With 2012 off to a strong start, we wanted to quickly look back on 2011 and showcase some of the production work that my organization, Learning Matters, did last year. Most of the time, these pieces appeared on PBS NewsHour, one of our primary content partners. Where noted, it was an original web piece for Learning Matters.
We look forward to a tremendous 2012 full of strides in education -- and reporting about them.
Closing The Vocabulary Gap In Chicago Preschools
Children raised in poverty typically enter kindergarten less prepared than their middle class peers and often never catch up. For these children -- who struggle year after year -- school can feel like a losing battle. More than one million students drop out every year. We visited Chicago this winter to see what educators are doing to stop the battle before it begins.
This aired on April 5 on PBS:
The Mooresville Tech Revolution
The town of Mooresville, North Carolina has a grand plan for its school district: three years ago, they began providing laptops to every student and teacher in grades 4-12 (over 5000 laptops in all). While computers have been around in schools for over two decades at this point, Mooresville is one of the only entirely digital districts in the United States.
The district superintendent, Mark Edwards, notes that this plan is a successful financial model, and one teacher, Bethany Smith, who claims she was "a dictator" before this tech revolution, now feels that her relationship with her student has more flexibility. Still, though, there are issues: will students remain on-task? Since the program must limit certain types of sites and information, is that a disservice to students? Can a school "divorcing" itself from textbooks actually thrive?
This aired on April 8 on PBS:
Last In, First Out In Hartford, CT
"I don't care how long someone has been in the classroom. I want results."
That's the view of one principal in Hartford, CT, where Learning Matters producers John Tulenko and Audrey Baker traveled recently to investigate the many sides of 'last in, first out' (LIFO), a method of teacher retention in many states. The issue is heated, requires its own vocabulary (do you know what 'bumping' is?), and has very serious financial implications -- Hartford, for example, is trying to cut $17 million from the budget.
Hartford elementary school principal Gerald Martin hired a fifth-grade teacher last year after a quickly arranged Friday afternoon interview. She impressed him, got the job, and has delivered: her class posted the highest number of increased test scores in the first quarter among all classes in grades 3-5. But eventually, Martin realized he had to fire two teachers -- and his new star would be one of them.
"Finally I've got someone who's working out really well," he says. "It breaks my professional heart."
This aired on May 9 on PBS:
The Eco Fashion Show
At the High School for Health Professions in New York City, the ECO Club recently put on a fashion show -- with a twist (tie), though. All the materials were things you can find at home. So, as the participants learned about bigger issues -- such as sustainability and how their generation can give back -- they were also wearing newspaper miniskirts and garbage bag blouses.
This debuted on May 23 on Learning Matters' website:
Good School, Bad School
How do you judge if a school is good or bad? A strong leader, great teachers, a diverse curriculum and happy children can all be indicators that a school is good -- but when state and federal policymakers evaluate schools, they typically consider just one piece of evidence: test scores.
But are test scores a reliable measure of success? We went to the South Bronx to find out.
This aired on June 6 on PBS:
Empathy 101: A Refugee Curriculum In The South Bronx
For many high school students, the struggles of others are often distant problems. In urban inner-city schools, where students have tough home situations and little exposure to the outside world, this is particularly the case. But at Banana Kelly High School in the South Bronx, high school teacher Lauren Fardig aims to change that.
Producer John Tulenko went to Banana Kelly -- situated in the poorest Congressional district in America -- to film a piece on a remarkable curriculum developed by the Morningside Center. These ninth grade students went through several phases of activities related to refugees, discovering important life lessons in the process.
This aired on June 20 on PBS:
The Effects Of Cheating In Atlanta
The cheating scandal in Atlanta schools has been a black mark on American education -- but when we speak about it, we often focus on administrators, principals, and teachers. What about the students whose scores were falsified, and their families? How do they feel? And with the chances that cheating is more widespread than we think, where is the system headed next?
This aired on August 8 on PBS:
Budget Cuts In Central PA
Mifflin County, PA, like small rural districts across the nation, faced big budget cuts this year. A 12% cut in state funding, combined with a declining enrollment, drove the district to close 5 of its 13 schools, lay off 11% of its staff, and reduce course offerings across the district. Classes have increased by 7-10 students, teachers say they're overwhelmed, and students are feeling underprepared. Is this small rural district in central PA the tip of the iceberg?
This aired on October 11 on PBS:
Shopping For Schools In Indiana
As consumers, we're used to choices -- Mac or PC? Toyota Prius or Ford Fusion? Nike or Adidas? Competition is said to produce better products and services. Traditionally, public schools have enjoyed a monopoly -- you have no other choice -- unless you happen to live in a place like Indiana. The Hoosier state has done more than any other to give parents alternatives to their neighborhood school, including private religious schools, online schools, and charters. And like businesses, these schools must attract students and their state dollars or they will close.
This aired on November 9 on PBS:
The American Teacher Quiz
Teachers are widely recognized as the backbone of education, but how much do you really know about the people who are in the classroom with our children everyday? Sharpen your No. 2 pencils and get ready to find out how much you know about one of the largest professions in the U.S.
This debuted on November 30 on the Learning Matters website: