Waiting for Superman

There's a new movie out in theaters nationwide, and here's the bottom line: You have to see it.

Don't wait for the DVD. Just go. Now. Or this weekend -- we'll give you that long.

There are no movie stars here, no chase scenes, no cutting-edge special effects. But parents, this one is for you. It's also for anyone who cares about children -- and that should be everyone. Can you guess what movie we're talking about?

That's right, the new documentary Waiting for Superman is every bit as good as everyone is saying. Director David Guggenheim (famous for Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth) has done it again. The film is absorbing, clever, dramatic and heart wrenching. By the end of the screening we went to, there were very few dry eyes in the theater.

Waiting for Superman tells the story of the world that parents live in. A world in which some of our children receive a wonderful education that allows them to compete in the global economy, and others, just as bright and motivated, do not. It tells, through engaging graphics and animation, the story of the decline of American education system over the past half-century, and of the tangle of bureaucracies that make it so difficult to reform. It tells of middle schools with disastrous test scores, and high schools that have become "drop-out factories." It also tells of the educators, organizations and even bureaucrats who are shaking up the system and producing great results.

Most compellingly, it tells the stories of five adorable school kids who love to learn and imagine, kids whose families are willing to make great sacrifices to give them a better future. Four of the kids live in low-performing urban districts, while one lives in a well-to-do suburb, and all are zoned for schools that are do not meet their educational needs.

And so their parents (and grandparent in one case) do what good parents do: they search for a better alternative. In these cases, the only other viable options are high-performing charter schools where admission for the few available spots depends upon a lottery. From here the film's drama and heartbreak unfold. Is our education system as arbitrary as a spinning lottery ball? Apparently.

Take Daisy, a sweet and serious 5th grader living in East L.A. She wants to be a doctor or veterinarian, but her school district is known for producing failing students and dropouts. Instead, she and her family seek out KIPP L.A. Prep charter school (Knowledge Is Power Program), one of the highest performing middle schools in the city. Will there be a place for Daisy? With 10 spots for 135 lottery applicants, the odds aren't good.

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