Source: Davis Guggenheim, 2010
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for ‘Superman,’ covers the systemic issues with public education in America. The film follows the lives and stories of different families across the United States. They are from different cities, different racial backgrounds, and have different socioeconomic statuses, but, they all suffer from the US public school system.
Daisy, an ambitious, Latino ten year old lives in southern California. Guggenheim interviews Daisy and her family about their thoughts on education. The filmmakers cut between interviews, shots of Daisy at school and voice narration to help explain Daisy’s situation. She is a good student who wants to go to medical school, but the majority of her fellow classmates are learning below average. By the time Daisy graduates from Stevenson Middle School, only 13% of her classmates will be proficient in math (Guggenheim (0:21). When Daisy graduates to Roosevelt High School, there are 15 required courses that the students need to pass in order to be accepted to a four-year public university in California. Only 3 out of 100 students will pass all 15 courses. Additionally, 57% of Daisy’s potential high school classmates will not graduate.
Dr. Robert Balfanz at John Hopkins University calls schools like Roosevelt ‘drop out factories.’ There is a pattern of failing elementary and middle schools pushing unqualified kids through the school system. By the time these kids get to high school they are multiple grade levels behind and end up dropping out. We can define the one of the major problems with US public education as failing elementary and middle schools leading to drop out factories. Reformers came up with the idea of Charter Schools to help fix the systemic problems in urban lower education. The end goal for publicly funded, independent Charter Schools is to have more students stay in school and make it to college. However, Charter Schools are not helping all American children. These schools have limited spots and are required by law to hold a live lottery system where they will pick the applicants. Daisy applied to KIPP LA to escape the never-ending pattern; unfortunately she was not chosen and will have to attend Stevenson Middle School. Although Charter Schools are helping a small percentage of students, reformers, politicians and educators all believe that the entire public school system needs to change. Parents and students are forced to put their children’s education in the hands of a lottery system; their entire fate and success is decided randomly.
Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.