I haven't blogged a good deal recently on Huffington Post, so first off, thanks to those of you who've written me about the McGraw Prize in Education. I was actually struck speechless when I got the call, because I knew that no journalist had ever received the award. My brilliant wife persuaded me that we should make the celebration a family reunion, using the prize money as needed, and we did: 14 family members, including all but one of our children and all but one of my siblings, came from Barcelona, Texas, Kentucky, Florida and so on for a glorious two-day celebration in mid-October.
However, I have a second motive for writing. I want to offer you the opportunity to be a part of history. You may, if you choose, help us finish an important and compelling film, the story of what has happened to public education in the seven years since Katrina and the flooding destroyed much of New Orleans. Wynton Marsalis loves the film so much that he has given us his music, and I think you will love it too once you watch the trailer, which is embedded above.
When I began reporting just weeks after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I had no idea that such a remarkable story would emerge. In the seven years since the devastation, the city's public schools have been transformed -- from a failing system where not even one-third of 8th graders in New Orleans could pass a state reading test, to a school district composed mostly of charter schools that outpaces every other district in Louisiana.
Our documentary, "REBIRTH: New Orleans," draws upon years of reporting to weave the stories of students, teachers, parents, education leaders, activists and critics into a human saga of what happened when a city's education system was turned upside down. We've edited six years of video into a compelling 1-hour film.
"REBIRTH: New Orleans" introduces viewers to people they will quickly grow to care about, particularly two students: Will Brittne Jackson, the 19-year-old senior, be able to pass the state graduation test, the one she has failed multiple times, now that a dedicated Teach for America teacher is pushing and pulling her? Will Bobby Calvin, an engaging high school junior, be able to adapt to his charter school's incredibly rigid discipline code , or will the young principal adjust his own world view?.
I have no doubt that, when you watch REBIRTH: New Orleans, you are going to fall in love with some of the people (particularly the kids) in the film. You may find yourself rooting for the young principal of a charter high school, hoping that he will see the light. Or you'll be crossing your fingers that Daniel, Kady and Colleston, the three young teachers from Teach for America, will not only survive -- but prosper.
Who knows: you might find yourself yelling at the screen because you empathize with the frustration of a parent with a special needs child, or cheering with the mom of a KIPP student who finally gets it.
But it's my bet that Bobby and Brittne will grab your heartstrings. When you meet Bobby, an engaging young man with a smile that lights up the room, he's on the verge of being suspended or expelled from New Orleans' top performing charter high school. He can't seem to get with the program, meaning he's always violating the school's very strict dress code(socks must match!) and code of behavior. The school's principal brings in a 'tough love' team to try to help the kids adapt, but you may find yourself hoping the principal will change his ways instead!
The resolutions to those stories - and more - are in the film, but I won't spoil the ending.
This is the most important story I have ever covered, and I've been at this game for 35 years. It's a fascinating story about community, leadership and educational access that has national significance. The city is 80% on its way to becoming the nation's first all charter school district; that's a development that could change our country's public education system as we know it. New Orleans set high standards from day one, and it has closed down six charter schools that didn't live up to their promises.
Other districts could emulate New Orleans, but--spoiler alert--not simply by adopting charter schools. What New Orleans did was commit to a set of virtues that will be familiar to everyone who knows and loves our "small college": high standards, integrity, hard work, time, resources and more.
You may know that Learning Matters is a non-profit company. That means we still need finishing funds to complete the film. We've set up a Kickstarter project to raise the $50,000 we need. We're 65% of the way to our goal and would appreciate your help. Joining our team not only provides tangible rewards - from DVDs to exclusive screenings - but also will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you've helped produce this important story.
But Kickstarter plays by tough rules: if we don't make it all the way to our goal of $50,000, we do not get a dime! We have two weeks to raise the remaining $18,000 and change.
Please click to learn more about the film and the context. Making a tax-deductible contribution is a simple one-two-three process, and thanks.