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The Public School Insights Blog

Editor's Note: Yesterday, Hollywood producer turned Montana educator Peter Rosten sent us the following remarks about his school's innovative filmmaking program:

Greetings from Montana!

A friend of mine, Jan Lombardi, is the education policy advisor for Montana’s Governor, Brian Schweitzer. Recently Jan forwarded me a “Learning First” newsletter and pointed to an article titled “Learning in the Community: Teen Filmmakers Talk About Their Work and Its Impact on Their Lives”.

After reading this inspiring story, I reached out to Claus von Zastrow. Perhaps he’d be interested in a pretty cool media program here in the Bitterroot Valley in rural Western, Montana.

And here we are...

In 2004, we created MAPS: Media Arts in the Public Schools. (Be sure to visit our website and Youtube page.) The initial goal was to educate under-served, rural students in the media arts--and since ‘movies’ are cool, there was a healthy and eager response. ...

Rules that would allow schools to get credit for students who take more than four years to graduate are causing some debate. Critics of the rules worry that they relieve necessary pressure on high schools to improve their four-year graduation rates. Supporters argue that they encourage schools to take a chance on students who would drop out in four years.

NSBA's Center for Public Education offers some insight into the issue. The Center recently studied the academic performance, academic attainment, job prospects, civic involvement and health of people who take longer than four years to graduate. Center researchers concluded that:

On-time graduation remains the best prospect for students, and districts should make on-time graduation the first priority for all students. But the extra work late graduates and their schools put toward earning a high school diploma pays off—not only in academic ...

Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey believes we can make the college graduation prospects of inner city children every bit as strong as those of their suburban peers. As president of Say Yes to Education, she has the data to back up her claims. Schmitt-Carey recently spoke with us about her model and its astonishing impact in several U.S. cities.

Say Yes topples barriers to college by offering disadvantaged youth comprehensive supports ranging from health care to college scholarships. The results of this work are stunning. In communities where it is active, Say Yes has dramatically narrowed the high school and college graduation gaps between inner-city students and their suburban peers.

Schmitt-Carey emphasizes the need to rally many community partners around common goals. In Syracuse, for example, Say Yes has built a strong a coalition including the school district, mayor, city council, school board, teachers unions, higher education community, business organizations and community-service organizations. Rather than pointing fingers of blame, Schmitt-Carey says, these partners share responsibility for children's long-term success.

Hear highlights from our interview (6 minutes). [A transcript of these highlights appears below]

Or listen to the following excerpts from ...

The battle over traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs is distracting us from a much more important conversation about teacher quality: How do we substantially increase teacher capacity and effectiveness? That's the conclusion Linda Darling-Hammond and David Haselkorn reach in a new Education Week commentary.

To make their case, Darling-Hammond and Haselkorn cite a Mathematica study that found few differences between the impact of traditionally and alternatively certified teachers on student performance in hard-to-staff schools. While this study is bound to "fuel the debate" about traditional vs. alternative routes, they argue, many commentators are missing the more important point:

The real story, however, is that none of the teachers in these high-need schools did well by their students. The students of teachers from what the study called “low coursework” alternative programs actually declined in their reading and math achievement between fall and spring, while those taught by their traditional-route counterparts improved little. Students of teachers in the "high coursework" alternative programs, and those of their traditional-route counterparts, improved by only 1 and 2 percentile points, respectively—not nearly enough, given how far behind these students already were.

Put bluntly, no one who is serious about raising standards and closing achievement gaps can find these outcomes acceptable. It is time to put aside the tired debates over routes into teaching and focus on a clearer destination: substantially higher levels of teacher effectiveness, especially for those teaching ...

vonzastrowc's picture

The True Defeatists

Last week, I took a couple of swipes at Charles Murray's fatalistic, offensive, and oddly persistent claim that many children (by which he generally means poor children and children of color) are largely ineducable.

Richard Nisbett does a much better job of tackling Murray's arguments in his recent book, Intelligence and How to Get It. (The New York Times reviewed Nisbett's book on Sunday.) IQ is malleable, he argues, so it makes all the sense in the world to help struggling students excel academically.

Any educator worth his or her salt subscribes to this view. Still, Murray's work lives on. It earns respectful reviews even from people who generally know better.

Murray's persistence should focus the mind of anyone interested in improving ...

Last week, teen filmmaker Jasmine Britton told us about the impact of her filmmaking on her life plans and academic prospects. Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization, has reinforced Britton's academic skills and strengthened her motivation to go to college.

This week, we're sharing our recent conversation with Reelworks filmmaker Isaac Schrem, who expands on themes introduced by Britton. Shrem describes how his school's arts programs, together with filmmaking opportunities through Reel Works, shaped his professional aspirations.

Listen to approximately 5 minutes of highlights from our interview (or read through the transcript below):

Interview Highlights
Tell me about the film you made, The Other Side of the Picture.

ISAAC: I was always interested in filmmaking, but I didn't know exactly what I wanted to with it. I went with the phrase, "Write what you know." The one thing that I knew or wanted to understand, at least, at the time, was the situation with my parents, and my father leaving us and going away to Paris. So I went with that story.

It was a very rough topic for me to tackle because I still ...

Jasmine Britton is one of a small but growing group of talented teen documentary filmmakers whose work is winning accolades from educators and critics alike. I recently had the chance to chat with her about her documentary work and its impact on her education and life. Jasmine, who attends high school in Brooklyn, is quite outspoken in her opinion that more schools should offer students opportunities similar to those she has enjoyed.

Together with her peers at Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, Jasmine is working on a new documentary about U.S. national parks that will serve as a companion piece to Ken Burns's forthcoming documentary on the same subject. Reel Works is a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization that helps over 150 teens each year conceive, plan, film, edit and promote original documentaries. Last year, Over Here--a Reel Works documentary about the World War II homefront--aired on New York public television station Channel Thirteen.

In our interview, Jasmine describes her first documentary, a tribute to her mother entitled A Message to Marlene. She also credits her experience at Reel Works with motivating her to think much more earnestly about college. Finally, she urges educators to make the Reel Works experience much more accessible in schools.

Listen to highlights from our interview (5 minutes):

Read a transcript of these highlights below, and stay tuned next week for an interview with Reel Works filmmaker Isaac Shrem.

Interview Highlights:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Tell me about your film.

JASMINE: My film was called "A Message to Marlene," and it was basically a tribute [to] my mother. At the time, ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Say No to Fatalism

Fatalist and pseudo-scientist Charles Murray believes that IQ is immutable, that efforts to close achievement gaps are wasted, and that programs to level the social and economic playing fields drain life of meaning.  

He would do well to examine the achievements of Say Yes to Education, a remarkable program that has dramatically changed the odds for disadvantaged urban students in several U.S. cities: 

The Say Yes promise and supports begin when a child enters kindergarten and continue through high school and beyond. The range of services Say Yes offers across its Chapters include everything from after-school and summer programming, mentoring, tutoring, and school-day academic support to family outreach, scholarships, and social work/ psychological services. Additionally, Say Yes partners provide high-quality health care and legal assistance.

Students in Say Yes communities have high school graduation, college-going and college completion rates similar to those of suburban students.

Not that any of this would change Charles Murray's mind. He's a slow learner. ...

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story on a New York state school district that has adopted "standards-based report cards." These report cards differ from the more traditional variety in that they aim to measure mastery of knowledge and skills more faithfully:

In Pelham, the second-grade report card includes 39 separate skill scores — 10 each in math and language arts, 2 each in science and social studies, and a total of 15 in art, music, physical education, technology and “learning behaviors” — engagement, respect, responsibility, organization. The report card itself is one page, but it comes with a 14-page guide explaining the different skills and the scoring.

Dennis Lauro, Pelham’s superintendent, said that standards-based report cards helped students chart their own courses for improvement; as part of the process, they each develop individual goals, which are discussed with teachers and parents, and assemble portfolios of work.

Effort and extra credit are not part of the equation, and the report cards do not measure students against each other.

Some years ago, the Chugach, Alaska public school district took the standards-based reporting system a good deal farther. In Chugach, each student works at her own pace, advancing to the next grade level only when she can demonstrate mastery of material through portfolios and other assessments. Some students progress to ...

He’s baaaack…. And he continues to repudiate the American ideal of equal opportunity.

In his 1994 book The Bell Curve, Charles Murray infamously attributed achievement gaps to inherent genetic differences among racial groups. His most recent book, Real Education, extended the argument, calling for education policies that build on ostensible differences in students’ capacity. He believes we should put low-performing students out of their academic misery by shunting them off into less demanding vocational courses. He is content to see demography as destiny, counseling us to abandon our “romantic” notion that we can narrow or close achievement gaps.

In a dyspeptic op-ed for Sunday’s Washington Post, Murray extends his argument again by railing against European-style social programs that seek to level social and economic playing fields.

The Washington Post op-ed argues, in effect, that European social programs drain life of its purpose by coddling people. To illustrate his point, Murray recalls reactions to a speech he delivered in Zurich: “Afterward, a few of the 20-something members of the audience came up and said plainly that the phrase ‘a life well-lived’ did not have meaning for them.” Now there’s a representative sample: a few Swiss 20-somethings who (1.) attended a Charles Murray speech and (2.) actually wanted to speak with him afterwards. Murray claims that these aimless souls ...

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