Review of Waiting for Superman

Stephanie BurchBynum By Stephanie BurchBynum, 1st Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Education

Review of the book, Waiting for Superman: How We Can Save Our Failing Schools, which was based on the motion picture, Waiting for Superman. Similarities and differences between the book and the movie are pointed out. The book has resources for anyone interested in improving public schools.

Review of Waiting for Superman: How we can save our failing schools

Karl Weber. (ed). (2010).Waiting for “Superman”: How we can save America’s failing public schools. New York, NY: Public Affairs.
Pages: 279 ISBN: 978-1-58648-927-4
Reviewed by: Dr. Stephanie Robinson, Walden University
The book, Waiting for “Superman”: How we can save America’s failing public schools (2010) is marketed as a companion to the movie, Waiting for “Superman” (2010). The title, Waiting for “Superman”, is disheartening as it implies that America‘s schools need to be saved by one powerful man from another planet that does not exist. Fortunately the overall message of the book especially Part VII is that everyone including children can help to improve the schools in their community. The power of grassroots organizations and the actions of everyday people in the community is advocated over large scale government reforms.
The book begins with a list of statistics and quotes from the movie that were not analyzed. It was asserted that after four decades of failed school reforms, the nation is still at risk. This is an overly simplistic view of school reform. New school reforms will always be needed in order to respond to current societal needs. How school achievement is measured has also changed. The variables which impact school achievement are constantly changing such as demographic shifts and economic changes. Other factors impacting school achievement are present now which did not exist years ago such as technological deficiencies. Reforms and reports written 40 years ago were based on that society and its beliefs in regards to education at that time. Statistics were given in the book with no year listed or reference. They were inflated. A 50% graduation rate was listed for African American students, 55% for Latino students, and 76% for white students (p.4). That’s an impossibly low graduation rate! In 1980, the dropout rates were 19.1% for African American students, 35.2% for Latino students, and 11.4% for white students (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). In fact, the dropout rate has improved over the years. In 2009, it was 9.3% for African American students, 17.6% for Latino students, and 5.2% for white students (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). Based on U.S. Department of Education statistics (2011), the corresponding graduation rates for 2011 were 90.7% for African American students, 82.4% for Latino students, and 94.8% for white students, which are considerably higher than what was printed in the book.
The contextual information which prompted the filmmakers to make the movie was also given. The chapters were reminiscent of the director’s commentary that is usually included with the home movie version of a film except with more biographical information. It should be noted that none of the writers were educators, education reformers or education researchers. Other than being a parent and having been a student themselves, they have no background in the field of education or educational policy studies. They can only shine a spotlight on school problems for the public but not offer recommendations to solve the problems.
Throughout the book and in the movie, there were vignettes about students who tried to escape from their local public schools to magnet schools but are faced with uncertainty of being chosen for a limited number of open slots. The stories of these students trying to opt out of the system do not help those looking for solutions on how to fix the schools. Parents and guardians who have children in less than optimal schools need feasible ways to help their children immediately.
However, the book is different from the movie in its depiction of teachers. Teachers and teachers’ unions are the villains in the movie. As an added emphasis, Darth Vader music is played when Randi Weingarten, the president of American Federation of Teachers, which is the largest teachers’ union in America, enters the scene. Moreover, the so- called “chronically bad teachers” are portrayed as lemonheads that are shuffled from school to school because principals do not have the power to fire them. In the book, the point of view of practicing classroom teachers is absent. The book is filled with stories from education brokers, policy analysts, reformers and administrators including Randi Weingarten, who have made a difference in public schools. Each person described their own perspective on education and gave recommendations on what needed to be done to improve schooling. Michelle Rhee also has a chapter but she is not the lone hero of the book as she is in the movie as indicated by the hopeful music played as she entered the scene. The chapters written by education experts presented a more balanced view of the issues involved in student learning and various approaches that can be used to bolster student achievement without playing the blame game. Factors such as the neighborhood and school environment, the impact of teachers, community and parental involvement, school policies, and school organization were examined in regards to their impact on student achievement. It should be noted that it is not easy for members of the community without children to become involved in schools for safety reasons. Background checks and fingerprinting are some of the measures taken to protect children from potentially harmful people. Some school officials are suspicious of people who do not have children enrolled in their school taking part in school activities.
The book is less sensational and provocative than the movie for there are no battles in which good versus evil triumphs. There is no mood setting music or camera tricks. For ordinary people who are looking for viable ways to change their local public schools rather than fleeing from them, the book, Waiting for”Superman”: How we can save America’s failing public schools, can be a valuable resource. Steps are given for various types of people wanting to help at the local, state, and national level. Numerous websites with educational resources are also given. There are ways to save America’s schools. Superheroes are welcomed but need not apply.
Guggenheim, D. (Writer and Director). 2010. Waiting for “Superman” . United States: Electric Kinney Films.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011-033), Indicator 20. Retrieved from


American Federation Of Teachers, Failing Schools, Guttenheim, Karl Weber, Michelle Rhee, Public Schools, Randi Weingarten, School Reform, Waiting For Superman

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author avatar Stephanie BurchBynum
Dr. Stephanie Burch-Bynum is a professor at the American College of Education.

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