The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Toward the end of "Waiting for Superman," there is a sequence that cuts between lottery drawings for five charter schools. Admission to the best of these schools dramatically improves chances of school graduation and college acceptance. The applicants are not chosen for being gifted. They come from poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods. But the schools have astonishing track records.
We have met five of these students, heard from them and their parents, and hope they'll win. The cameras hold on their faces as numbers are drawn or names are called. The odds against them are 20 to 1. Lucky students leap in joy. The other 19 of the 20 will return to their neighborhood schools, which more or less guarantees they will be part of a 50 percent dropout rate. The key thing to keep in mind is that underprivileged, inner-city kids at magnet schools such as Kipp L.A. Prep or the Harlem Success Academy will do better academically than well-off suburban kids with fancy high school campuses, athletic programs, swimming pools, closed-circuit TV and lush landscaping.
"Waiting for Superman," the new documentary by Davis Guggenheim, contends the American educational system is failing, which we have been told before. He dramatizes this failure in a painfully direct way, says what is wrong, says what is right. One of his charts gets a laugh from the audience: Of developed nations, American students rank last in math skills. When the students are asked to guess their standing, Americans put themselves first. Meanwhile, jobs in Silicon Valley go without qualified Americans to fill them, and tech companies must import skilled employees from India and other "poor" countries.
Guggenheim focuses on an African-American educator named Geoffrey Canada, who deliberately chose the poorest area of Harlem to open his Harlem Success Academy. His formula: qualified teachers, highly motivated, better paid. Emphasis on college prep from day one. Tutoring for those behind in math or reading. There are also charter boarding schools, with no TV or no video games. One kid says he wants in, but "my feelings are bittersweet."