answer me this, and be honest: how many kids will really get a job on any sports team? Not many. How many kids might make a job out of a fine art like music, drama, and language? Quite a lot. And yet, the money (a good chunk (too good of a chunk)) goes right into sports programs that just burn the money, waste time and energy, and provides nothing. What? Just because you win a few games all of a sudden makes a school great? Is that what our schools really have turned into? A show of beating each other and calling that school great?
Already I am getting worked up over the issues that this documentary has risen, and I have only talked about a fraction of what this entire example of documentation has shown. Waiting For Superman is easily one of the few important documentaries to have been released as of recent and for good reason. This will get you angry, it will make you think, and it will make you question what is happening with our children and the future generation's education.
Super Reviewer
December 15, 2011
A passionate though flawed documentary which has its heart in the right place about the failing school system in America, just not the balanced data and perspectives to back it up. Director Davis Guggenheim should be given credit considering his undying love and desire to see the educational system in America get better, sadly he only seems to be showing one side of the story where students want to learn, teachers suck at their jobs, and administration boards only want what's best for everybody else and not themselves. While he briefly acknowledges views to the contrary, he does not correctly delve into the negative material associated with this subject with the same tenacity he does with the positive-thinking figures he documents. Definitely interesting, and in different, more balanced hands it has potential for a great, great documentary, sadly this comes across as an average offering that fails to address both sides of the issue adequately.
Super Reviewer
½ November 29, 2010
An accurate but state "State of Our Schools" movie. Solutions are there, but it takes effort to achieve. It is good someone is saying it, just is anyone listening?
Super Reviewer
November 16, 2010
As a student of a public high school, I found this documentary very interesting. Whether you be a student or a parent, check this film out.
Super Reviewer
November 17, 2010
The fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom.

This is possibly one of the most powerful, important and interesting documentaries I have ever seen and ever made. The truth about it all is that education is the key, without it our children are more likely to end up in jail than to graduate high school. Everyone in the USA including people who live in different countries who care about there kids enough should watch this magnificent documentary.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education "statistics" have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying "drop-out factories" and "academic sinkholes," methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.
Super Reviewer
April 28, 2011
Okay yeah, it was shamelessly manipulative. But I do agree with the issue (I cried a little too), and I think the filmmakers sort of sold the situation short.
Super Reviewer
January 30, 2011
While I do have my fair share of criticisms towards a couple of issues brought up, it certainly raises key issues to start the ball rolling in the education system debate and gets people's attention. Just for that it made it worth my time.
Super Reviewer
½ September 25, 2010
The fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom.


This is a really good documentary, its got all we need in one, an interesting topic, a strong overview of the topic, but at the same time it is able to get to our emotions, change the way we think.

This documentary targets something anyone could take on, 'education', but it does in a way that is so simplistic but at the same time very informative, and is still able to entertain us. Personally I went through a variety of emotions while watching it, and thats what determines a good movie, and to be getting that from a documentary and gaining new knowledge is just the feather on the hat.

Highly Recommend it, for anyone who has a heart and a will to know whats going on in the world of education, and at the same time want some entertainment.

Geoffrey Canada: "I cried when she told me superman didn't exist"
Super Reviewer
March 1, 2011
The system has failed, and here is the proof. A heartbreaking and baffling document on the disgusting and completely pathetic reality that is the public schooling system of the United States.
Super Reviewer
September 21, 2010
It's hard to believe how much an unexplored topic can become so emotionally gripping. Waiting For Superman is a documentary that should be seen by every child and parent alike. With a captivating story about children who cannot afford to enter a highly praised school board, this is not a film, but a learning experience for how much we take for granite. Some day, probably in the not too distant future, schooling will not come so easily, an that is exactly what this film is trying to prove, and it accomplishes that with brilliance. Waiting For Superman, makes you wish superheroes were real, because in the end, everyone is going to need a hero!
Super Reviewer
½ February 22, 2011
Now this is a true horror movie. This is a documentary about our failing public school system here in the USA, and it is not pretty. Some of the stuff in the movie seem unreal that it is actually happening, but it is. Made me glad I went to Paris High School and didn't deal with a lot of the struggles these kids deal with.
Super Reviewer
½ February 20, 2011
With documentaries like "Waiting for 'Superman'" you almost have to ignore the fact that you wont be given objective view points. These massive issues are much to complex to include a cohesive study in one film. But that shouldn't end up hindering you while experiencing Davis Guggenheim's film. In Guggenheim's defense, "Waiting for 'Superman'" is a much more even film than his Oscar winner "An Inconvenient Truth", mainly, because everything he is observing is real. There is no 'what if' in this film. (The only 'what if' comes at the end. 'What if' we decide to fix this?) The truth is, there are many good schools and good teachers out there, but what is flawed are the laws and constitutions that hinder the bad schools from improving. (Tenure NEEDS to be abolished and those Teacher's Unions need a swift kick) This is an important document that shows, quite clearly, what needs fixing. It's a daunting thought at trying to fix it, but hopefully this film will clarify the ever growing problem.
Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
½ January 25, 2011
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) tackles an even more alarming subject - the state of the nation's education. Guggenheim, who admits to enrolling his own kids in costly private schools, felt bad about all those "other kids" resigned to public schooling. His film addresses a myriad of issues related to the disparity in education. The deluge of data and statistics is broken up by the heart-wrenching story of five children ranging in age from five to fourteen. These children are hoping to land a chance to enroll in neighborhood charter schools. These charter schools perform higher than their public competition, so there are more applicants than seats open. Far more. By charter guidelines, the applicants are given a number and a lottery is taken to determine who earns a place in the school. To these five students and their families, the random drop of a numbered ping-pong ball can determine the fate of all.

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel such powerful pangs of emotion by the film's devastating conclusion. Guggenheim frames the overall demise of public education by telling the small story of five hopeful students who must look to the simple luck of the draw to get a quality education in their neighborhood; the bigger issue now has a face to empathize with. And you will. Obviously the odds are stacked against all five kids Guggenheim selected to follow. I think the best charter school lottery odds had 20 seats available and only 65 applicants. It should therefore be no surprise that there are many dashed hopes and crushed dreams, and you too will feel tears rolling down your cheeks as you watch shell-shocked parents try to compose themselves as their child's number is never called. It's flat-out devastating to witness. It is a profound embarrassment that these families are forced into a lottery system just to earn a quality education. The anguish and bone-shaking disappointment will long linger, which is exactly what Guggenheim wants. The concluding portion of the movie drops all stats and cogent rhetoric and just opens up completely to unashamed, yet highly effective, emotional appeals. Guggenheim clearly knew that the odds were against these kids being selected, which upon reflection, gives the montage of sorrow a slightly unpleasant exploitative aftertaste.

I wasn't expecting a detailed manual on how to fix the nation's educational woes, but at the same time I think Guggenheim is laying the blame a little too explicitly at the feet of intractable teacher unions. Now, full disclosure to my adoring readership: I work for a public school system and belong to a prominent teacher's union, the National Education Association. I'm trying to be as impartial as possible in my analysis of a documentary that hits fairly close to home. It's pretty impossible to not walk away affected from Waiting for Superman. You'll be left shaken, red-eyed, and clamoring for reform, but what reform? Guggenheim tends to keep whacking at his target, the teachers unions, but a grave omission is that he never interviews a SINGLE teacher. He interviews retired teachers and numerous teachers that have become administrators, but a documentary about the concerns of a modern classroom might want to include the views of those teachers who are expected to get consistent results with inconsistent materials. There is enormous pressure on teachers, often the first to be blamed for circumstances beyond their control. Are teachers responsible for poverty and absent parenting? Are teachers responsible to fix all society's ills? The modern educational environment has changed so much in recent years (I cannot even think of a life teaching before the distraction of texting and cell phones), and yet so much of our system is geared toward an outdated model. Tracking systems do more to segregate students into an educational caste system that tells a portion of students that nobody truly has high expectations for them. The summer recess was so that the kids could return to work on the farm in time for harvests. Hey, guess what, we stopped being an agrarian society for over 100 years.

Educational reforms like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are mentioned, but the aftereffects are shockingly soft-pedaled by Guggenheim. The NCLB act was meant to make educators accountable, and in a way it does, but only to a single high-stakes test. The curriculum of many school environments is now entirely shaped to passing this test, which isn't a surprise considering school funds are determined almost entirely by this single measuring device. There's little room for enrichment when the test dictates all. I have spoken with several teachers and administrator, and I've heard horror stories where lower-performing students are tossed around in devious manners to keep the school's percentage higher. The shame of NCLB is that its legacy may be that even more children are left behind. I'm flabbergasted that Guggenheim neglects to include any of the detrimental consequences of NCLB in his film. Now I'm by no means saying that teachers should not be held accountable and that unions can lead to abuses of power. Guggenheim references the infamous "rubber rooms" where disciplined teachers sit and collect full paychecks while reading the newspaper or playing cards. On the surface, naturally this excess is appalling and a waste of taxpayer dollars. But then if you stop and think, looking through the indignant broad strokes, you realize several of these rubber room inhabitants are simply getting the full measure of due process. Excess may be needed to ensure the rights of every citizen. Or do we start selectively choosing who is denied due process?

At the risk of sounding too ideologically defensive, allow me to lastly take aim with Guggenheim's thesis that he carefully shapes. Charter schools become Guggenheim's shining beacon of hope for his handful of student subjects. The film itself evasively admits that only 1 in 5 charter schools succeeds and that most perform at levels below public schools. I'm not knocking the success of charter schools and the dedicated professionals who operate them. It's just another choice, and I suppose that's what Guggenheim really boils it down to - choice. He shows us that lower income Americans are denied educational choices, which leads to a limited array of choices of opportunities in a lifetime. Charter schools are free from the Byzantine bureaucracy of the public school system, which I think is why Guggenheim lionizes them despite the 20% success rate. Waiting for Superman shows that the status quo is anything but for too many.

With all of my rebuttals, it may sound like I strongly disliked this muckraking documentary. On the contrary. Waiting for Superman is supremely engrossing, stirring, moving, devastating, illuminating, occasionally frustrating, but easily one of the best films of 2010. Most of the ills of the United States can be traced back to the epicenter of educational failure. The state of America's education is in crisis. Just like Guggenheim's Oscar-winning Inconvenient Truth, this is meant to sound the alarm of an impending disaster. If the educational system keeps failing students en masse, you can expect there will be far-flung generational ramifications. How can the richest country in the world fall behind so far in education? Guggenheim is passionate about a problem with no clear-cut solution. Nobody knows what makes a good teacher. There is no secret formula. And just as each child is a unique and different, so are the educational situations nationwide. Every school is going to have a different solution than another. Guggenheim has a handful of ideas on how to patch up our schools (take away the excessive power of unions, make it easier to fire poor teachers, better access to alternative schools), but the ugly truth is that there is no magic solution. Simplistic at times and perhaps a little too evasive, Waiting for Superman is nonetheless a powerful document that challenges a nation to do better.

Nate's Grade: A-
Super Reviewer
½ November 2, 2010
Documentary attacking the US public school system by following four students (three from impoverished backgrounds) as they enter the lottery to enroll in high performing charter schools. If you've been paying attention, it won't tell you much you don't already know about the failing American education system, but it's enormously affecting getting to know the kids and their parents and watching them wait to see if their name will be called out with the drop of the next ping pong ball.
Super Reviewer
October 23, 2010
Like a good essay, the film introduces its thesis and then proceeds to prove the thesis by introducing empirical evidence and real-life examples that support the main idea. The director brings a little too much emotion into what needs to be an entirely fact-based film; the last fifteen minutes of the film are wholly depressing. And the film is by no means completely thorough. I left the theater asking more questions about the feasibility of their proposed solutions than I should have; the writers failed to address any possible concerns that may arise with their proposals. Nevertheless, the film is one that needs to be seen by parents, teachers, and administrators alike. There is a serious problem with public education in some parts of the country, and that problem won't get fixed until these three elements are able to sit down and figure this out.
Super Reviewer
October 10, 2010
Michelle Rhee: You wake up every morning thinking how crappy an education kids are getting right now.
Davis: You think kids are getting a crappy education?
Michelle Rhee: Oh I don't think they are, I know they are.

It generally takes a lot for me to recommend a documentary on better terms than whether it was good or bad, or if it's strong enough to catch in cinemas. Some, in recent time, have naturally led me to strong recommendations, like King of Kong or Murderball, which are very well made, but also edited to have a fairly linear plot line, despite being a doc. For docs such as this one, where the film has a lot of strong things to say about its subject matter, but also functions like a lecture or an info-dump, it can be harder to strongly get behind. However, for this particular film, I would say that the subject matter is important enough and made well enough to go check out much sooner rather than later.

Waiting for Superman is a documentary about the state of America's public school system. The film follows a handful of young kids at various academic levels, ages, and financial standings, as they are put into a required lottery in an attempt to gain one of the few spots in various schools that would lead these kids to having a better education, therefore, getting a better chance at life. The film also provides us with plenty of information regarding the public school system, various charts and figures about the nations standing in the world, and averages regarding different states and neighborhoods. There are also a number of interviews with varying influential educators, including social activist Geoffrey Canada and former Washington D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

The film was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who previously directed Al Gore's global warming doc, An Inconvenient Truth. It is also inconvenient that despite being essentially the last superpower in the world, that our educational system is, as many say in this film, "broken." While I was fortunate enough to be from an area where the system is frankly just not as bad as some of the places portrayed in this film, the film still effectively portrays its facts.

As I said, there is not so much as through line in terms of having an A to B plot, besides introducing the kids and seeing if they make it into the nicer schools by the end, but the various segments in between are all very interesting. I was especially interested in the Michelle Rhee segments for example. She had the task of trying to really shake up the system, by removing tenure from teachers in order to get rid of the ones everyone knew were ineffective, but met almost no support for trying to do so. It is a series of segments like these that had me very intrigued.

Guggenheim narrates the film, which, in some docs can be distracting, but he has the right kind of tone that never makes it feel intrusive. Add to that his good use of animated graphs, stats, and charts, along with some well juxtaposed imagery throughout, and the film is quite solidly made.

You always have to take documentaries as they come, since they really are from an individual's perspective, but everything has been presented well here. The facts are interesting to follow and for a doc that focuses on telling its audience a lot of info, it is quite engaging.

Geoffrey Canada: When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art.
Super Reviewer
½ March 18, 2012
I'll admit it really bothered me how much they were glorifying education as being the answer to all things. But at least it balanced that out by stating a few truths as well about the education system.
Super Reviewer
½ October 8, 2010
When one enjoys a documentary such as this, it?s often at the risk of perhaps exposing one?s own ignorance on the subject. I don?t mind; since I will not claim to know answers or be acutely aware of failed solutions possibly suggested in Davis Guggenheim?s Waiting for Superman ? an excellent documentary on the current state of American education and the advocacy for, well, change. But the movie was informative in all the right ways, painting a compelling picture of a deeply flawed system with America?s schools ? so much so that it may require a Superman to fix ? while illustrating both the optimism and futility of this situation by wisely incorporating human drama into the film?s message ? literally giving us faces to the dilemma that we can relate to.

I don?t feel Waiting for Superman took a hard stance on the ?right? answer here, but it might not have explored enough of what?s going wrong in many aspects of education. Sure, Guggenheim effectively portrays the seeming mismanagement of public schools and its resources, the impossible beauraucratic and political spiderweb that are teachers? unions and their impact on education, and the trickle-down effect on each new generation and America?s standing in the world in educated workforces and innovation where it benefits economies. Some schools even seem to work incredibly well ? usually charter schools ? and the film mined all the positivity it could from what these exceptions to the rule are accomplishing with graduation and college attendance rates. For me, it was a lot of the right information for the uninformed viewer, and smartly structured, replete with your usual array of interviews with students, parents, rockstar teachers, token reformers speaking to the impenetrability of the system, and so on. But, I did feel the complete picture was still missing.

I wanted to know more about the schools that attempt a new solution but fail, and why. I wanted more about the (social) neighborhood implications from the failed non-graduates being produced by their local ?dropout factory? schools. Still, the film found a strong enough balance without this ? despite taking a moment too long to lay down its thesis and maybe having a too-hokey title ? and really drove home both the educational message and the entertainment factor of the film with its several anecdotes in the guise of inner-city kids in struggling schools from around the country. Because there exists a lottery for students to enter into these public charter schools with limited space, we watch helplessly as the focal young kids ? whom we have every reason to root for ? have the fate of the future of their education left to cruel chance. The outcome serves as an affecting memorandum speaking to the disease in the system that needs curing. The ?Only you can make a difference!? credits ring a little forced right after showing just how long some of the odds really are, but it?s excusable since the film concludes with such personal power?and with a stronger lingering aftertaste than Guggenheim?s previous film, An Inconvenient Truth. Plus, it wasn?t all Al Gore?d up with a slideshow.
Super Reviewer
October 3, 2010
This is an important documentary about the sorry state of our educational system, and the consequences of our failure as a society to value great teachers. Superbly shot and always intellectually engaging, I wish I was more emotionally attached here. I can tell the third act was really going for the waterworks, but it never quite got me there.

Although many of the stories presented here are heartbreaking, the strongest emotion watching this film is one of anger - - - anger at the Teacher's Unions for clinging to their tenures instead of being open to solutions which would benefit what should be their main priority, the students --- anger at a system so damaged that fates are literally decided by random lottery ball drawings --- and anger at a culture so steeped in bigotry and materialism that it cannot make education one of the most pressing issues. Having served in a teaching capacity for 14 years of my life, and having been blessed with wonderful teachers at my public school in Ohio, I consider myself lucky to have such high regard for education. Seeing this film almost makes me want to put my hat in the ring again and teach. A good film about a really important subject.
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