Movies can communicate in ways that the most persuasive Letter to the Editor or legislation testimony cannot. They can reach people who may not understand the challenges students and families may face with the traditional public school system. Below is a list of wonderful movies and documentaries about educational reform and options that are very compelling. Some are available free online. Get some popcorn, invite some friends over, and enjoy.
The Beautiful Truth (2008)
Although not directly about homeschooling, this movie portrays a fifteen-year-old who starts homeschooling after the tragic death of his mother. His first homeschool assignment starts him on a path of extensive research between the effects of diet and cancer. This review is not a comment on the content of the movie, rather the positive portrayal of a homeschooled teen.
Building the Machine (2014)
This film talks about the federal education reform, Common Core State Standards. It interviews two key professionals who served on the validation committee. The documentary criticizes the way Common Core was adopted and challenges the appropriateness of a single national standard.
The Cartel (2009)
This documentary questions why American public schools fall short of the educational standards many industrialized countries take as a given. It also makes the case that teacher unions are detrimental to public education and that increased competition, particularly vouchers and charter schools, would revitalize and improve the system.
Class Dismissed (2014)
This movie is about educational options beyond the traditional public schools. It follows one family on their initial homeschool journey.
The Marva Collins Story (1981)
Marva Collins was a teacher in a Chicago ghetto who saw inherent problems in the system and how it did not give students an opportunity to reach their potential. She had to overcome multiple obstacles to start an independent school to serve her community. Mrs. Collins passed away in June 2015.
Dolphin’s Tale (2011)
This movie, based on a book by the same name, is about the true story of a bottled-nosed dolphin rescued off the Florida coast. The film positively portrays a young homeschooled girl growing up with her widowed father as they care for the injured dolphin.
Grown Without Schooling (2001)
This documentary features ten homeschooled adults as they talk about the impact it had on their education and lives.
Heal Our Schools (2015)
This new documentary is from teachers’ point-of-view. It is critical of politicians and private corporations that are driving educational reform.
Learn Free (2010)
This short documentary is about a child-led educational approached called “unschooling.”
This movie reveals flaws in the education system from a student’s perspective. It is not a polished documentary, but the rawness shows the struggles that many students face trying to fit in and be successful in schools that don’t fit their needs. It is critical of top-down education reform and the over-emphasis on testing.
Live Free and Learn (2015)
This short documentary by the Cato Institute follows the origins, lawsuit, and progress of New Hampshire’s tax-credit scholarship program. For more information about the Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), please visit their website.
The Lottery (2010)
This documentary follows four New York families as they await their children’s chance to get into a successful charter school.
Most Likely to Succeed (2015)
This documentary is a family’s search for alternative high schools for their daughter. They discover a project-based charter school in California. The movie discusses various educational options that seek to fit each child’s unique learning needs and goals. It also is critical of the educational model developed at the beginning of the Industrial Age, more than a century ago, arguing that education needs to be individualized and better suited to the technological advancements in the world today.
Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture (2010)
This film is critical of the tremendous pressures students face throughout their educational journeys. It questions what is success and how to foster and encourage it for today’s students.
The Rule (2014)
This film shares the story of a Benedictine prep high school located in Newark, New Jersey. They defy the extreme poverty, inner-city crime, and other adversities with a nearly 100% college acceptance rate. This film strives to show that St. Benedict’s Prep can be a model for urban education reform.
Stand and Deliver (1988)
This dramatized movie is based on the true story of a Los Angeles high-school math teacher, Jaime Escalante. He battles the system and low expectations to help his students take and pass the AP Calculus exam.
The Ticket (2014)
This short documentary traces various educational options across the country, including charter schools, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, online education, and homeschooling. It is based on the premise that all children deserve an education that fits their needs and goals. This is a film my Bob Bowdon of Choice Media.
Two Million Minutes (2008)
American students have approximately two million minutes from the time they finish eighth grade to high school graduation. This movie follows three groups of students — one American, one Indian, and one Chinese — as they spend this precious time preparing to enter their post-graduation years. The documentary highlights the significant cross-cultural differences in expectations and educational programs in these countries.
Underwater Dreams (2014)
This inspiring documentary follows four high-school students of undocumented immigrants who built an underwater robot that challenged power-house STEM schools. It shows that no matter their background or socio-economic standing, all students can achieve great things when given the opportunity.
This documentary follows three “unschooling” families. They talk openly and candidly about the positives and negatives with this particular type of homeschooling.
Waiting for Superman (2010)
This documentary shows the failings of the public school system as it follows several children in their efforts to get into a charter school.
Who Cares about Kelsey (2012)
This documentary follows a Somersworth, NH teen who struggled with major educational, mental health, and substance abuse problems. The school introduced a youth-directed planning process and other reforms that helped Kelsey, and other at-risk students. This movie makes watchers re-think what it means to be a “problem student” and how youths in our own communities can be better served.
Won’t Back Down (2012)
This movie dramatizes the story of two California moms who battled bureaucracy and unions to better the inner-city school their children attended. It also refers to the Parent Trigger Law that passed in CA and several other states in 2010 that allows a community to demand an administrative overhaul of failing schools if petitioned.