First, a confession: I haven't seen Waiting for Superman, and I probably won't. I spend a lot of my time thinking about public schools, scrutinizing data, and thinking about where to invest most fruitfully. For entertainment, I'll go elsewhere. Still, I don't think it's unfair of me to share two critiques of the film.
I like the idea and the promise of charter schools. Years ago, when the first charters were being opened in Massachusetts, I pulled together a team to propose a charter middle school focusing on math and science in Boston. We were finalists, but ultimately were not selected. My life would have taken a much different course if we had been.
Still, most charter schools are about as good - in terms of getting student achievement results - as the other public schools that surround them. A charter school is about twice as likely to do worse than its public school peers as it is to do better. The number who do fantastically better is very small - just as the number of public schools that do fantastically better than their peers is small.
But that's not the impression you'll get from Waiting for Superman. The first of the links I'd like you to read makes this point: the film is disingenuous in the way it substitutes heartfelt anecdote for any real analysis. This entry comes from the Al Shanker blog, a union outlet, but it's a good analysis.
The second, more extensive critique of the film's intellectual shoddiness (or downright dishonesty) comes from Diane Ravitch, herself a longtime critic of public education and no yellow-bellied defender of teacher unions. Take a look: she warns that we're allowing ourselves to be bamboozled by businessmen and politicians who are looking for a silver bullet (charters, and eventually privatization) aimed at an easy target (teacher unions), while other nations do the steady work of fighting child poverty and improving the quality and status of the teaching force.
Film provides a powerful bellows for stoking a flare of emotional response, but improving public education requires more: a steady willingness to keep examining the facts.