Waiting for "Superman" takes a page from the catechism of Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone. He stars in this over-the-top look at public education in America. Canada knows the public schools of America well, growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s and attending a “failure factory.” The only difference is that these days there are many more from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles.
Waiting For "Superman" is a sharply focused, well-done documentary about three students who pin their hopes on gaining entrance by lottery into a public charter school. (The Harlem Children’s Zone is a boarding public charter school.) The applicants face tall odds with at best a 1:5 chance of acceptance. It ends with the lottery choices revealed. And it is no secret that the families followed did not win.
This somber film opens with a young black boy sitting on his bed recounting the little time he spent with his dad. When asked, “Where’s your father?” The young man stares, “He just died. He did drugs.” Young Anthony’s life mirrors the current crop of students who don’t live in single-parent household, but often one headed by a single grandmother, sister, cousin or aunt who gives them shelter because biological parents are either in prison, on drugs or dead.
This film depicts hard choices facing one black, one brown and one white student from east to west. Davis Guggenheim, director producer and co-writer (Lesley Chilcott co-writer), fills in the blanks with narration. He talks about the stark difference between classes: abundant choice for the affluent and luck for the less fortunate.
Michelle Rhee is profiled in a good light in the film. She does not have a Ph.D., taught for only three years, no administrative experience but appointed chancellor of DC public schools by Mayor Fenty. Her presence and her mission were not appreciated by the teachers whom she knows are dishing “crappy education.” They hate her. Why? Because she is brought in to fix by firing bad teachers in the nation’s capital. Their schools report some of the lowest scores in math and reading in the country. Randi Weingarten is cast in poor light and portrayed as the woman working for the system and against Rhee. High drama happens when Rhee sits in the audience and discovers that her plan on the teacher’s union table, with offer to increase pay to six figures, fire unproductive teachers, and tenure thrown out is met with a wall of silence. Rhee is crushed.