IS 318's class president found himself in "a huge fiscal crisis" when the Brooklyn school's principal announced $1 million in cuts that would threaten the top-rated chess club's tournament travels.
Pobo Efekoro, now a student at Forest Hills High School in Queens, was juggling school, class presidency and a budget that was about to put the brakes on the IS 318 chess team, which had won more national championships than any other in the country -- and out of an inner city school populated by low-income students. The team was considered "the Yankees of chess." That was when documentary producer and director Katie Dellmaggiore sought to capture the story on film in "Brooklyn Castle."
Efekoro and Dellmaggiore appeared on The Daily Show together Thursday to tell parts of the story, shedding light on how IS 318's chess team illustrates the importance of extracurricular activities and education beyond the core four. Stewart took the opportunity to bring up issues with the federal No Child Left Behind law and emphasis on standardized testing.
"As a student, there's a program in this school that's clearly lighting up these children's hearts and minds and bringing out the absolute best in them and the first thing we do in that situation is say, 'Well that's the thing that has to go.'" Stewart says. "You're cutting the vital appendage, and spending all that money for the tests."
Filming the documentary allowed Dellmaggiore to see first hand how chess, and other non-core subjects, allowed teachers to educate and engage kids in a different way, she said. Efekoro added that his eighth grade teacher at the school was the best he'd ever had -- and there was no teaching to the test.
"The teachers work very hard, and for them to get targeted as being demonized as the problem for why our education is bad is absurd," Efekoro said. "The teachers are fabulous. And a lot of my teachers that I had, according to the city, they're bad. But the fact of the matter is, I love them."
New York City released, for the first time, in February a list of individual ratings of thousands of the city's schoolteachers -- a move that concluded a lengthy legal battle waged by the local teachers union and media. The Teacher Dat aReports rate more than 12,000 teachers who taught fourth through eighth grade English or math between 2007 and 2010 based on value-added analysis. Value-added analysis calculates a teacher's effectiveness in improving student performance on standardized tests -- based on past test scores. The forecasted figure is compared to the student's actual scores, and the difference is considered the "value added," or subtracted, by the teachers.
Controversy surrounding the release was widespread as tales surfaced of teachers who were perhaps unfairly rated poorly.
Forest Hills, where Efekoro now attends, has nearly 3,900 students, far above its intended capacity of 2,300 seats.
"And thats what's going on in the schools right now," Stewart says. "And you have these incredibly intelligent, passionate young people. What you guys are doing there is incredible, I give you all the respect in the world, it's tremendous."
Watch the full interview above.