School & District Management

‘Superman’ Documentary Looks at Public Schools’ Ills

By Dakarai I. Aarons — January 26, 2010 1 min read

A documentary at the Sundance Film Festival uses the stories of children in several cities to make the case that American public education is failing.

The film, “Waiting For Superman,” is directed by Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” which examined global climate change. The film had its world premiere Friday at the festival.

Guggenheim narrates “Waiting for Superman” and said he hopes it causes everyone to look at what he says is the poor state of America’s public schools.

“As a country we have betrayed these ideals, letting mediocrity and dysfunction prevail in this very public thing, which is public schools in America,” Guggenheim says in a short clip explaining why he made the film.

Waiting For Superman features ed-world faves like District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, and Bill Gates, who appeared at Sundance to promote the documentary. The buzz around the film is so strong that it was the first to be picked up by a distributor.

The soundtrack features the velvety vocals of six-time Grammy winner John Legend, who approached Guggenheim about doing a documentary on the nation’s school districts, only to find “Superman” was almost finished.

Legend, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, told The Associated Press the scenes in the film where children are waiting to hear if they win a lottery to attend selective schools resonated with him.

“When you think about someone’s fate being decided by a lottery, the choice is usually ... ‘Am I going to end up at a school with a super-high dropout rate and end up like a lot of those kids who drop out, in the criminal-justice system, working a low-wage job, or am I going to get a good education and go to college and make something of myself?’ ” he said.

“Waiting For Superman” will be in theaters this fall.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.