Media Advisory: Waiting for ‘Superman’ Exposes Inconvenient Truth of Education Status Quo

Published September 24, 2010

The highly touted education reform documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’ opens Friday at theaters in Los Angeles and New York, with a wider release scheduled for later in the fall. With the film receiving support from Paramount Pictures and Walden Media, and with attention from Oprah Winfrey, school reform has finally “gone Hollywood.”

Davis Guggenheim directs the film, which exposes the mediocrity, corruption, and stagnation afflicting the nation’s public schools. Guggenheim’s previous documentary, the global warming alarmist tract An Inconvenient Truth, won an Academy Award and made Al Gore a movie star. Waiting for ‘Superman’ could reshape the education reform landscape and change public opinion in much the same way.

Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, reviews Waiting for ‘Superman’ in the October edition of The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News. You can find the review here:

The Heartland Institute’s policy studies and other scholarship have been at the forefront of school reform issues throughout the United States for more than 25 years. In your coverage, you may quote from Ladner’s review, as well as the experts’ comments below. Or you may contact them directly for more information. Visit The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News Web site for news, research, and commentary on education reform efforts:

Waiting for ‘Superman’ poses a stark question: If you were born as a disadvantaged child, would you want to be assigned to a school based on your ZIP code regardless of its record of academic failure? If inner-city schools aren’t good enough for you in theory, they aren’t good enough for disadvantaged children in practice.

“There is no Superman—only us. As this film vividly shows, our children need the adults to pull our heads out of the sand and get about the urgent business of improving the nation’s embarrassingly dysfunctional system of education. They have been waiting far too long already.”

Matthew Ladner
Vice President of Research
Goldwater Institute
[email protected]

“The education establishment is afraid of this movie. The American Federation of Teachers says it’s misleading. The National Education Association tried to pass a resolution at its convention this summer denouncing the film, along with several other reform documentaries that have appeared this year. The National School Boards Association is running a PR campaign against it.

“It’s interesting that Waiting for ‘Superman’ should arrive just a couple of weeks after the primary election in Washington, DC. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who ran on a school reform platform, lost the election to Councilman Vincent Gray, who had major backing from the Washington Teachers Union. DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who plays a central role in ‘Superman’ and has struggled to turn around DC’s failed schools, will likely find herself out of a job in a couple of months. But thanks to this film, the teachers union and Gray may find their victory to be short-lived.

“The tide is turning. The establishment’s time is just about up.”

Ben Boychuk
Managing Editor, School Reform News
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

“Davis Guggeheim and his producer, Lesley Chilcott, included an interview of me for their film Waiting for ‘Superman’ because of my research on the underperformance of public schools in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods. Guggeheim has said that one of the real revelations in his film ‘is that a lot of our schools, even our middle-class and our white schools, are suffering from the same dysfunction (as schools in low-income areas).’ Thus, Waiting for ‘Superman’ focuses on school choice options for all children, regardless of income or ethnic background, because the current public school system is failing children across all demographic lines.

“A key take-away from the film is choice is not something that should be restricted to the rich, because they can afford it, or the lucky poor, because they are targeted by special programs, but should be available to all American parents and their children because that is their inherent right.”

Lance Izumi
Koret Senior Fellow and Director of Education Studies
Pacific Research Institute
[email protected]

“The promise of this film lies in opening millions of eyes to the entrenched educational obstacles that keep so many students from achieving success. Waiting for ‘Superman’ can help bolster the political will for smart, courageous, visionary leaders to break down these obstacles and further advance educational excellence through parental choice, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Let’s seize the moment and bust open wide the doors of opportunity.”

Ben DeGrow
Education Policy Analyst
Independence Institute (Golden, CO)
[email protected]

“Unfortunately, while shining a bright light on the failure of government schooling, this film doesn’t promote real, essential reform: Taking money away from special-interest-dominated public schools and letting parents control it. It flirts with school choice, lionizing charter schools. But charters are still public schools, and as such are easily smothered by politically potent special interests such as teachers unions.

“Worse, on the film’s ‘take action’ Web site, the producers prominently promote the very opposite of parent empowerment: government-imposed, national standards for every public school in America.

“The people behind Waiting for ‘Superman’ are no doubt well-intentioned, and their film is worth seeing. But pushing kryptonite is pushing kryptonite, and that has to stop.”

Neal McCluskey
Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom
Author, Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards
Cato Institute
[email protected]