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.