Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Whatever It Takes--A Review

Exhausted from two seders, I laid down last night to watch Whatever It Takes, a PBS documentary on another super human being who takes a group of poor, under performing NYC school kids and propels them to success. I have to admit, that I did sleep through parts, but I saw enough to know that it was just another propaganda piece.

Ed Tom, the principal, gets his teaching certification and a job in three days. If three days are enough to teach a teacher to teach, why do we need all these expensive ed classes? Why even bother going for a masters degree? I'm not sure whether I slept through the part showing how he made his transition from teacher to principal, or it just wasn't shown, so I can't comment about any of that. The beginning of the program shows him greeting every student by name. His school had 108 students. I have more than 108 on my roster. Because of the small size, he intimately gets to know his students. No one I know would ever argue with the merits of that. Unfortunately, one of the problems with small schools (not mentioned here or anywhere else) is that they have to limit the types of courses they teach. There are fewer advanced placement classes and electives. Also, no matter how wonderful a teacher might be, there will always be conflicts between certain students and that teacher and a small school offers very few alternatives.

The documentary did show a boy who didn't make it, but it focused on two girls that did. In any school, even a school as large as Packemin, there will be kids who beat the odds and succeed, so the fact that he managed to reach two is not exactly a major accomplishment. Also, focusing on a girl who easily passed an algebra regents, an exam that only requires 34% knowledge is not exactly a call to start saving for an Ivy League education.

At the end, the documentary mentioned that Tom is planning on opening up three more small schools in the south Bronx, so much for his dedication to the school he started. This piece followed him around for one year. Is that really enough time to even judge the success or failure of his program?

In conclusion, I watched it and all I can say is that I should have gone to bed earlier.


Richard Ginn said...

Well I would like to make some comments on your review of then same documentary that I saw last night.

I did not see anything in that documentary that made it a propaganda piece. What I did see was a documentary on the principal
Edward Tom and one of the students Sharifea Baskerville.

I would say you should have looked at the official Independent Lens website that had more info on the documentary and certainly more background info on the documentary before writing your review of this documentary.

They did say Edward worked at Saks Fifth Avenue before leaving that job to work at a school. It was in the cartoon like segment voiced over by Edward.

Although you talk about small schools not having a lot of classes which I will agree with, I do not think that it matters at all for what this documentary is about.

A hour long documentary for one school year is fine by me. They did give updates on the main people in the documentary after it was over. 84% of the first group of students graduated on time, can your school you teach at say that???

Maybe Edward wants to be like the KIPPS Schools. It is not listed in the documentary, but a possible idea as to why he wants to open more schools.

Pissed Off said...

I read the official website and it has nothing to do with the stuff that was on television.

I have problems with people like Edwards being portrayed as super heroes and the fact that kids graduating on time mean that they are actually prepeared for life.

And, while I don't know the stats I believe my school graduates more than 84% on tme but we don't face the problems he faces so the comparison is not fair.

Anonymous said...

My school added on a middle school so now we are Prek to 8th grade. We have one middle school teacher in each of the four content areas and one French and one Art teacher. Both of these also cluster the lower school. Besides all the contractual breaches in the program (some middle school teachers teach four and sometimes five in a row), the students have no choice. It's French or nothing. It's this Social Studies teacher or no one.
Small schools are great for pupil/teacher ratio but not so good for choice.

Anonymous said...

To Richard:

If Edward Tom was such an amazing principal, why weren't there 100% graduating on time? What happened to those 16% students who didn't graduate on time? Moreover, it takes years of experience of being a classroom teacher and to under the complexity of teaching and learning to the most challenging students in NYC.

The documentary portrayed Mr. Tom as a savior of these students with tough talks. It was only 108 students; it's very difficult when you're dealing with 432 students or more especially because of the baggage these children bring to the classroom.

Imagine having a school of ONLY 108 students and the school stays at that register, then you will always have a success story.

Take into account something that they neglected to bring out. From those 108 how many were ELLs, not tested out ELLs, 1st year ELLs. How many had IEPs, not SETSS IEPs, but true learning disability and behavior problem special needs students. How many were released from jail or are on JD probation and placed in Mr. Tom's school? How many come from shelters or Foster Homes? How many of those students have a child while attending school?

When you're able to answer all those questions, please get back to me. This is what schools like Packemin HS and other high schools have to contend with. But, that's okay! We meet the challenge with confidence and manage, through strength, fortitude, and perserverance, to get our students on the right track.

The media doesn't highlight or bring to the forefront PO'd and other teachers' everyday success stories, but knowing that we did good without the media televising this, makes us great, caring teachers.

mathematicamama said...

I love matzo man. He is too cute. My mom would LOVE him. Where did you find him?

Richard said...

This is a link of the latest NYC report card I could find on this school.

The school now has 419 students says that link:

This link....

says the school has only 4% students that are ELL and 10% that are special education students. This link though put the school population at 432 students though.

Anonymous said...

Wow only 4% ELLs and 10% special needs students! Let's see that approximately 18 ELLs and 43 special needs students. Are the S.E. students learning disabled or SETSS or emotionally unstabled?

Most small schools with a similar register have at least 15% - 20% ELLs and and 20% - 25% special needs students. Imagine that, Mr. Tom's school is disproportionate to the other small schools. It would seem that his school is running like a charter school where it only has a few token ELLs and S.E. students on register so its success rate can continue and they can stay under the radar of ever being accused of excluding those types of students.

I would like to see Mr. Tom run a school where it has a high percentage of ELLs and special needs students who are not only learning disabled but emotionally unstabled, too.

Tell him to show me the stats when he's at the same register par of ELLs and S.E. students that's similar to the other small schools!

Anonymous said...

You should try actually watching the documentary before writing a review about it. Wow. How embarrassing.

Pissed Off said...

Embarrassed one. If you read what I wrote you would see I did wach it.