July 3, 2008

Douglass High: Pro NCLB?

I caught a partial view of HBO's Douglass High Documentary and I have a question.

Was the Documentary supposed to be anti-NCLB or pro-NCLB?

To me it seems pro-NCLB, though that was probably not intentional. I can't see how anyone could view the documentary and come away with the impression that the administrators of Douglass don't need independent oversight. Their idea of education seems to be seat time. If the student is capable of sitting in his seat during class, regardless of what he's learning, he'll be passed along for four years and graduate. What he's actually learned, if anything, is irrelevant.

I think the average person would be horrified at what passes for education at Douglass. It is probably best that they don't know because I think support for the notion of public education would be greatly diminished.

Sixty percent of Douglass' student drop out between ninth and twelfth grade. Granted, most of the student came to Douglass way behind where they should have been, but the performance of the 40% that didn't drop out was appalling. Only a tiny percentage of students tested as proficient in math and reading. These were the good students, with parental support. They all seemed well fed and well dressed (fashion sense notwithstanding). The teachers admitted that nearly none were at grade level, yet miraculously almost every student qualified for graduation in the end.

I don't think this is what the public has in mind when they signed on for public education.


TurbineGuy said...

This was the same as my thoughts. I had assumed that the intention of the movie was to show an anti-NCLB bias, but if it was, it failed miserably.

The movie garnered absolutely no sympathy with me for any of the players. I didn't feel sorry for the kids, I didn't feel sorry for the schools. Perhaps the only true victims in the movie were the young idealistic teachers who had no idea for what they were getting into.

After finishing the movie, my first thoughts were that the whole generation was wasted. I am convinced that the secret to education reform lies in the early grades... attempts to significantly improve outcomes after the kids have arrived at High School so far behind are practically a waste.

RMD said...


I think Zig came to the same conclusion about focusing on elementary grades. He even spoke about the importance of getting good teachers in kindergarten (vs 1st grade) during Follow Through.

One more data point . . .

Cheyenne Mountain Charter School in Colorado Spring, CO, uses DI for every subject in grades K-6 (or at a minimum a DI presentation format). As the students get older, they reduce the use of DI.

It must work. In the first year of operation of their high school, they were rated #1 in the state of Colorado!

Anonymous said...

Most people simply can't see that far ahead in the future. They understand the value of a good college once their kid is in high school but to start at 1st grade or even earlier?

"They are just kids. Let them be kids. Don't hurry them...David Elkind and Alfie Kohn said that would hurt them."


Anonymous said...

Copy of post over at Flypaper blog:

KDeRosa wrote: Nonetheless, the issue here is whether teachers with a high failure rate teaching at-risk students speak with any special authority. I maintain they don’t.

Alternatively, the issue is whether a 20-something blogger, just out of college, with no classroom experience whatsoever (it appears), should flippantly lay the blame of the failures of a high school squarely on the shoulders of front-line classroom teachers? Which he (Liam Julian) did in his NRO article. No one is offended by properly conducted research. But this article was a smug, drive-by piece of crap by someone who is presumably just starting his career.

Do you, KDeRosa, now having seen the documentary and read the article, think that Liam Julian was fair to the Douglass High classroom teachers? Or rather was he slandering individuals and by extension frontline urban teachers - who are not responsible for the system they teach in. And who wish to see it reformed. And who respect quality research and ideas which can contribute to this end.

KDeRosa said...

The Douglass teachers are not the primary cause of the problem.

Having said that, however, the teaching I saw was not technically sound nor engaging. And, it's c;ear it wasn't going to be effective with the kids at Douglass. This is more an indictment of the teacher training and education, not of the teachers themselves. They don't know what they don't know.

So, no I do not think the Douglass techers were to blame and to the extent that Julian laid blame on them I disagree.

Bear in mind, I was not defending this aspect of Julian's argument, I was merely arguing against the assertion that only teachers are qualified to have an opinion on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. But the argument (i think) was not that only teacher-martyrs should have the right to comment on urban ed. Rather that young, smug, condescending policy wonks should not chuck slander-bombs from the rear when they don't appear to have been *anywhere* near the trenches.

Catherine Johnson said...

What were they doing for seat work?

KDeRosa said...

The usual crap.