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Waiting for Superman

Davis Guggenheim, the man who won an Oscar three years ago for "An Inconvenient Truth," has turned his attention to the state of public education in this country. His latest film, "Waiting for Superman," follows five children -- Bianca, Francisco, Anthony, Daisy and Emily -- to document their families' quests for the best education for their kids.

The film paints a stark picture of the problems afflicting public schools. In addition to the vignettes of the five children, viewers are introduced to individuals at the forefront of school reform, chief among them Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone; Bill Gates, the billionaire who has poured vast resources into efforts to turn schools around; and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, who made headlines this summer for firing low-performing teachers.

"You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now," Rhee says in the movie.

"Waiting for Superman" opened in major cities this weekend. Those of us in Buffalo will probably have to wait a few weeks to see it for ourselves. For now, then, we can only look to what others are saying about the film.

By many accounts, the documentary demonizes teachers unions and casts charter schools as a key to salvation. Some critics say the film oversimplifies the path to fixing education. Reactions have been rather predictable. Teachers unions are up in arms over the film, for instance, while Oprah says it's a wake-up call for America to fix its education system.

What seems noteworthy, though, is some of the more nuanced discussion that the film has generated.

For instance, during a "Waiting for Superman" panel discussion in Washington, D.C., Guggenheim said that only about one in five charter schools is outperforming traditional public schools. Likewise, Canada noted that there are some lousy charter schools out there, as well as some outstanding ones.

And American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten -- despite her objections to the film -- offered some thanks to Guggenheim.

"The movie actually is creating far more dialogue about these issues than I can remember. So Davis, thank you for that," she told him.

-- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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