WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN”:

No matter what their economic standing may be, every child in the Valley is entitled to the kind of third-rate education offered by our public schools. Part of the problem is that our kids are at institutions named after Dwight D. Eisenhower being taught by teachers who don’t know who the guy was. I’m not kidding. Incompetent instructors who can’t be fired because of rigid, politically influenced union contracts are one of the reasons that public education is getting a failing grade according to this eye-opening documentary. As he did with the rather overrated AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006), director Davis Guggenheim persuasively utilizes statistics to illustrate how American students have fallen behind the curve in math and reading proficiency despite the increase in money spent per scholar over the last 40 years. As sobering as these numbers are, though, they lack the impact of the stories involving five children attending crappy, inner city “dropout factories” who enter a lottery where they have a slim chance of getting into special magnet schools with proven academic track records. These are moments where, quite literally, futures are at stake that give this film its center and its power. Since the filmmakers never knew what the outcomes were going to be, this is a “reality” movie in the truest sense of the word and I would have liked Guggenheim and co-writer Billy Kimball to have concentrated more on this human side of the issue rather than emphasizing the numbers. However, this is a documentary that will at once make you angry about the sorry state of our public school systems while it breaks your heart over the children, parents and motivated educators who are trying to break out of a daily bureaucratic beatdown. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARIES (in ascending order): 10. NO END IN SIGHT (2007) 9. THE LAST WALTZ (1978) 8. THE FOG OF WAR (2003) 7. SUPER SIZE ME (2004) 6. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004) 5. GATES OF HEAVEN (1978) 4. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002) 3. THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) 2. HOOP DREAMS (1994) 1. TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1935)