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As you have likely heard, the education documentary, Waiting for Superman, is a film that follows five public school students who compete in lotteries to attend public charter schools. Waiting for Superman has been screened at a variety of film festivals, including Sundance, and is being released nationwide today, September 24, 2010.

A screening of the film by AACTE staff members in June 2010 revealed a one-sided, adverse view of teachers’ unions as a barricade to student achievement and promoted charter schools as the lone solution to the United States’ public education crisis. It portrayed students who do not win the charter school lotteries as destined for failure in their existing school environments. The film gives no attention to the critical importance of parental engagement or the many other influential factors that affect student learning, nor did the film focus on the successful work of thousands of good public school teachers, schools and neighborhoods around the country.

The film, created by the producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim, has already generated a significant amount of national news surrounding its messages about the dire condition of the United States’ public education system. Along with the Learning First Alliance, a group comprised of 16 P-12 education organizations, AACTE has prepared a set of talking points to help you respond to the film to whatever degree you wish to be involved. The talking points address the need for a more balanced view on public education, the importance of teachers, unions, community engagement and collaboration in school improvement, and the need to use the challenges we find in education to begin a dialogue about how to ensure that every student can succeed. There is also information on and links to examples of successful public schools and districts to highlight the positive work educators and administrators are doing every day. We encourage you to use and adapt these talking points to respond to other documentaries and education issues, or to start positive discussions on reform efforts, teacher quality and the important role of educator preparation programs.
If you wish to be more heavily involved, the production company for Waiting for Superman will be conducting local campaigns in select cities.

To find out more about these activities, visit for a list of designated cities, find your local representatives, and contact them about joining the local Steering Committee or to learn of other ways to ensure a voice for colleges of education.

Click here to download talking points. For questions regarding the talking points or the film, please contact AACTE Communications Manager Lisa Johnson at or (202) 478-4502.


I hate admitting it, but I caved and watched Oprah last week when her show focused on the release of "Waiting for Superman." Both my husband and I are teachers, and for one hour we sat staring at the TV completely aghast. (Yes, I did get him to watch Oprah!) Here are a few pieces of the counternarrative we'd like to offer up:

1) Why do the shortcomings or failings of a few incredibly poor teachers nearly always end up being the reason it is acceptable to undermine and doubt the work of ALL teachers? The stories which Michelle Rhee shared were extreme cases where (if we can trust her stories) seemingly incompetent individuals were placed in charge of classrooms. I refuse to believe that this represents the majority of classroom life in America.

2) Are all charter schools wonderful just because they are charter schools? Although various personalities present on Oprah's panel said otherwise, the underlying message still seemed to come through loud and clear in video clips and profile pieces: charters are good while public schools are invariably bad. Really? Is it that simple?

3) Who is willing to be Superman? And should we really be waiting on a fictitious comic hero to save the education system and our children? Of all the things which most irked my husband and I, it was the profiles of "super teachers/ educators" which were featured during Oprah's show. Yes, there are some amazingly dedicated (or obsessed) individuals out there who literally live the job. Yes, we both admitted feeling a bitter pang of jealousy mixed with guilt because despite the hours we both pour into our classrooms we will never come close to the iconic individuals highlighted on Oprah's show. But we also have to ask: can we ask all teachers to be this? Is that fair? Or perhaps we should even ask, is that desirable? What happens to the roles of parents, communities, mentors, etc. when we wait for and rely on Superman or super teachers to "save the children"? And what becomes of children themselves when we save them (making them passive recipients of the action) rather than empower them (making them active partners in reform)?

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