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