At the Movies: Films Focused on Education Reform

movies on the education system

Beyond Measure (2015)

Above Measure follows three different groups of students and teachers as they confront the realities of public education and attempt to make a difference in their respective communities’ educational institutions. Vicki Abeles, who also directed the documentary Race To Nowhere, focuses on the stress caused by high-stakes tests and proposes alternative teaching methods, such as project-based education, to alleviate the situation. The website Beyond Measure is the source of this information.

More information about the film, as well as upcoming screenings, can be found on its website.

Previous Featured Films That Are Most Likely To Be A Hit (2015)

Greg Whitely, a director, was dissatisfied with the education system for his daughter and decided to make a documentary about his search for alternative educational opportunities. It is the subject of this documentary to learn about the project-based learning approach used at High Tech High, a charter school in San Diego. Interviews with parents, students, and teachers provide viewers with an opportunity to consider the most effective educational environment for students to prepare them to succeed in 21st-century education. The website Most Likely To Succeed was used as the source.

The Road to Becoming a Teacher (2015)

The road to teaching is a journey that three young teachers embark on to gain a better understanding of the American educational system. They conduct interviews with teachers to learn about the rewards and challenges of their profession, as well as their feelings about their future professions. Included in the film is a question-and-answer session with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Obtainable from the Way to Teach website.


An annual tradition at The Greenwood School, as seen in Ken Burns’ documentary, is explored in detail. From grades 6-12, this small Vermont boarding school caters to young men who have learning disabilities or disabilities in general. School teachers encourage students to memorize and study the Gettysburg Address so that they can deliver it in front of their parents and other members of the public on special occasions. Courage, perseverance, and the ability to overcome obstacles are among the lessons that the boys take away. Website Address is the source.

In (2014/05/02), the search for gold is on.

Karina Epperlein is a director who follows the lives of six young black men in Akron, Ohio, as they finish high school and prepare to enter university. Through the Alchemy character-education program, they are guided through the process. Their struggles to strike a balance between their academic ambitions and their childhood influences are what they are dealing with right now. This documentary is a reflection on the lives of young black men growing up in the United States. The following website is a source: Searching for the Gold in Website

The Homestead is a place where people can come to relax and unwind (2014)

The HomeStretch is a documentary film directed by Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelley that follows three homeless teenagers as they struggle to complete their high school education and make it through college. This film invites viewers to examine stereotypes of homelessness and the real problems and opportunities that homeless youth face today, rather than simply dismissing them. The Homestretch is the source of this information.

Richard Hilbert

The novel Rich Hill tells the story of three boys who grew up in a small town in the United States. The boys are dealing with poverty and family issues, and they are fighting to keep their educational opportunities open. Their future appears to be bleak. The film is a heartbreaking story with a few rays of hope sprinkled throughout. It raises important questions about the availability of opportunities for children from low-income families in America. It was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and it is widely regarded as one of the most important documentaries released in 2014. (Image courtesy of the Rich Hill website.)

The Rule of the Game (2014)

Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School is a private high school in New Jersey that is run by Benedictine monks and nuns. This rate is significantly higher than the city’s average. To find out how and why the school is successful, filmmakers Marylou Bongiorno and Jerome Bongiorno filmed the school and its monks for a documentary. A free curriculum guide is available for download from the film’s official website. Source: The website

Dreams of Swimming in the Sea (2014)

Underwater Dream is a film written and directed by Mary Mazzio. It is set in the ocean. A story about four undocumented Mexican immigrant sons and their journey to build an underwater robot out of parts from Home Depot while still in high school is told in this short film. In an underwater-robotics competition, they came out on top of college students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). (Image courtesy of the Underwater Dreams website.)

180 days: One year as a student at an American secondary school (2013)

180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School is a documentary produced by the National Black Programming Consortium that tells the story of a year inside an American high school. The film tells the story of the first graduating class of Washington Metropolitan High School (DC Met), a school for at-risk students in the Washington metropolitan area. Two two-hour episodes follow the daily lives of five students, as well as the efforts of their teachers and parents, to keep them on track to graduate from high school on time. 180 Day is the source for this information.

The Promise of the United States (2013)

American Promise is a documentary film directed by Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson that follows the lives of two middle-class African-American boys who attend a private, historically white school in New York City. The journey of two middle-class African-American boys from kindergarten to high school graduation is chronicled in this film over twelve years. It raises provocative questions about race, class, and opportunity in the United States of America, among other things. PBS’s American Promise POV Page was used as a source.

The Best-Kept Secret in the Business (2013)

In Newark, New Jersey, administrators at the John F. Kennedy School for the Performing and Visual Arts greet callers with the following greeting: “This is John F. Kennedy School, Newark’s Best Kept Secret.” In this documentary, directed by Samantha Buck, we follow the lives of three young men who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. It also highlights Janet Mino’s efforts to assist her students in making the transition from high school to adulthood and beyond. Best Kept Secret Website is the source of this information.

Taking Care of It for Me (2013)

Although the dropout rate has been steadily declining, 7 percent of high school students dropped out in 2014. The student-produced video provides valuable insight into why and how students drop out of school, as well as what motivates them to continue their education. Precious Lambert, Leah Edwards, and Leah Edwards, student co-directors, conducted interviews with three of their classmates about their lives after they dropped out of high school or college. Students’ perspectives on school retention are important, and this film adds an important student voice to the conversation. Meridian Hill Pictures’ official website serves as a source.

The Graduates/Los Graduados is a slang term for graduates (2013)

With the help of three Latino students from the United States, The Graduados is a bilingual film that examines important educational issues through their eyes and experiences as they progress through school. The filmmakers use their personal experiences to explore the challenges and issues that Latino high school students, their families, educators, community leaders, and others are facing daily. Educator Mark Phillips writes on Edutopia about how he was inspired to make this film in ” The Graduates: Another Film that Shouldn’t Be Missed,” which is available online. Los Graduados at the Independent Lens PBS Page is a source of information.

Learn about the United States of America (2013)

Jean-Michel Dissard, Gitte Penang, and Gitte Peng direct this documentary, which follows five students at International High School Lafayette for over a year. Located in Brooklyn, New York, this small alternative high school teaches English to non-native English speakers who have recently arrived in the United States and are looking to improve their language skills. Through their stories, viewers gain an understanding of the lives and struggles of immigrant students and their families in the United States. The I Learn America website served as the source.

If You Build It, They Will Come (2013)

Patrick Creadon directs the film, which is co-produced by Christine O’Malley and Neal Baer and written by Patrick Creadon.

if You Build It follows the lives of Matt Miller, an architect, and Emily Pilloton, a designer, as they navigate the world of design. For one year, Pilloton’s students and Miller’s students work together to research, design, engineer, and construct a farmer’s market pavilion at a local park. The students also gain an understanding of how design thinking can be used to transform their community and reimagine what is possible. If You Build It website is the source.

I do not consider myself to be a racist… Are you sure I’m not joking? (2013)

What will be the response of the next generation to racism? A collaboration between Point Made Films and The Calhoun School resulted in the creation of this feature-length documentary. In it, twelve New York City teenagers come together for a year to discuss issues of race and privilege, as well as other topics. I’m not a racist, as you may have guessed. Website:

Listen (2013)

Ankur Singh, a college student, spent his spring semester investigating flaws in the United States’ educational system from the perspective of students. Listen is the result of this collaboration, which is a film made by students about public education in the United States. Listen to the website as a source.

A Place to Take a Breath (2013)

Russell Long is in charge of the direction of the documentary Room To Breathe. It centers on students as young as seven years old at Marina Middle School in San Francisco, which has the highest number of disciplinary suspensions in the district. They learn mindfulness techniques through the Mindful School’s training program, which is free of charge. Although the new strategies will not solve all of their problems, they highlight the power of mindfulness to help students overcome distractions and develop the social and emotional skills that are necessary to succeed. Source: Room To Breathe website

TEACH (2013)

Davis Guggenheim, the director of Waiting for Superman, has released a new film in which he profiles four different elementary, middle, and high school teachers and their respective classrooms. The footage for this year-in-the-life story was shot during the 2013 academic year. Following the trials and triumphs of four educators who help their students overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, the film explores the human condition. TEACH’s website serves as the source.

PUBLIC (2012)

PUBLIC: A Day in the Life of an American School District is a 90-minute documentary that follows the events of a single day in the life of the Pasadena Unified School District in California. Students, teachers, principals, volunteers, and other people from 28 different schools were followed by fifty small crews of cameramen as they made this documentary. This film provides an illuminating glimpse into the daily struggles and triumphs of the people who live in this district. If you’d like to learn more about the film and its creators, check out Edutopia’s Five Minute Film Festival: A Day in the Life of a Public School District. Website as a source

The Public of the 21st Century (2012)

What strategies can be used to reimagine urban education?

It examines the lives of students, parents, teachers, and other members of a new high-school community in Bedford–Stuyvesant in the documentary The New Public (2001). This film tells the stories of students and teachers who have experienced the difficulties that urban schools and communities have faced. The New Public Website is the source of this information.

Who gives a damn about Kelsey?


Kelsey Caroll is a senior in high school who is interested in acting. Her ultimate goal is to complete her education. It’s been a long and winding road. She has experienced homelessness, abuse, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and she attends a school with one of the highest dropout rates in New Hampshire. Dan Habib, the filmmaker, tells the story of Kelsey’s transformation from a “problem student” to a determined and self-assured young lady in his documentary. Important questions arise as a result, such as how to best support students who are experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties and assist them in reaching their goals. Who gives a damn about Kelsey? website is the source

Yum – A Short Documentary About School Lunch Created by a 4th Grade Student (2012)

During six months, fourth-grader Zachary Maxwell from a New York City elementary school went undercover to film video footage that demonstrated the disparity between the lunch menus provided by the Department of Education and the food served in the school’s lunchroom. Many film festivals have screened and discussed this short, spirited documentary on school lunches, which has also been covered by several news outlets. The Yuck website is the source of this information.

A teacher from the United States (2011)

The feature-length documentary American Teacher is being shown as part of the Teacher Salary Project. It consists of an interactive online resource as well as a national public awareness campaign. Using the perspectives of teachers, this film explores what is at the heart of the educational crisis. Vanessa Roth is the director and producer of this film. Ninive Calegari and Dave Eggers collaborated on the production. They are co-founders of the 826 National writing programs, which was established in 1996. An evaluation of Edutopia. The website of the Teacher Salary Project was used as a source.

Bully (2011/12/01)

Bully, a documentary by Lee Hirsch, follows the lives of young Americans as they attempt to navigate the maze that is the American educational system. This moving film speaks out for the 5 million children who are bullied each year in the United States. Source: Bully Website. To learn more about resources to help students fight bullying at school, visit Edutopia’s roundup page.

First Generation (also known as Generation I) (2011)

Three high school seniors – an athlete from an inner-city high school, a waitress from an out-of-the-way small town, and a Samoan warrior-dancer – decide to break the cycle and bring hope to their communities and families by enrolling in a college education. This documentary explores the barriers that low-income and first-generation students face in gaining access to higher education, as well as the implications of their success for the future of the country. (Image courtesy of the First Generation website.)

Mitchell 20 (2011)

Andrew James Benson and Randy Murray produced this documentary about education reform. It follows twenty-nine teachers from a Phoenix public school. They set out to improve the quality of their teaching and attempt National Board Certification. You can request screenings and get a copy of this film on their site. (Source: Mitchell 20 website)

Project Happiness (2011)

Can children, regardless of their circumstances, learn to be happy despite the widespread epidemic of depression and stress that they are experiencing? Three high school students from different parts of the world set out on a journey to discover the true nature of lasting happiness on three different continents. Randy Taran has written the first blog in a series for Edutopia, which you can read here. The Project Happiness website served as the source.

The Lottery (for the years 2010/2011)

The film directed by Madeleine Sackler

The purpose of the Lottery is to draw attention to the shortcomings of the traditional public school system. A charter school lottery is the subject of this documentary, which follows four families from Harlem or the Bronx as they enter their children into the lottery. The website of the National Lottery

I’m looking forward to meeting Superman (2010)

Davis Guggenheim is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles.

An Inconvenient Truth follows a group of promising children as they navigate a system that, according to the author, hinders rather than encourages academic growth. The website “Waiting to be Superman” is the source of this information.

This entry was posted on August 8, 2009, by The Cartel.

As never before, the Cartel reveals the inner workings of our educational system. This documentary combines local stories with interviews with educators to demonstrate what parents, teachers, school officials, and tireless reformers are doing to improve our educational system in the United States. Source: The Cartel’s official website

The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture: The Race to Nowhere

During the documentary, Vicki Abeles investigates the pressures placed on American schoolchildren and their teachers as part of an educational environment defined by the illusions of achievement, competition, and the need to perform. The website Race to Nowhere provided the information.