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US Education in “Waiting for Superman” Documentary Essay


Introduction: Superman Is Not Here to Save People

When being a child, one tends to hope that there is a hero that will save the day in the darkest of times. However, at some point in one’s life, a bitter realization about the inability to affect certain negative factors and change one’s life comes. The Superman is not coming; instead, it is up to people to take the matter into their own hands and tackle a problem, which the title of the movie indicates quite clearly. However, the lack of resources and the massive size of the dilemmas that need to be addressed may make one lose heart easily (Richardson et al. 18).

In a documentary called Waiting for Superman, contemporary education issues that the U.S. has been facing for several decades are addressed. The fact that there are currently not enough spaces in American schools should also be viewed as one of the primary factors defining their failure to meet the needs of students (Guggenheim). Because of the rigidness of the system and the lack of focus on the needs of students, children from underprivileged communities are deprived of an opportunity to succeed even though they may have just as much potential as learners from middle- or high-income families.

Reasons for Schools to Fail Their Students

The lack of qualified staff that could address the unique needs of every learner and incorporate the factors associated with the learners’ culture and background knowledge into the learning process to motivate them and encourage them to succeed is the primary cause of failure among American schools nowadays. The observed phenomenon can be explained by the fact that public school teachers with tenure, in essence, cannot be fired. While the union regards tenure as the tool for protecting the rights of teachers, the needs of learners, who are taught by people with mediocre skills, are disregarded. The increasingly high levels of bureaucracy from the Central office, as well as the lack of accountability among its members, also need to be listed among the primary failure factors (Cham et al. 12).

While the significance of schools’ failure might not be quite evident, it has drastic effects on the well-being of the nation. The documentary specifies that in the previously adopted system, the percentage of the workforce, employees, and leaders was calculated, with the following provision of the necessary education for each group. However, in the context of the global competition and global market, the failure of schools implies that the success of the entire nation will be jeopardized since science, entrepreneurship, and other essential domains will remain underdeveloped (Yongxin 152).

The failure of schools also has a tangible negative effect on individuals. For instance, without proper primary education, students will most likely have very low SAT scores, which will minimize their chances to get into college. As the movie shows, only one child out of four observed during the documentary managed to enroll in the school that would build the foundation for further academic progress.

Success Stories: Few Sparks of Hope and What They Promise

It would be wrong, however, to claim that the movie only pointed to the inefficacy of the current education system of the U.S. Apart from detailing the flaws that prevented the system from being efficient, the documentary also mentioned several stories of success. Particularly, the authors of the movie explained that there had been an initiative among educators concerning building the schools that will allow students from impoverished families, learners from different cultural backgrounds, and other at-risk groups to gain better chances at getting into college and, thus, receiving the education that they needed to advance in their lives. For instance, Emily from Redwood City, CA was accepted into Summit Prep, where she could have a chance at advancing in her education and career. Similarly, Antony from Washington, DC could finally enroll in the prep school that could help him acquire the necessary knowledge and skills from professionals that were capable of teaching the children that were discarded as disadvantaged by the system (Guggenheim).

One must admit, though, that the success stories mentioned above would have been impossible without the efforts of Michelle Rhee. A former Chancellor of Washington, Michelle Rhee closed eight schools based on them failing to meet the needs of learners and the basic qualifications for an efficient academic institution. She was also one of the few people that made the problem of bad educators public by pointing to the so-called dance with the lemons, i.e., the process of exchanging teachers with poor skills among schools (Meroni et al. 218).

Nevertheless, the current situation is as far from being perfect as it could be. Even though only five crucial factors for reforming education have been identified, making sure that these factors should have a positive effect on the modern academic environment is beyond challenging. As the movie posits, the following are the primary factors defining the success of reforming the modern education system: accountability among policymakers and educators; removal of tenure as the tool that allows teachers with low skill levels to retain their jobs; the union, which reinforces the significance of tenure and restricts the opportunities for learners to get proper education; the creation of independent schools, which may become a chance to improve the current education system; and the unwillingness of educators to turn a blind eye to the injustice in the modern education system.

What the Source of the Problem with American Schools Is

The documentary outlines the current dilemma of American education in a rather distinct and obvious way. According to the movie, it is the lack of accountability that prevents one from promoting fundamental changes across the curriculum and redesigning the approach toward teaching students. The lack of focus on the culture-specific needs of learners should also be listed among the primary areas of concern. The slow pace at which progress occurs in the U.S. schools, including the promotion of an extended school day, the assessment of teachers’ skills, and the reconsideration of the terms of tenure, is also a problem (Guggenheim).

Therefore, it seems that the changes suggested in the documentary are crucial steps toward improving the system. I agree that the identified innovations are vital to further success and the provision of the necessary environment for learners. The movie makes me want to not only teach but also learn how to teach successfully and become a good teacher. Moreover, the film makes me view teaching as an extremely challenging, though not impossible, task. It did not make me rethink my decision to become a teacher, but it has made me question my competency as an educator (Jacobsen et al., 365).

Conclusion: Building the System that Works

Creating a viable system that allows learners to acquire new information and skills fast and efficiently is a challenging task. In the realm of modern American education, where rigid standards make progress of the education system almost impossible it is crucial to take the initiative and encourage further improvements. Whether the removal of tenure or the creation of new charter schools will become the solution, the existing system needs to be altered. All children deserve an opportunity to get a proper education, and they have to be provided with a chance to excel in their academic endeavors.

Works Cited

Cham, Heidi, et al. “Effect of Retention in Elementary Grades on Grade 9 Motivation for Educational Attainment.” Journal of School Psychology, vol. 53, no. 1, 2015, pp. 7-24.

Guggenheim, Davis, director. Waiting for Superman. Paramount Vantage, 2010.

Jacobsen, Rebecca, et al. “When Accountability Strategies Collide : Do Policy Changes That.” Educational Policy, vol. 27, no. 2, 2013, pp. 360-389.

Meroni, Elena C., et a l. “Can Low Skill Teachers Make Good Students? Empirical Evidence from PIAAC and PISA.” Journal of Policy Modeling, 37(2), 2015, pp. 308-323.

Richardson, John G., et al. The Global Convergence of Vocational and Special Education: Mass Schooling and Modern Educability. Taylor & Francis, 2016.

Yongxin, Zhu. Lectures on the New Education. McGraw Hill Professional, 2015.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 1). US Education in "Waiting for Superman" Documentary. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/us-education-in-waiting-for-superman-documentary/

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"US Education in "Waiting for Superman" Documentary." IvyPanda, 1 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/us-education-in-waiting-for-superman-documentary/.

1. IvyPanda. "US Education in "Waiting for Superman" Documentary." September 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/us-education-in-waiting-for-superman-documentary/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "US Education in "Waiting for Superman" Documentary." September 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/us-education-in-waiting-for-superman-documentary/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'US Education in "Waiting for Superman" Documentary'. 1 September.

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