A lot has already been written about the movie, so I'll stick to my immediate impressions, which I logged right after seeing the film:
- The American public school education system is broken.
- We now lag the other major powers in student performance.
- Good teachers are vitally important, but unfortunately there aren't enough of them and there are too many mediocre and bad teachers. Even worse, bad teachers are almost never fired.
- We don't measure teacher performance well enough.
- We need some way of rewarding excellent teachers.
- Some public schools are essentially "dropout factories".
- Charter schools have arisen as a viable alternative to public schools.
Because the kids featured in the film -- whose last best hope for a decent education is a fucking lottery -- are after all your kids and my kids. They might be the future innovators of our country who create the next Google that revitalizes our economy in 2020, but they are much, much more likely to be unskilled, minimum wage workers, or inmates filling up our prisons, or, simply, dead.
There's a brilliant exchange in the 1985 film The Breakfast Club, between the principal Richard Vernon and the janitor Carl. The principal, frustrated managing difficult students, vents to Carl. "Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me."
Carl's response might have come right from Waiting for Superman. "I wouldn't count on it."