"Superman" Puts Focus on Reform

As students across the country return to school, it is an opportune time to take stock of the educational opportunities afforded to our children. The new film "Waiting For Superman" examines America's public education crisis.
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As students across the country return to school after their summer vacations, it is an opportune time to take stock of the educational opportunities afforded to our children. A new film by the director of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth examines America's public education crisis by following the interlocking stories of five families struggling to navigate the public school system to get their children decent educations.

At United Way of New York City, part of my job requires me to go out and witness our public schools first hand. It is often difficult to describe to those on the outside exactly what I've seen. It is rare that something so accurately reflects the conditions that I've observed in my own work. Waiting for Superman highlights the problems in our public school system and accurately portrays them in a way that lets every viewer know what it's like to struggle in an inner city school.

While the film has not yet been widely released, newspapers, magazines and blogs have featured countless articles based on pre-screenings and the film's success at the Sundance Film Festival. As an abrupt wakeup call to the need for reform, Waiting for Superman is already having an impact and forcing us to confront the troubling state of our public education system.

We are at a point in time where the grassroots effort for education reform is ready to meet with the professionals who have the means to implement these changes. Waiting for Superman is an ideal vehicle to bring these forces together in a national call to devote our attention to America's public education system. Daily newspaper articles on conflicts regarding charter schools, testing standards, teacher evaluations, and budget problems are signs that the country is ready to confront the crucial issue of the quality of public education in the United States.

While the film does clearly illustrate the countless shortcomings of the current system, I was particularly pleased to see it present the hopeful message that there are reforms that work. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education has made resources available for reform through programs like Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation Fund, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. These target education reform from many different angles: from the state level, through nonprofit organizations, and in individual schools.

In applying for Race to the Top, states put together comprehensive education reform plans in cooperation with the teachers unions. The states with the top plans won funding to help them implement these reform agendas. The Investing in Innovation Fund awarded grants to local education agencies and nonprofits that expanded the implementation of evidence-based programs that improved K-12 achievement and closed achievement gaps, increased graduation rates, decreased dropout rates, and improved teacher effectiveness. Another program, The Teacher Incentive Fund, supports efforts to implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation in high-need schools.

There are skilled professionals with creative ideas who are eager to implement practices that will raise the value of our country's public school system. These different federal programs illustrate that education is affected at many different levels. Federal, state and local governments, national and local nonprofit organizations, individual schools, teachers, parents and the entire community all play a part in the quality of a child's education. All of us need to work together to create comprehensive reform. This film and these programs are effective because they challenge everyone. There are other reforms that have been proven to work, but we still have a lot of work to do in order to actually implement these changes and make them as widespread as they need to be.

Just as An Inconvenient Truth led people to make everyday energy saving changes in their lives, the producers of Waiting for Superman are working to tie social action campaigns to the film's release. They've engaged partners throughout the country, including United Way, to help develop ways for the general public to become a part of reforming public education. It is clear this inspiring film will encourage groups and individuals to engage in concrete actions to help improve our education system.

Education affects all of us because it elevates society and raises the quality of life for everyone. As students head back to school I'm asking everyone to make a pledge to see this film and, even more importantly, take action on behalf of America's young people. We can no longer ignore the deep rooted problems within our public education system. Waiting for Superman may be the catalyst our country needs in order to come together and confront this vital issue.

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