Waiting for "Superman"

  • Review Date: September 21, 2010
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2010
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Thought-provoking docu uncovers educational challenges.
  • Review Date: September 21, 2010
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2010
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie posits that many public schools, in their current state, fail the students they're supposed to educate and that substandard teachers and -- to a larger extent -- the unions that represent them, are to blame. It's a premise that has some grounding in truth, but it may not be a nuanced, multi-dimensional view; some contend that it doesn't tell the entire story. Also, a streak of pessimism runs through the film: If parents don't get picked in lotteries run by good schools, they seem stuck. That may be reality, but it's unclear how it can be made better -- aside from re-examining teacher union contracts, that is. And certainly, there are many other "villains" in the system.

Positive role models

The film clearly shows the commitment of education reformers who want better for their children. It also applauds the fortitude of parents/caregivers who are intent on helping their kids get a better education, even if they have to make sacrifices. The children are impressive, too; Wise beyond their years, they show amazing resiliency considering the obstructions they run into at what seems like every step of the way. It's upsetting to know what may happen if they don't get into a school that will nurture their considerable abilities.

Violence

Blighted neighborhoods are shown, hinting at the challenges there.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

A subject uses the word "crap" in relation to the school system she manages. Also "ass."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some background smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that while younger kids may not understand the complex problems presented in this documentary about the state of American schools, it's a riveting watch for older tweens and up, especially those who may not be aware of what’s happening in schools besides theirs. It’s an enlightening -- albeit one-sided -- look at education in this country. Depending on what’s happening at tweens' and teens' own schools, this film (which is from the director of An Inconvenient Truth) may spur them, and you, to action.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

In WAITING FOR "SUPERMAN", An Inconvenient Truth filmmaker Davis Guggenheim probes another, perhaps more immediate, calamity: the crumbling American education system. Schools are falling apart; administrators are slow to institute to change; and those who do, like Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee, are thwarted by binding teacher union contracts that won’t allow them to fire incompetent teachers. And the students? They aren’t meeting standards: In New Jersey, only 40 percent are proficient in reading; in Connecticut, 35 percent; in the nation’s capital, a dismal 12 percent. But Geoffrey Canada and other charter school founders may hold one large piece to the puzzle.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Knowledge is power, and the information that the sobering Waiting for "Superman" imparts practically demands that viewers wake up and smell the chalk dust. Its message? Our country’s schools are failing our children because we're watching out for the adults in the education system and not the students it's meant to shape. Straightforward when other, lesser documentaries would have gone opaque and academic while still compassionate, the film is gutsy and opinionated in many eye-opening ways. You will be impelled to act by the time the credits roll.

The film does, however, gloss over many ills: It doesn’t address overcrowding and hardly discusses how budgetary challenges hinder calls for change. It’s also undermined by a black-and-white stance -- charter schools are the heroes; unions are the villains. But, oh the climax: Watching the families we’ve gotten to know throughout Waiting for "Superman" hear whether, well, Superman is finally swooping in and saving them from educational quicksand is almost too much to bear. When fifth-grader Anthony says he wants his kids to have more than what he has -- to get a great education -- expect your heart to break.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film’s premise that failing schools lead to failing neighborhoods. Do you agree? Why?

  • Does this documentary approach its subject matter objectively, or does it have an opinion? Is it OK for a documentary to take a specific stance on the topic it's covering?

  • What resources do educators need to do their jobs more effectively?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 24, 2010
DVD release date:February 15, 2011
Director:Davis Guggenheim
Studio:Paramount Vantage
Genre:Documentary
Run time:102 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking

This review of Waiting for "Superman" was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 12 year old Written bylstephe409 November 26, 2010
AGE
17
QUALITY
 

Imperfect

Very biased and unfair and discouraging to thousands of hard working teachers. The film is simplistic and one sided and doesn't tell the whole story. I know quite a few dedicated teachers who are loved by their students and they're discouraged by this film.
Adult Written byjohninbaltimore November 5, 2010
AGE
17
QUALITY
 

The Truth Behind the Fantasy

1. It is not impossible to get rid of ineffective teachers, as stated by some respondents. It takes effort to accomplish this task. School systems and most administrators are not willing to take on the extra effort required. You can’t just throw someone out of a classroom without making some type of effort to help them improve. Staff development and mentor teachers are very important to creating more effective teachers. 2. This movie is a fairy tale at best. They want the public to think they are working these miracles with the same funding as the average public school. That is not true. Corporate America (like the Gates Foundation) has invested huge sums of money in these schools to make them appear to be “Supermen”. They will gain a new frontier for profiteering as the number of charter schools increase. If you give every school a virtually unlimited budget they can accomplish the same increases in student achievement seen in this movie. 3. The public and many government leaders need to wake-up and realize that education is important work and not a carnival game. Programs like Race to the Top which make school systems compete for funds leaves far too many needy schools out in the cold—set up to fail.
Kid, 11 years old May 22, 2014
AGE
9
QUALITY
 

I don't usually watch documentaries but this was good.

There really isn't any "inappropriate" content. It can sometimes be sad though, like in one part a boy says his dad died because he took drugs. But the movie is very interesting. I think kids will actually learn from it. There are actually very great role models.
What other families should know
Great role models

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass