At The Movies

An interesting (and fun) education film is hitting theaters today: The Providence Effect.Providence_Effect_Poster_080409

The story chronicles the experience of Providence St. Mel’s a Catholic school that on the verge of closing becomes an independent school and subsequently achieves phenomenal results for its students. You know the general storyline because it’s not unique to this school or this film: School struggles, school succeeds. They rarely make movies about schools that go the other way.

Still, a couple of things make The Providence Effect worth watching. For starters it’s just a well done film that tells a great story in an engaging way. Think “Dangerous Minds” with substance and about an entire school not a classroom.  It’s also another film you can place in the post-NCLB genre in terms of changing ways of thinking about education.  And, the school’s principal, Paul Adams, has great charisma and a personal story to match it.  That alone makes the film.

The Providence Effect is also a good reminder that the idea of ‘whatever it takes’ schools didn’t originate with the current crop of outstanding urban schools that garner headlines today. But, those schools are starting to take the idea to scale and impact the dialogue about public education today in powerful ways. For its part Providence St. Mel’s has spun off a charter school in Chicago.

In that way the film is also a sad reminder of the dysfunction of our field. You’d think that public school advocates would be pointing to the high performing charters as evidence that public schools can produce the same results – and again now at some scale – as schools like Providence St. Mel’s. Yet instead too many advocates tirelessly work to tear them down. It’s a destructive pathology.

On the heels of a speech where the Secretary of Education invoked MLK’s seminal Letter from Birmingham City Jail, The Providence Effect is a potent reminder of the urgency of the urban education challenge  but more importantly the hope for what can be done about it.

5 Replies to “At The Movies”

  1. Yes, I agree. We have some really excellent public schools in urban areas throughout the United States, but they don’t get the praise that they deserve. In my own city of Long Beach, there is Long Beach Poly that has sent many students, including my own sons, to Ivy League colleges. Of course there are many such schools in Boston, New York, San Francisco and many other cities. These great public schools have produced many successful Americans and form the cornerstone of our democracy. They do indeed deserve more recognition than they get. Some charters, a type of public school, do an excellent job also.

  2. It’s so sad that there are so many great teachers in the public school system who want to instill a love of learning in their students but are held back from doing so because of lack of funding. Schools are so focused on high standardized test scores that they have forced teachers to spend most of the school year “teaching the test” instead of nurturing their students to become independent thinkers and learners. Today’s educational landscape is one of confusion, pressure, and a large emphasis on money instead of learning.

  3. I do not have a wealth of experience with charter schools, but one thing that strikes me each time I hear about a successful charter is that it seems to have a least one glaring advantage over its public school counterparts. The advantage might be longer school days,smaller class sizes, filtered admissions, or the ability to remove students for lack of cooperation or performance. It seems as if we are comparing apples and oranges. I do , however, see them as a great proving ground for innovative approaches that should be attempted by the public system whenever it is pragmatic or reasonable to do so. More importantly, whenever one of these innovations does translate to success in a public system that does not have any of these advantages, it should be promoted and spread like wild fire throughout similar districts.

  4. I have not seen this movie yet but am definitely planning on it. What i think i am hearing is that this poorly performing school turned itself around but then became a charter school? I’m a bit confused ,but would like to hope that it not implying the only way to turn around a poorly performing school is to make it a charter school! I have taught in an urban distirct for 12 years and 10 of those were spent in a school that was on the top ten of the worst in the district. My school was filled with dedicated teachers who worked tirelessly to teach the children and show progress. BUT there were always obstacles in the way – NCLB, downtown administrators, and an unsupportive, far from knowledgeable principal(in fact 3 over the years). My school became known as the “dumping grounds” for unruly kids and burnt out teachers and adminstrators waiting for retirement. I believe there is no one answer to fix failing schools but instead, as we do with our instruction, looking at each school individually. Smaller classes of course is a major start! 27 kids with behavior and learning issues is overwhelming even for the best of us. I plan to see this movie then comment again. Maybe Hollywood knows something we don’t down here in the tenches of the real world of education!

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