But Waiting for "Superman" is well balanced; Guggenheim follows the stories of five youngsters, ranging in age from kindergarten to eighth grade, and their parents as they struggle to receive an adequate education under very trying circumstances. One by one, we are introduced to Bianca, the kindergartner, who is from Harlem; Francisco, a first-grader in the Bronx; Daisy, a fifth-grader living in Los Angeles; Anthony, from the nation's capital, another fifth grader; and Emily, who is an eighth-grader from Redwood City, California, and the only one of the five not from an impoverished family.
The kids, all but one living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and attending “failure factories,” are personable and engaging and, along with their parents (mostly single mothers), determined to better their lot in life, obtain a good education and succeed. They are the true heroes of this film, and toward the end, as their respective lotteries are held, we share their joy and pain as they learn their fates.
In addition to the kids and Geoffrey Canada, Guggenheim focuses his cameras on the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public School system, Michelle Rhee. A dynamic and forceful administrator who admits in the film that she is not very popular among the District's teachers, she is cast by Guggenheim as another of his heroes. Since becoming Chancellor, Ms Rhee has shaken up the DC schools, closing nearly a hundred of them, and firing a number of principals, and Guggenheim's depiction of her is flattering but factual.
Waiting For "Superman" is not without flaws. Though as a film it is visually impressive and engaging, with excellent production values and a well-written script, especially the narration (Guggenheim's voiceover is superb), where the documentary stumbles is in its treatment of the facts, not so much by commission, but by omission. A particular case in point: charter schools. The film emphasizes repeatedly (and deservedly so) the good that Geoffrey Canada and others are accomplishing with their charter organizations, but glosses over (but does mention) the fact that charter schools as a whole have a significantly high failure rate, as measured by student testing, which in some areas even exceeds the rates of competing public schools. Additionally, while Waiting For "Superman" correctly assigns most of the blame for the failure of US public schools over the past several decades to the teacher unions, it all but ignores (or gives very short shrift to) such factors as bureaucratic meddling and ineptitude, voter apathy on school tax issues (a major problem here in Florida, where a significant portion of the voting population are childless elders), apathetic parents, and inadequate education and preparation of educators.