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‘Waiting for Superman’ Distilled

Despite its salience to much of my day-to-day activities, a combination of travel and really nice fall weather has prevented me from getting around to seeing Davis Guggenheim's new acclaimed film, “Waiting for Superman.”

I will eventually, but, as predicted by a professional colleague, it has already stoked the debate over education reform at a time when the administration’s Race to the Top initiative and large scale philanthropic efforts have already placed the issue in an unaccustomed spotlight (not to mention our local mayoral election featuring one of the documentary’s stars).

There certainly has been no shortage of takes on the movie on the opinion pages, which why I found this précis from former Seattle School Board member Dick Lilly so refreshing. He writes in Crosscut:

“But if all we see is a tug-of-war over issues like charters or teacher performance pay, it’ll be a battle over the wrong things. Even Davis Guggenheim would think so. What he’s found out is that there are a few key elements common to successful schools and he lists them a couple times in the film and they’re displayed again among the hortatory urgings for the audience to “make a difference” that are mixed in with the credits.

"The message from 'Superman,' somewhat paraphrased, is to do these things:

  • Get a good teacher in every classroom.

  • Set and hold high standards (for academic achievement and behavior).

  • Lengthen the school day and the school year.

  • Relentlessly expect and demand that every student work hard.

  • Stick with each student until they’ve mastered the lesson.

  • Talk about the goal--college--at every opportunity."

Lilly goes on to ask about funding, but just to agree on the avenues toward reform in this contentious debate would be a Herculean achievement, akin indeed to Superman.