Alexander Russo's How Waiting for Superman (almost) Changed the World explains how Davis Guggenheim's film created a zeitgeist.
But, did it produce "measurable impact?"
Participant, the film's production company, sought to "ignite social changes." Participant was founded by eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll, and it specializes in "star-laden, carefully crafted, politically colored fims."
Whether Participant knew it or not, in its attempt to claim success, it borrowed from a common school reform meme. Test-driven reformers often claim that increases in student performances in the 1990s were the result of the NCLB Act of 2001. Similarly, Participant claims credit for closing New York City's so-called "Rubber Room," and the Washington D.C. teachers' contract. Both took place before the movie came out.
Michelle Rhee also credits Waiting for Superman for persuading top donors to contribute to StudentsFirst. But, she also claims that her organization is good, not destructive, for public schools.
An objective study, funded by the Ford Foundation, determined that the general public gave good reviews to the film, awarding four out of five stars. Education professionals gave it two stars, concluding that its "depiction of teachers and unions was simplistic."
Russo's account of the making of Guggenheim's film and of its effects is balanced. If he has a bias, it is towards skepticism, even cynicism. Russo indicates that do-gooders must anticipate that their efforts will be "misunderstood or mischaracterized." When that happened, the filmmaker's team responded with "genuine or feigned" surprise.