Review: Waiting for Superman (Adam’s rant on education)

Waiting for Superman. I may not be a teacher but I definitely consider myself an educator. I teach in different ways than textbooks and tests, but I like to think that I have some sort of impact on the college experience of the students I interact with.

I knew Waiting for Superman was about education. But for some reason (maybe the cover image above) I thought that the movie focused on education far away from here, maybe in other countries. Not in my backyard. After watching this movie, I feel inspired. And deeply upset.

In a nutshell: K-12 schools are failing us. Teacher unions are focused on the teachers not the students. But there is a way that’s working but there are some incredible obstacles to making reform.

I found a handy infographic with some details that might help put this in perspective:

So, as you can see… There are an incredible amount of students dropping out. There’s a term for schools that have high percentages: Drop-Out (or Failure) Factories. But the root is much earlier than these high schools. Elementary and Jr High teachers are under-performing and their students enter high school 3-6 grades behind. That is incredible. Why is this even allowed to happen?

Here’s where I get upset. Currently, the contract negotiated with the teachers’ unions states that after two years, a teacher is guaranteed tenure, meaning they cannot be fired unless it’s a pretty lewd or criminal act.

In the Los Angeles unified school district, only about 11 teachers a year are fired and less than 2% are denied tenure. The graduation rate in this district was at 51% (2003 data). That means there are some horrible teachers who are allowed to not do their job(!?) and still … keep their job.

How does this even make sense? In the university setting, tenure is by no means guaranteed and is much harder to achieve. Why is it such a “sure thing” for the people given the responsibility of teaching our youth?

In Washington DC, the graduation rates were at 49% in 2006. A new chancellor came to power, named Michelle Rhee and she made sweeping changes. Her most promising effort was a merit-based pay instead of tenure. They could give up tenure for a raise, if they deserved it.

I have a problem with as is, they’d get a $17k a year raise? WHAT!? Why are these teachers not expected to do a satisfactory job? This plan was rejected by the teachers’ union for being too threatening. Threatening in the way that teachers who perform higher would be rewarded? I have a major problem with whoever disagrees and wants to encourage apathy and complacency.

The movie followed a handful of kids that were seeking out alternate schools to attend. There were local charter/magnet schools that had such a high number of applicants that they had to do a lottery system to see who got in. I was lucky enough to be a part of a magnet school in High School, so I can understand the draw. But for me (being a privileged white male going to a pretty decent high school), it wouldn’t have been horrible if I didn’t get into that magnet school. In the movie, some kids would be forced to go to schools where they’d likely not graduate. That’s scary.

And these poor kids had dreams. They weren’t ruffians. They weren’t already lost. They had potential and they were told no. There was a little girl and she said she wanted to be a surgeon.

But the hope here… is that these schools they were trying to get into work. One of the prime examples are what are called KIPP schools (KIPP stands for “Knowledge Is Power Program”).

Do you see these staggering numbers? Math is especially daunting for young’uns and this school managed to dramatically raise these scores.

What about graduating high school at least though?

95% of the NYC KIPP school graduated and 88% enrolled in college. Staggering, considering the statistics that these students would’ve faced in a public school.

So. We know a plan that works. It involves rewarding teachers that CARE about what they’re doing and don’t fall into a slump once they enter tenure. Our future is falling away and we’re letting it.

I urge you to find the cause at and see what YOU can do.


About adamryen

Entertainment. Gaming. Dreaming.
This entry was posted in Movies. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Review: Waiting for Superman (Adam’s rant on education)

  1. nottooclever says:

    This is something I wrote up over two years ago and never went anywhere with.
    1) Children Full of Life
    “In the award-winning documentary Children Full of Life, a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learn lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori. He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates.”
    It’s very emotional in a way I wouldn’t think our school’s are.

    2) Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement
    Pretty interesting. The actual paper is here, but by the second page my eyes repel from the it.

    3) Michelle Rhee

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