A couple of education-related documentaries have been making the rounds lately in our area.
This past Sunday, I watched "Race to Nowhere" at a screening at Lynnwood's Soundview School. "Race to Nowhere" is a compelling documentary that focuses on students pushed to the brink by standardized testing and an increasing amount of homework. It shares the stories of several teenagers who are burned out by the demands of school, focusing primarily on one teenager, Devon Martin, who committed suicide after getting less than an "A" on a math test.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children 15-to-19 years old. The department also reports that one in five children in middle and high school having contemplated killing themselves.
Nationwide, studies have shown that 15-percent of kids in public and private high schools have seriously considered suicide, 11-percent have gone so far as creating a suicide plan and 7-percent have reported having tried to take their own life in the past year.
"Race to Nowhere" asserts that the increasing demands of the public education system are partly to blame.The film cites statistics indicating the amount of homework children get has tripled in the last thirty years. It also suggests international comparisons and the push for children to get into the "good schools" puts them in a position where they are over tested and over scheduled.
I was lucky enough to watch the film along with Carl Chew, the former Seattle School District teacher who was suspended for refusing to make his students take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam (WASL). He took lawmakers to task, who were also at the screening, for not doing more to change the system. (As an aside, Chew resigned from Seattle Schools last year and is now perfecting his craft as an artist.)
The other documentary making the rounds is "The Cartel," a movie that the filmmakers say details the many failures of the U.S. education system and the growing frustration of communities that want to enact change.
Director Bob Bowdin suggests that behind every dropout factory school lies a self-serving cartel of policymakers, education officials, so-called reformers and intellectuals who give the perception of wanting change but are actually supporters of the status quo.
"The Cartel" seeks to tell the real story behind some education statistics - though some of the numbers presented in the film are a bit off. For instance, in one segment Bowdin's calculations of per pupil expenditures are related as being per classroom rather than school-wide.
In thinking about statistics, I went back to the Seattle School District's School Reports and spent several hours examining per-pupil expenditures at the elementary level. I was surprised to learn that per-pupil expenditures are not the same at every school and appear to have very little correlation with test results.
I hope to have more on that in an upcoming blog; I am waiting for a response from Seattle Schools.