A random confluence of events can sometimes be clarifying. That happened to me one day last week. What got clarified was why U.S. kids aren't learning enough.
The morning brought fresh evidence that they're not: the 2000 NAEP math results. As you have read elsewhere (and can read below), while NAEP showed some gains (in grades 4 and 8, not 12), overall scores remain lamentable. The number of "proficient" youngsters is way too low while the proportion "below basic" is far too large. Although black and Hispanic students gained, for the country as a whole the majority-minority gaps actually widened. Once again, it's starkly clear that, if we're serious about leaving no child behind, urgent and profound changes must be made, above all by focusing schools more tightly on fundamental skills and knowledge in key subjects.
The same evening, I gained an insight into why that's not happening. The event was a VIP preview screening of a new documentary that PBS will air in early September. Entitled "The First Year," and produced by up-and-coming young filmmaker Davis Guggenheim with funding from the Getty Foundation, this 80 minute show-which is already beginning to elicit adulatory reviews-profiles five young teachers during their first classroom year in inner city Los Angeles schools.
The quintet is appealing, earnest, ardent, compassionate, sometimes heroic and generally noble. The well-wrought, skillfully edited film does a fine job of picturing many of the challenges that face a young teacher during his/her novice year on the job.