Millions of Children left Behind
Waiting for Superman
Review by Ross Anthony

For educators, the title is rather unclear. Not because it implies we aren't super men & women, but because it doesn't sound like a film about the state of US education. I can think of better titles. How about you? How about "Millions of Children left behind" or "Dropout Factories"?

I found the poster equally confusing. In fact, despite the fact that I was keeping an eye out for this film, I walked past the poster assuming it was for some thriller or action film. Perhaps this marketing risk will pay off by catching the interest of the average movie-goer.

But onto the review of the film. I liked it. It rather blatantly tells the truth. To boil it down to the main points. 1) Good teachers are great for the education of our youth. Bad teachers tragically disrupt the education of our youth. And unions won't let us get rid of the bad teachers. 2) Even children from disadvantaged neighborhoods are capable of performing at very high levels. 3) An overly complicated bureaucratic system of funding and rule-making (state/local/fed)cripples efforts to improve education. And 4) Thankfully, there are still majestically motivated educators with enough smarts, energy, passion and gall to dare strive for reform.

The documentary focuses on a handful of kids, most of whom show inspiring promise, but sadly are in danger of being "held back" by broken schools. The film concludes on the painful drama of chance as the kids cross their fingers for acceptance into exceptional (but far too few) magnet and charter schools. As the bingo balls roll, their futures hang in the balance. In this way the film makes its last point: we're playing roulette with the education of our nation's kids.

What the film lacks:
Lack 1: As part of its premise, the doc stays clear of giving any blame or praise to parents. The film never even states the important role parents play in the education of their kids. Perhaps, the filmmakers (as many educators) have decided to take the hard reality perspective, that this aspect of the child's education is out of their hands and they can only improve on what they have control over. That said, the parents of the highlighted students do serve as positive models.

Lack 2: The documentary compares US test results to those of other countries. As an educator, I cringe when this is done out of context. Twenty years ago, teaching high school math, my chairperson slapped the test results of the Japanese on my desk with an accusatory thud. I was no slacker, I was teaching my best. I was pretty sure I wasn't to blame for the unflattering comparisons. So I went to Japan and interviewed teachers and students at all levels. Ironically, at a time when the US trended towards teaching like the Japanese, I found out that they actually envied our way of teaching. I found over and over again that Japanese teachers longed to be able to teach creativity instead of "making robots" (I'm quoting them) that perform well on tests.

Lack 3: Language: The elephant in the room. I'm a huge advocate of the multilingual. I embrace the many beautiful cultures of the world and feel fortunate to live in a country that is literally made up of them. However, in my experience working with good high school teachers, it's clear that as the percentage of English language learners in their class increases, the test scores decrease. This is not a racist statement. Teachers are overloaded as it is, to expect them to make a plan specific to each new language in their class is, from my perspective, impractical, perhaps impossible, and might result in good teachers retiring early. We need a more responsible plan for integrating foreign youth into our system.

Lack 4: No Child Left Behind. Striving for excellence is a great goal. Seeking a standard of comparison has merit as well. But it also has its dangers. In my limited experience, I've seen, on an admittedly anecdotal basis, its ability to chase good teachers out of education. It works like this. Principals are judged harshly by numbers and often without regard to circumstances out of their control. In their desperation, they push their teachers hard. In a misguided effort to appear "fair," they ride, or pile unreasonable expectations on their most prized resource -- excellent teachers. Excellent teachers deserve to be praised, honored, heck, even knelt before and idolized. Certainly, at the very least, they ought to be given anything they ask for. So when principals miss the opportunity to do those things, and instead, toss silly, unreasonable obstacles in those well-trained gears, well sadly, great teachers who are not dependent (economically speaking) on their jobs -- take off. The only thing worse than not cutting bad teachers, is pushing out the good ones.

Lack 5: Charter schools: Like many others, I had high hopes that charter schools would save us from ourselves. But, I've kept my ears opened on the subject and have heard more than one expert say that while they certainly can produce all-stars, charter schools can also be just as bad as public schools. Sadly, it seems that the idealist sounding INDIE CHARTER dream, can many times fall prey to big business, where dollars and not kids are the bottom line. The film does not mention this dark side of charter.

Despite these 5 lacks, I can't see how this film can be bad for education and I do not understand why any advocate of the student would protest this film. In fact, another excellent doc series on the topic is "From First to Worst"

I welcome rebuttals to my editorializing. But be nice, I'm sensitive.

Waiting for Superman
-- Books by Ross Anthony, Author * Illustrator * World Circumnavigator --

  • Waiting for Superman. Copyright © 2010.
  • Directed by Davis Guggenheim.

Grade..........................A- (3/4)

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Copyright © 1998-2019 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Tuesday, 09-Nov-2010 16:00:43 PST