Blackboard Wars Episode 4

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:

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20 Responses to Blackboard Wars Episode 4

  1. Chi Res says:

    Isn’t Erik wearing a retainer? I haven’t seen a lot of low income kids who’ve had the benefit of orthodonture in my neck of the woods.

  2. Janiebt says:

    Comments from Karran Harper Royal via twitter: @KHRoyal

    #BlackboardWars many members of the community offered real solutions , even brought in resources to make it happen. The RSD sabotaged it.


    #BlackboardWars clearly Dr. T was not brought up to speed about how the RSD locked the cmty out of bringing in programs to help students.

    and from the New Orleans Tribune:

  3. Libba McEnery says:

    As a New Orleans native, I have seen many New Orleans kids “put out” of Charter Schools. There seems to be no tracking of these kids after being expelled from a Charter School. No one seems to know whether or not they enroll in another school. Many end up on the streets where they become involved in crime. Some end up dead. Is that why the murder rate in our city is through the roof?

  4. Erick says:

    Hello My name is Erick Dillard. To answer some of you guys questions yes I do have braces and if your inferring my braces to the show (as if I been paid) isn’t true. Also Ms. Elizabeth I’m not sure just yet who you are, but I have never told you that I’m from Jefferson parish I’m from the 10th ward of New Orleans, and I just reside in Jefferson Parish. Plus, I have never been put out a school, I’m to smart for that. If you would like to get legitment reason then maybe we can go out for coffee one day. Also, Yes I didn’t want charter to be in the building at one point because of my reservation about charter school around new orleans. Now, giving Future Is Now a chance and see what Dr. Thompson and his staff are trying to do for us that’s what make me change my mind about “our charter”. I just wish some folk of the community just notice that they are hear for us, and not trying to “make money off of us” as been stated in recent community meetings.

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      Hi Erick,
      Thanks for responding here. Very often in discussions about education teachers complain that the administrators aren’t listening since the administration claims they know what is best for the teachers and the students. Then teachers, when they have their own ideas about what is best for students, don’t listen to what the students feel is best for them.

      That comment about your braces, I don’t think they were saying that you got paid to do the show. I think that person was trying to say, and I don’t think that it was a very good argument, that you might be a bit more well off than some student whose family could not afford braces, so the show is choosing to focus on a student that might have a few less obstacles than some other student who might be destined to drop out might have. This is not to take away from whatever obstacles you have overcome to get to this point in your schooling and to be as enthusiastic and charismatic as you come off in the show.

      I saw the video you made in ‘legacy lost’ and it was clear that you were not thrilled with the quality of the teachers in the old school. The person filming you seemed to be asking for you to say how unfair it was that teachers were losing their jobs, and you were pretty clear that for some of those teachers you didn’t it would be such a bad thing. You are a very honest person, I can see, and would not just say what someone wants you to say, not in that video and also not in your speech at the end of episode 4.

      My sense, then, is that you do feel like the school has improved. I guess the question is what about the school has made it better for you, and could those same improvements have occurred without a radical change in staff. I don’t know who the old principal was, but if you think Dr. T is a big part of the difference, could the school have been improved by just having him take over with the same staff? Also, are all these new teachers much better than the old ones who were fired? Some seem to be very nice and energetic, but with them not being able to control a class, are students learning more.

      Even if the school is better, is it much better? Of course being better is a good thing, but I would want it to be much better since there are some people making a lot of money off of this school and if things were just a little better, I think that money could have been used in a different way to help the students even more.

      I notice that class sizes seem to be very small there. Is that how it was last year? If not, maybe the smaller class sizes are part of what is making the school better. Also, are a lot of the ninth graders who were at the school last year still at the school this year, either as repeating ninth graders or as current tenth graders? These are some questions that have been unanswered in the show which I am very interested to know about.

      When a school makes so many changes in one year, it is very hard to identify which changes were the ones that made the difference. Do you have some feelings about which of the changes were the most important ones?

      Again, I appreciate your willingness to comment on this site, and hope you’ll be willing to continue.

      Gary Rubinstein
      Teach For America 1991

    • Tee says:

      Thanks for responding, Erick! Best of luck as you continue with your studies 🙂

  5. Libba McEnery says:

    Another question I have about Charter Schools. I have an After School Program for inner city NOLA youth. Many attend Charter schools. We are constantly aware that kids who attend KIPP and other charter schools are totally uncontrollable! They are violent, obscene, disrespectful and, after trying with them for three years, incorrigible. The kids who attend non charter NOPS schools have some self control and are respectful and teachable. Does anyone have a solution, or even a reason, for this problem?

    • Meg says:

      That’s a really broad generalization, Libba, and while you posed it as if you’re asking a “question”, it seems that you’re really just trying to assert how out of control charter school students are, and therefore how terrible the schools must be. Perhaps the issue is your ability to effectively manage children.

      Also, it’s not very likely that you’d have many KIPP students in an after school program as they are in school until 5PM.

    • Educator says:

      I know a lot of folks don’t like it when traditional public school students are demonized, but I don’t think demonizing charter school students helps either, regardless of what you feel of charters.

  6. Libba says:

    Our program starts at 6:00pm and lasts until 8:00pm. Our KIPP students are frequently so aggressive, obscene and violent that we have to remove them, or even call the police, so that the other kids can learn. The police cannot even control them. As soon as the police drive off the KIPP kids go right back to throwing rocks at our building and even at the departing police cars and then they run off between the houses. We ban them from our group for a week and then they stand outside and shout obscenities and throw rocks. They actually want to be inside, but can’t control themselves. Many of our kids have tragic problems which might explain bad behavior, but the seven kids who attend KIPP schools have extreme behavior problems which do not improve. Our children from NOPS elementary, middle and high schools have enough self control to sit still and listen when called for. Children who attend other charter schools are better behaved than the KIPP kids, but are still fairly disruptive. I’m just saying….

  7. Meg says:

    There are over 1,000 students enrolled at KIPP schools in New Orleans. To generalize about a population that large based off of a sample of 7 students is terrible science. And if these seven children are so unmanageable why don’t you just forbid them from attending? And have you talked to their school about their behavior?

  8. Libba says:

    We never forbid kids from attending our program, because they need to be there and because we love each one of them. They come voluntarily and we care about each child. I am not really that interested in KIPP. I just want to know why the children we get from KIPP schools and from other charter schools (though our KIPP kids are by far the worst behaved – always) are unable to control themselves like most of our other children. KIPP faculty and staff members may not get to see the children after they leave school, so you probably do not know the answer to my question. Sometimes too much restraint from authority figures prevents young people from learning self restraint. The young people I have described are old enough to have some self restraint like their peers who attend schools which might better allow them to mature normally. Again, I’m just saying…

  9. Libba says:

    By the way, this week we have an out of state team of 45 volunteers helping us every day with the youth in our free program. The team of 45 could not control the KIPP kids, who started several violent fights today alone, cursing other kids and adults all the while. The team leaders finally resorted to calling the police. The KIPP kids ran off screaming obscenities before the police arrived. Tomorrow we will ask the police to stop by during our program. They know the kids by name now. Sorry. I’m just asking if anyone knows why KIPP kids seem to act this way after they leave school.

    • Meg says:

      But you don’t really want to know the answer to that question, because if you wanted to know the root causes of the behavior of the seven “incorrigible” children you claim to love so much (and insist on interchanging with KIPP children, though its an inaccurate comparison) you would ask this question of their families, teachers, or school leaders rather than posting it on an internet blog.

    • parus says:

      As others have pointed out, I don’t think your small number of students is in any way suitable as a representative sample.

      That said, I do think there is merit in exploring the idea that a rigidly structured set of behavioral expectations and procedures, while an efficient way to run a program, may be counterproductive in teaching socially acceptable behaviors long-term, because it’s so dependent on the setting and enforcement. The (public, title 1) school I teach at actually made a conscious decision to flip the other way, and generally eschew proscriptive behavioral rules in favor of general values such as kindness, responsibility, cooperation, etc., which the students can express in their own ways, and in my opinion it’s been much more effective in eliciting the kinds of behaviors we as educators and community members want to see. I have a much more pleasant time working with the students, anyway.

  10. Libba says:

    Why does my question make you so angry? We have spoken to the families of the poorly behaved children many times.

    • Libba, I don’t think these replies are angry, maybe frustrated though. I think they are probing and thought provoking. Have you spoken with the students’ parents? Have you researched and read about how deep poverty affects students? If these are black students and you a white teacher, have you considered the cultural differences inherent in behavior between black and white people? I’m asking these things because those are the types of explorations you’ll need to make (in my opinion) if you want to really connect with these kids.

      I’m sorry you’re having problems with violence. That’s utterly intolerable, but children are violent for a reason. Keep exploring to see what you can find. Ask the student about why he/she is behaving the way he/she is. Talk with them one-on-one without judgment, without expectation, but with the spirit of seeking to understand. Don’t expect change right away, or that they’ll open up to you, but do keep plugging away at those 7 children. Talk with them. It may be that no one’s ever bothered to ask what’s going on.

  11. Janiebt says:

    Hi Gary!
    It appears that you deleted at one comment. That comment had a link for a video of Eric stating he was against the charter school takeover. Why is that missing?

    • Gary Rubinstein says:

      The person who wrote the comment asked for me to take it down. Also the video I think was taken off of youtube anyway.

  12. Janiebt says:

    Hi Gary!
    The video of Eric speaking against the charter takeover actually has NOT been removed.

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