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Hard Times At Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card

Just letting you all know that Monday night, HBO will be airing a documentary on Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School. A professor and good friend of mine, Donyel Hill, was involved in the project. Here's a little of what he had to say about the film:

"Alan and Susan Raymond spent one year filming in Frederick Douglass High School, which has a rich history of successful alumni, including Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. Shot in classic cinema verité style, the film captures the complex realities of life at Douglass, and provides a context for the national debate over the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, focusing on the brutal inequalities of American minority education, considered an American tragedy by many. . ."

"Douglass principal Isabelle Grant oversees a staff of teachers that is two-thirds non-certified, while many are substitutes unqualified to teach their subject areas. Threatened with sanctions, or even closing, unless student scores improve in annual standardized tests, the faculty tries to find workable solutions to chronic problems of attendance, lateness and apathy among students, many of whom come from poor backgrounds and broken homes, and lack the most basic reading and math skills.

Due to an achievement gap of four to five years below grade level, ninth grade students present the greatest challenge, requiring intensive intervention by the already overwhelmed teaching staff. By the end of the school year, 50% will drop out. Grant and her staff struggle to raise state assessment scores as a Maryland State monitor continually watches over Douglass with the threat of a state takeover.

At the same time, there are reasons for hope. The high school boasts an award-winning music program, named after Douglass graduate and jazz great Cab Calloway, that includes a choir, a drumline marching band, a jazz combo and an orchestra. The basketball team was Maryland State champion two of the last three years. And the outstanding debate team consistently wins trophies at the Baltimore Urban Debate League. Students Sharnae, Jordan and Matt tell stories of struggling to overcome the enormous challenges of splintered families and peer pressure as they navigate their high school days, offering a reminder that education is inevitably an achievement of people, not policy. With the support of Douglass, these students have demonstrated resilience in the face of formidable odds.

Eventually, Douglass fails to make the adequate yearly progress required by the No Child Left Behind Act and the city and state wrestle for control of the school. This is typical of inner-city schools that cannot meet the demands of the federal law. By 2007 one in four of the nation's public schools failed to show improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act and was threatened with sanctions."

So yeah, judging from the Youtube vid, it looks to be pretty interesting. I'm definitely not missing it. You can catch it Monday, June 23 at 9PM on HBO.

-Prodigy Maestro

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  1. This was one of the most depressing films that I have ever watched. The students who were distruptive in the classroom and hallways need a big dose of discipline, and a bigger dose of love...from someone! Please don't rely on the government to fix this problem, this is a cultural problem first and foremost. The breakdown of the two parent family unit is at the root of this debacle. I have no idea what it will take to change this paradigm, but the African-American community (along with a large part of the USA overall) must find a way to keep families intact, and reduce teen childbirth. It takes complete parental dedication to their children's education in order for the child to flourish. It is extremely difficult for a single parent to accomplish this feat without a flexible work schedule, and a support from their families and commnities. I will pray for the kids of Douglas High tonight!

  2. i'm not even going to argue that it was depressing. . .sigh*

    and no, the gov. ain't going to fix this problem. the government acts INCREDIBLY fast when they really want something. . . like wars, for example. .

    i might get called out for saying this, but i wish the black community was more of a 'community', like hispanic folks. . . i think it would help a lot

  3. There are so many issues w/this school - where do you start? First off the majority of these kids have WAY too many issues at home. SOMEONE needs to address the black community on WHY these kids don't have parents who care & fathers who aren't in the home. There are other issues too w/in the home but maybe if the lack of parenting could be addressed the other issues may work themselves out. There is a total lack of discipline in the school but that's also due to a lack of discipline in the home. The students don't care bc their parents don't care.

    I'll go out on a limb and say the day Brown v. The Board of Ed ended segregation was the day blacks threw their education away.

    I know Frederick Douglas must be rolling in his grave over what has become of his people. If I were black (and obviously I am not), I would be EMBARASSED and disgusted.

    So when are blacks going to fix this little issue? Or is it better to just sit back and watch your children slowly but surely kill themselves?

  4. anonymous #2

    i agree w/a lot of what you said but as far as Brown vs. BOE being the end of black education, I think that's a really far stretch. There is a drastic difference in culture at the moment. Also take into account that this school is not representative of all predominantly black schools. Part of the documentary mentioned that during the "white flight" of Baltimore, the black middle class also left, which left a mostly uneducated group of blacks in the city.

    And as far as Freddy D is concerned(not that I can really speak on his behalf), I think he would be more disgusted with the blacks at the top who neglect to help, rather than the blacks at the bottom who are suffering. . .

  5. Indeed this film was depressing and on so many levels.
    The kids: No respect—for anybody—even themselves; no clue as to the value of education. These are values that have to be instilled and nurtured in the home, which of course is not the case. NCLB cannot fix the broken black inner city family.
    The teachers: They seem dedicated but like the guy trying to roll the gigantic boulder up the hill, small successes are cancelled out by enormous failures. How can they be blamed for not teaching kids who don’t want to learn, because they don’t understand why they have to?
    The film’s implication that minority education is systemically unequal is a red herring. The Maryland legislature is overwhelmingly Democrat and Baltimore City wields enormous power in that body. This is not a question of lack of funds for schools such as Douglass. There’s plenty of money available. But the Baltimore City school administration is corrupt. A few years ago they somehow were unable to account for something like 58 million dollars. Perhaps the filmmakers should do a sequel, focusing on the workings of the city school administration.

  6. Blacks destroy everything they come in contact (coontact) with. None of the little niglets had a daddy. What a joke you're people are. Uncivilized and uneducated. Yeah, i watched the show, what a joke you're race is. You need to be back in Africa, with all the other wild animals. The civilization the white man has built is not for you.

  7. I am a teacher in a minority school in the suburbs. Unfortunately economics has little to do with the problems facing minority schools. I teach kids who come to school with clothes and shoes that cost more than I make in an entire pay check, yet these same students don't care about learning and are often time disruptive.

    On another note, a fact that was touched on in the movie is that teachers are encouraged to pass students who do not meet expectations or the admistration blames the teachers. I will admit that during any reporting period I routinely have to pass 40 to 50 students who are several grade levels below normal. By the time they get to me in 8th grade, even if a student was highly motivated, there is no way a student on a 4th grade level can perform in an 8th grade classroom. Teachers unfortunately are afraid to make students repeat a grade because their ability to teach comes into question.

    Another problem with minority schools is the liberal use of 'social promotion' for students not succeeding. My first year teaching, I went up against the system of passing students who did not deserve it and I failed every student who did not meet the expectations set before him. At the end of the year I had 48 failing students. The next year only 1 of them repeated the grade, 2 went to summer school and thus passsed, and 45 were passed on due to 'social promotion' which states that a student cannot be a certain age in a certain grade. I teach 8th grade, so any student comes to me that is 15 or 16 years old at the beginning of the year, gets a free ride to 9th grade because it is against state law to have a 16 year old in middle school.

  8. -anonymous teacher

    I was completely thrown off by what you said. I had no idea that there was such a thing as social promotion or(after my own research) that it is widely practiced.

    It's a shame that this goes on and as someone who will be in the classroom within the next two years, I find your plight disturbing.

    And I also would like to agree with you in saying that economics should not be blamed. Most every documentary on blacks and education is done at inner-city schools. As a resident of Prince George's County, Maryland, I can say that things are bad in many of our schools; in a seemingly affluent area.

  9. I don't think the theory that Brown vs BOE ending Black education was too far of a stretch. How do you explain the fact that after integration, the bond and strength within the Black community died??? I mean...I'm happy that I can now eat at any restaraunt that I so desire, but if being able to share the same things as white people meant giving up all independence, then I will settle with drinking from the smaller water fountain. I'd rather go to Black-owned businesses and facilities anyway and support my own people. My point is that after integration, we became more seperated than ever. Black-on-Black crime, one-parent households, no parent this what we get for spitting on our dignity and trying to depend too much on White people??? Am I over-exaggerating??

  10. In response to Anonymous on
    June 28, 2008 7:19 AM

    I don't think it was integration per se that eroded the bond and strength within the Black community or that caused the isolation of the Black community that you perceive. In my view the ultra-liberal social programs of the 60's and 70's, aimed at helping the black community, actually hurt it. These programs, enacted by liberal whites at the insistence of so-called black leaders, have made at least 2 generations of inner-city blacks dependent on the government for subsistence. This dependence spawned crime, deterioration of inner-city schools and of the black family. The Black grievance industry run by the likes of Jackson and Sharpton cannot thrive unless there is something to protest against. They're the ones who have a direct interest in keeping por black people down. Jackson has made millions doing this.

    Societal Observer

  11. Oh a reply to Number 6

    How can you possibly believe that all blacks are inferior to whites? And the "civilization the white man built" was really built by black slaves, many of whom were probably ancestors of the children in the documentary. So why have they been forsaken by their fathers, mothers, and sometimes both parents? Its because it is very difficult to go from a slave to a wealthy man, and especially with no education and no skills except farming. So its like a never ending cycle of poorness, for many African American families today. I just still don't understand people like you, though, and this is coming from a 14 year old white kid in the suburbs with a nice house and comfortable living arrangement. Lately, ive come to question what i have done to deserve this, and why one of those Baltimore children dont have my lifestyle instead of me. really, i have done nothing at all and do not deserve this, and this film really shows how unfair the world is.

  12. I'm a little late to this, but I would suggest that the huge mega-campus schools displacing smaller high schools is partially to blame. When I grew up, you were likely to have a teacher who was a relative (so you had to work hard) or who grew up with your mom (so you had to work doubly hard). There was an accountability that is missing when kids are bussed to these large schools. They become anonymous. No one at the school knows them or their family.

    I went to a city high school with about 500 students. My kids go to one with over 2500 that was formed through mergers. The experiences are vastly different.

  13. I think it is easy to judge these children as ignorant and put all sorts of labels on them to create blame. What people need to realize that the growth of a child to make them contributing citizens to a community TAKES A COMMUNITY.

    There is a series of enviornments that are vital in how a person is shaped into who they become. The most important being home: parents/ family, community: neighbors/ surroundings, & school overall.

    This documentary is a first degree example of how children grow when either all or most of those enviornments are tainted. It is unfair to try to place blame on any one person, or one system because all these things matter - and if none of them are in place, the children suffer, and then their children will too so forth and so on.

    As for the comment made on #6, you are clearly biased against people of color so your views do not matter, if only this situation effected you or loved ones I'm sure your thoughts would be different.

    And to the comment made on #11, the 14 yr old kid. I think that it is awesome that you are aware of the things you have and see them as the blessings they are. There are many people who do not live the way you do so I applaud you for being appreciative. Not many children or teenagers who grow up in your position do not think that way and that displays alot of maturity and intelligence, I'm sure it will continue to benefit you throughout your life!

    I guess all that is left is... what should we do to fix the issue?


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