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Waiting for "Superman"...the rest of the story

The movie Waiting for ”Superman” brings audiences face-to-face with a true American tragedy: the broken state of our public schools. While the documentary is stirring debate about how to fix our education system, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Unfortunately, many viewers walk out of the movie mistakenly convinced that specially created schools, like charter schools, are the only option for students from impoverished areas to obtain a good education.  Not true.

What the movie doesn’t tell viewers is that successful college readiness programs, like AVID, are working in our schools every day. Furthermore, participating in these programs does not require a winning lottery number or a superhero. In fact, chances are, no matter where you live you will find an AVID program in your school or in a neighboring school district. Now in its 30th year, AVID is in 4,500 schools spread throughout 47 states, making it one of the nation’s largest college readiness programs, and, in my opinion, the best. Every day across the country more than 400,000 students are being rescued by AVID “super” teachers.  

Help for our children—real help that doesn’t have to leap from the pages of a comic book—is already here. A survey of 2010 AVID seniors showed that 99.6% graduated from high school and 91% were planning to attend a postsecondary institution. Why? Because they passed college prep classes at rates that far exceed their peers. Consequently, a whopping 91% of AVID students complete four-year college requirements compared to only 36% of all students. These are the same kinds of students shown in Waiting for “Superman.” From all demographic backgrounds, more than half of AVID students are Latino, 17% are African-American, and 67% are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs.

Waiting for a winning lottery number in order to attend a charter school, as shown in Waiting for “Superman,” is stressful, overwhelming, and often disappointing for both students and parents. The good news is no special schools are needed for AVID; instead, AVID trains local teachers to help local students achieve extraordinary results. From the poorest neighborhoods in New York City to suburban Sonoma, California, and back to rural Kansas, AVID can be implemented at any school in any neighborhood cost-effectively, and enrollment in AVID is not limited to a select few.

What makes AVID students successful? First and foremost, AVID students learn to believe in themselves, and they learn that working hard makes you smart. Instilling confidence and determination in students is fundamental to their success and is also central to the training we give AVID teachers. Each year we train more than 20,000 good teachers to be great teachers and to believe that all of their students can succeed using our time-tested system that combines critical thinking, organization skills, effective note-taking and summarizing, rigorous academics, tutoring, and peer and teacher encouragement.  Most AVID students are the first in their family to attend college.  With AVID they meet academic challenges; they gain the knowledge, confidence, and skills that are necessary for them to continue their education.  In AVID, “C” students become “A” students, kids with potential see that college is a possibility, and middle-of-the road students achieve at their highest level.

Waiting for “Superman” does not tell the whole story. Every day in schools across America and beyond, AVID is rescuing thousands of students just like those in the movie who are typically overlooked and underserved. Instead of waiting, these AVID students rise above obstacles to achieve academic success.  No lottery or superhero required.

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Reader Comments (13)

THANK YOU!!! I saw the movie as well and felt crushed for these parents and students who are trying to get into the charter schools. But charter schools are not going to FIX our education system because they don't reach everyone! Public education is one of the many things that makes this country amazing. The "fix" has to be at the public school level and AVID has been reaching out to all communities for years! I am so proud to be apart of this program. My only wish is that more people knew about it AND took advantage of it.

I feel the same way about the AVID program and have attempted several times to shed light on this program to Oprah, who only showed the perspective of the movie, not other alternatives. like AVID. I am having a bunch of my former students write her as well, hoping that maybe AVID can be showcased on a national/international level like it should!

What the movie implies is that Finland's schools are idea and that teacher unions are a big part of the problem. They fail to mention that Finland has cradle to grave healthcare; they feed all students at school and they have unions. Also, the KIPP schools showcased are highly subsidized by private money, so they don't seem to be the panacea either. Although I don't often agree with union mentalities and don't believe in socialism much, I do believe in good teaching and caring about kids. The movie gives good teaching short shrift and the website is just as vacuous. I felt for the kids and parents in the movie, but the film does little to chart a new course.

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Madigan

I do agree AVID is a great program. However, there are certain criteria students have to achieve and maintain to stay in AVID. Otherwise, they get placed on probation and "kicked out" of the program. AVID is awesome in helping students who have that drive to succeed. Unfortunately, many students are still left behind, and that is a tragedy

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

After reading this response, I immediately forwarded it to all of my colleagues. We must stand up for what we believe in and for what works. AVID is making a difference in the lives of our students, families and teachers every day. Every day we are that much closer to closing the achievement gap and making college possible for ALL of our students. Thank you!

I would have to argue about there being no need for superman. AVID teachers, coordinators and supporting staff are Superheroes. Some may seem meek and mild-mannered on the outside, but on the inside they are tough, courageous, energetic, disciplinarians who model their expected behaviors, share their collegiate challenges, and prepare students with needed life and academic skills.

Super(wo)man was always there, he/she maintains their everyday image just to manage their ability to reach the everyday student. As my mother would say, "There's more than one way to skin a cat."

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Thompson

I graduated from the AVID program (Berkner High school, which coincidently is in a district which Jim Nelson was previously the Superintendent) and it literally saved me. I was a first generation college student and I had nothing that pulled me in the direction of college. I made B's and C's and often times I felt like I was not significant in a school of 3,000 kids. After enrollment in AVID, I saw an improvement in my grades and my interest in college. Often times I doubted weather college was still right for me but my AVID teachers never gave up and I found support in my "AVID family". AVID literally gave me the tools to become a successful college student; I learned how to take proper notes, how to fill out the FASFA (something that NO ONE in my family had done before), and how to believe in myself. I never thought that I would graduate with honors, let alone to have the choice of three colleges that I could attend.

I am now a junior in college at UT Dallas on the path to graduate with a bachelors in History and a teaching certification. I returned to Berkner as an AVID tutor in hopes of inspiring those who felt just like me. Eventually I hope to become an AVID teacher because I want to give back to a program that has done more for me than I could have ever asked for.

Thanks to all for your comments. I appreciate hearing from so many of you who are doing great work on the front lines in our schools, and to Tori for writing from a former AVID student’s point of view. I would particularly like to address the comment from Michelle. During the AVID elective class enrollment period, students choose to participate in AVID and are made aware of the high standards they are expected to meet. It is a rare occasion when a student is placed on probation and is ultimately asked to leave the AVID program. AVID teachers work very hard to ensure their students’ success, and we all feel a loss for any student who does not meet the rigorous criteria. Fortunately, thirty years of data shows that the majority of AVID students not only thrive on academic challenges, but also are well-prepared for college. By the way, when students do leave the AVID program, it is not uncommon for them to return. If you want to pursue this discussion further, please contact our Executive Vice President, Rob Gira ([email protected]).

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Nelson

I am a firm believer in the AVID program and believe that we should continue to support it! I think the biggest problem with AVID is lack of funding! There are too many great kids who don't qualify for many reasons:
1)they aren't as verbal and social to promote themselves and get in the program
2)students are typecasted and haven't been identified as someone with the potential to succeed
3)there's not enough funding for more AVID teachers so more kids can participate

I think it's time for a movie about real kids and real teachers - teachers who have their hearts in their job but AND make things happen for their kids every day - while maintaining their home life -NOT movies where teachers live and breath school 24 hours a day and get extra jobs to help pay for stuff for their kids - while that's important, it's not real life for the majority of our super hero teachers who ARE creating miracles every day!

Thanks to all of you who are part of AVID! As an AVID site team member, I know the value and I hope that we can continue to expand the program to get more teachers and students involved; thereby saving more valuable minds and lives!

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

I like what you had to say Jim, but don't feel I can say more until I see the movie. It was only in the theaters for a limited period of time here. However, I just purchased the book and will be diving into it as soon as I can. We all know and understand what AVID can do for students, but unfortunately not everyone does.

November 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShirley Dudeck


Thanks for your post. I went to see the documentary this weekend.

I walked out of the film feeling more passionate than ever about how the funding and structure of American schools need to be radically altered. Education funding/structure should not be held hostage to political and bureaucratic maneuverings, and it should always be a first priority, an untouchable line item in any budget, and it should always be based on data that details for us what works.

Not sure the filmmakers full-on believe that charter schools are the only way to go. They clearly showed us that the system is broken and the very best and brightest are having to find creative ways to get to the kids who are indeed left behind, certainly the poorest districts are faced with the greatest challenges.

I am eager to see the results of the AVID pilot research with the two impoverished districts in Florida led by Mike Neece. If we see success there then that could inspire and embolden superintendents and education leaders across the country to be even more AVIDized.

The filmmakers showed us what works, and you have underscored this by pointing to our AVID successes. AVID's success supports the message of the film, that it's about quality teaching/professional development, accountability, academic performance, student courage and confidence, and detailed, thoughtful and compassionate support for ALL students who enter our classrooms.

My question to you and all reform leaders is, how do we get reformers of all stripes on the same page? How do we get AVID, KIPP, and the best and brightest across the land to collaborate and cooperate in getting to ALL kids?

Is this only about AVID, only its approach, or is this about finding avenues of sensible and effective cooperation among all successful and excellent educators, to fulfill the mission we at AVID have set for ourselves, to reach and teach ALL kids, to prepare them to succeed in and transform the world we live in?

November 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark K Bennett

Hooray! Jim presented a wonderful explanation why programs like AVID can be the road up and out for so many. Thank you.

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCorliss Kelly

Fantastic article - Thank you very muchgucci hats for men on sale

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervickys

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