Much was made of the Bush No Child Left Behind initiative, on the outside it looked great, every school child would benefit, and as a result America would once more be an education leader. Smarter school kids equals a smarter workforce, which makes us a stronger and more competitive country. Alas ideology does not equal reality.

Film makers Alan and Susan Raymond spent an entire year following the happenings at the Frederick Douglas High School in Baltimore. This is a school with a rich history and among it’s alumni are Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Alas Frederick Marshal is in the educational war zone. It is very much the epitome of the inner city school. There are a high proportion of minority students who are for the most part apathetic to learning. Overcrowded class rooms do not help, and the shortage of teachers nationwide make it very difficult to attract qualified and gifted educators.

One of the aspects of No Child Left Behind that sticks in my craw was that the Bush administration used the stick rather than the carrot. If schools did not perform satisfactorily the school faced punishment in the form of funding sanctions or even being closed down. A better approach would have been to offer help, ‘How can we help you?”. Underfunded inner city schools need help not punishment.

A shocking statistic presented in this documentary comes from the head of the English Department, when a reading test was given to 3 or 4 hundred ninth grade students only 3 or 4 passed at grade level, the vast majority were at least three grade levels behind.

During the standardized Maryland testing only 10% of the students passed English, and 1% passed algebra. Even worse, at Douglas the drop out rate runs at 50% in the ninth grade.

Douglas is not a write off, it has a very productive arts and media program. But, these are not subjects that carry much weight with the Feds.

I find it sad that our education system have sunk so low, I am also annoyed that No Child Left Behind, has indeed done nothing for the school areas that really need help.

Being a reviewer I tend not to show preference, I watch or listen and just write my review. This however is a subject that gets under my skin. It is inexcusable, it is stupid, and it is grossly unfair to the children of our country.

It is easy to blame the teachers, but there are many other factors involved, not least of all the parents. But apathetic parents make poor role models.

Argh! I am getting grumpy, so I will shut up. If you want a really eye opening experience catch Hard Times At Douglas High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card on HBO on Monday June/23 at 9pm.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

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