With two more episodes in this first season of Oprah’s Blackboard wars, they do not have a lot of time left to complete a successful ‘turnaround.’ I can’t say how good this school was before the charter takeover, as I wasn’t there. I also can’t say how good the school system was in New Orleans before the TFA led chartering of most of the schools in the city. My sense is that the schools were pretty bad before, and now they’re also bad, but in a more corrupt way with ‘reformers’ getting rich from it.
In this episode we see a pretty stunning display of community resistance to what is going on at the school. Though the head of the charter company claims that most of the community embraces them, and there are just a few loud critics, I don’t know if I believe him.
In one scene a community activist is kicked out of the school while expressing her frustration. This story line is edited in a way that I think is supposed to make the frustrated community members seem like kooks. Instead, I got no sense that Steve Farr, the Future Is Now CEO, really knows what he is doing.
The way the show is edited, they want the audience to side with the charter company as one of the students makes a plea to an outraged community member to let the new management continue what they are doing.
The student, Erik, is the primary student character in the show. Generally in a movie or show about schools, the ‘kid’ who is the main focus is someone who is in a gang, often is smarter than everyone figured, but never had the right teacher to believe in him (it is generally a boy, for some reason). In this case, this is a senior who is very well educated, and well spoke, despite having spent three years previously in what they have recently stopped calling “the worst high school” in New Orleans. He doesn’t seem to be in a gang and is, instead, the captain of the cheerleading squad. He has some defiance issues in this episode, which are cured by some in school suspension days, but I’d be more interested in how they help a 9th grader who is on track to drop out. Erick is a kid destined to go to college, it seems, regardless of how well this charter network does in changing his school.
I also got to see a little more of episode 3, which they re-ran right before this one. In this I saw some teachers lounge conversations between two TFAers (there are four of them, as far as I know, at this school) about how the school has no discipline policy and how that is preventing them from really concentrating on academics. It is tough to say how much a strong administration can help out teachers who aren’t skilled at classroom management, like the Ms. Cobb I wrote about last time. But at a faculty meeting, a second year TFAer Ms. Poulter, spoke up about how the administration was not supportive. She got reprimanded, a bit later, for looking down at the floor. As I think second year TFAers generally are pretty good with classroom management, I have to think that the administration in this school really doesn’t have much of a clue of what they are doing.
I’d be curious what someone who doesn’t have a ‘side’ in the ed reform debates thinks about this show. For me it validates everything I’ve suspected about the New Orleans ‘miracle.’ I wonder if ‘reformers’ feel the same way.
As a T.V. show, I think it is very well done, but I’m a sucker for shows and movies about teachers, even when they are unrealistic. Except for ‘Won’t Back Down,’ I can even enjoy something like ‘Lean On Me.’ The last time I was invited by TFA to give a special speech was back in 2002 after the screening of a documentary called ‘The First Year,’ directed, ironically, by Davis Guggenheim who later made ‘Waiting For Superman.’ It was about why I like shows and movies about schools. Here is that speech: