I thought this was a wonderful documentary on how four different schools and three different school districts dealt with school reform to try to get students better grades. They spent time in various states as New York, California, and North Carolina. Each school Hedrick Smith visited had a different solution on getting better student performance.

The first place visited in the documentary was a Mt. Vernon Washington school called Centennial Elementary School. The school district had a massive shift in the amount of migrant worker children they had in the school system starting in the early 90’s. It caused grades and performance of the school to drop. This school used the Success For All program starting in the year 1999 to get grades up. People from the John Hopkins University created the program. The program forces a 90-minute reading class at the start of each day. Teachers at the school were not really into this idea at first. The 90-minute class was very scripted and the teachers thought they would be cramped for time. In the end though the scores for all the students in the school shot up big time. I would say that even I do like this kind of a program and it is the first time I have ever heard of it.

Next they moved over to Chicago and the Jordan Community School where the principal put in place the comer process. Dr. James Comer from Yale created the program. Before the program was in place this school had a lot of trouble making students getting into fights, had bad manners, and poor social skills. The school hired a social worker to help out to get the students under control. They even brought in parents as volunteers to help make the school a better place. I loved this idea for inner city schools. This idea removed a whole lot of the fighting, and poor social skills of the students inside the school that in turn helped increase grade performance of the students. At this school the troublemakers were put in a special group once a week to discuss respect that was 100% needed.

A charter school in Houston was the next stop in the documentary. A Knowledge is Power Program 3D Academy charter school. KIPP schools were created by a couple of people that were in the Teach For America program. At one of these schools you go to school from 7:30 AM to 5:00PM, have Saturday classes, and go to summer school for three and half weeks. All that extra time gives a KIPP student an extra 67% class time over a regular school student. One kid profiled from the school was a troublemaker. He was held back for two years and took kids lunch money. At first he did not think much about being a KIPP student and was a rebel of the schools idea at the start. In the back of his mind though he thought otherwise. He racked up a most improved student award while going to the school and said he liked Social Studies the most. The KIPP school idea is also another idea I wound up liking.

The final School they went to was a small 630 student populated Corbin Kentucky high school. It used the High Schools That Work program. This school put the entire freshman class in a separate part of the school. The program forces schools to demand more of the students with a tougher curriculum and that students do some work-based learning. Around half of the students in the school take vocational-technical classes. The school also set up all-girls classes to get better reading performance out of the students in at the school. This idea is similar some ways to my idea for high school students. My idea wants on the job training for all vocational-technical students to get any sort of degree from the classes a student takes. The High School That Work Idea is yet another one that I like.

The First school district they wind up going to is in New York City. The school district had around 22 thousand students with most of them living in poverty. Anthony Alvarado was the superintendent of School District 2 at the time when he did some radical moves to fix the school district. He and his staff went to each school inside his school district each year to check on them. If the principals were not doing a good job he fired them and he did fire a whole bunch at once. The main move he made was to move a whole load of money into profession development. The money was spent on people to come over from Australia and New Zealand to coach the teachers in the school district so we can have better literacy rates. The local teacher union backed him on his ideas because of the time he spent in the educational world as a former teacher and they worked. Moving this school district from one of the worst to one of the best in reading scores with even less resources than other school districts. I liked this guy and his ideas.

The next school district they went to was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district that was run by Eric Smith at the time. He adopted a district-wide curriculum, a scripted curriculum that was district created, and the drill down program. The drill down program is a highly test based. A test is given out at like regular nine-week intervals, the scores form the test are given back to the teachers so they can attempt to spot problems before they occur. During his time as superintendent and after he left test scores for reading have doubled in his school district. I will say that I did like this idea as well.

The final place they visited was the Nice school district in San Diego California. This school district has around 180,000 students in it and around two-thirds of them are in poverty. Alan Bersin was the superintendent at the time and brought with him Anthony Alvarado who we saw earlier in the documentary. Alvarado’s ideas did not work so well in San Diego. Major fights over education reform like how to spend the money in the school district occurred. Major money was even spent in 2000 in the school board race to get rid of one of the school board members but that backfired. It helped cause Alvarado to leave the school district in 2002, but the school district did close the gap in performance levels by around 15% when it comes to Blacks and Hispanics vs. the Whites. In the end I do think that the school board was not really ready for such a massive change in the way they did things and I also think that they went to fast in trying to implement Alvarado’s ideas.

Schools all across the USA are going to have to make changes from the normalcy that they have been going through. The No Child Left behind idea is certainly not the answer. We have to look at these ideas the documentary looked at including mine to get at the massive problem this educational system is truly having.


Making Schools Work website:

Making Schools Work. with.Hedrick Smith. PBS. October 5, 2005.