PBS Two-Parter on an American High School

Tonight and tomorrow night, PBS is showing 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School.  It's a two-part 4-hour special about a "failing" high school in Washington, D.c. where only seven percent of students are deemed proficient in math and only 19 percent in reading.  It was produced by the National Black Programming Consortium.  (Locally, KCTS 9 is showing it on both nights, starting at 9 p.m.)

From the director, Jacquie Jones', piece at the Huffington Post:

After receiving this press release, a veteran African American journalist for whom I have the utmost respect, asked me this question in an email: "I looked at the site for this program and I see that the team spent a lot of time in the high school, but what I'm not getting is why this is compelling television. Why should I watch?"
That's a good question. And, as I said to him, my honest answer on whether or not you should watch really depends on how interested you are in the top-down, mostly privately-funded school reform "movement" currently shaping our national education policy and the impact it's having on black and brown and, most especially, poor children. From a purely civic discourse perspective, I find that we hear a lot from "experts" who have very little direct experience with what goes on in a public school and seem not to understand that children, like adults, bring long histories with them that impact everything they do -- from forming relationships to mastering complicated physics principles.
These experts also seem to be strangely unaware of the disparities that go hand-in-hand with the grinding poverty that nearly one in four American children -- and 40 percent of children in DC -- are born into. As the principal of the school once said to me, "If a kid is hiding from the police tonight, trust me, he's not thinking about his Algebra II quiz tomorrow."
I have been to several conferences lately where attendees seem to believe that some magical combination of "accountability," volunteer mentors, longer school days and adaptive learning technology are all that's needed to reverse several generations of ingrained disenfranchisement, chronic displacement, food and housing insecurity and more. It seems to be quite literally a different world to the one in which children are parents, parents are absent and schools are expected to solve not just the problems of "reading, writing and arithmetic," but all of the problems of society as well.
Link to promo.


Anonymous said…
I watched part I last night and should be required viewing for ed reformers. The big take away for me was student attendance. It is hard to teach kids who aren't in school on a regular basis. Some of the reasons broke my heart -one student's mother developed breast cancer and died. She had three kids who after her death -at the time of the filming- were basically on their own. I do hope that ed reformers are watching this but I doubt it. They seem to deny that poverty and institutional racism and classism have an affect on learning. There are structural things that need to happen for some of the kids in this documentary, that no amount of ed reform or accountability can touch. There were bright spots but as a country we should be ashamed. Will watch Part II this evening.

Anonymous said…
This problem isn't ed reform. Ed reform agenda in DC has created new and diffferent problems and gave us a storytelling heroine, Michelle Rhee. Historically DCPS was awful except for a couple of ES in NW DC. Many middle class and educated blacks left for better schools and safer neighborhoods in surrounding counties like Montgomery Co. The gentrification of DC has deepened the economic divide.

The show should be required viewing for everybody including HS kids especially after threads like the one on advanced learning, Alliance award, PTA fundraising, and MAP testing. Viewing this show is a safe and easy thing to do, but still that's probably asking too much.

outer belt
Anonymous said…
While poverty is a big underlying problem in many of these neighborhoods, the biggest takeaway for me was the comment by a teacher re: the constant churn these kids are subjected to. In their homes, neighborhoods, to their many guardians/parents/
caregivers, many different principals, shuffling from school to school, a variety of counselors, administrators, subjected to many testing/learning gimmick, and finally the many, many DCPS chancellors that has revolved over the years. And DCPS has tried everything including a US military general who lasted about 1 1/2 year before leaving in disgust.

The corruption. DC spending is quite high per student. In 2010, more than $18,000 per pupil (from US census- US Dept. of commerce), but a lot doesn't trickle down to the classroom and the kids. Presently charter results are mixed and charter schools are popular because they provide alternatives that give some of the self selected kids a way out. (People can slam charters all they want, but if my option is crappy schools after 30 years, I'll be willing to try anything.)

outer belt

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