HBO goes to high school

School is out but you can visit a struggling Baltimore high school in HBO’s Hard Times at Douglass High, subtitled “a No Child Left Behind Report Card.” At Thurgood Marshall’s alma mater, ninth graders come in four or five years below grade level; half drop out by the end of the first year. In this clip, a college counselor says only one student in the whole school broke 1000 on the SATs (with 1600 maximum); the low score was 440.

Eventually, Douglass fails to make the adequate yearly progress required by the No Child Left Behind Act and the city and state wrestle for control of the school.

These kids were failing in elementary school, before NCLB was passed. The solutions have to start long before high school.

Also on HBO, Resolved highlights debaters from urban schools. Here’s a clip from the documentary.

The Urban Debate League is hot right now. (Despite its woes, Douglass High has a successful debate squad.) I recommend Joe Miller’s Cross X on great debaters at a failing school. My book, Our School, features Downtown College Prep’s Mock Trial team, which lost with pride.

Update: Liam Julian concludes that Douglass High’s principal and teachers are kindly, devoted and not up to the challenges of teaching very difficult students. The New York Times review of Hard Times is here.

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  1. Eric Jablow says:

    I thought the maximum SAT score was now 2400.

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    The max score is now 2400, but a lot of people still report only the Math + Reading Comprehension, because a lot of schools don’t even look at the Writing part.

  3. The maximum score used to be 1600, I think, and when the test was revised the number was raised.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    The old SAT used to have two parts, Math and Verbal. Possible scores on each part went from 200 to 800, so the combined score went from 400 to 1600.

    The new SAT has three parts, Math, Reading Comprehension (similar to the old Verbal part) and Writing. Each is scored from 200 to 800, so the combined score goes from 600 to 2400.

    However, lots of colleges pay no attention to the new Writing part. They still look at only Math and Reading Comprehension (nee Verbal) scores. Therefore, students often report their Math + Reading score.

    A 440 Math plus Reading is a truly abysmal score. A bright eight year old could do better. In fact, because wrong answers are penalized, a student who answered no questions at all would probably do better than 440. Even answering one question, and answering it wrong, would most likely get a better combined score than 440.

  5. I’m sure the teacher was talking about students getting 440 or over 1000 out of 1600.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    I’m sure the teacher was talking about students getting 440 or over 1000 out of 1600.

    He had to be, because 440 is not a possible score on the 2400 scale. The lowest possible score would be 200 Math, 200 Reading, 200 Writing for a total of 600.

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    I watched this program last night. Incredibly depressing. At Douglass High 1 student passed the algebra proficiency exam. The attrition rate is more than 50%. The freshman class was around 500 students, the graduating senior class was 200. It was apparent from interviews with the English teacher and a senior counselor that a good portion of the senior class really didn’t qualify for graduation, either. They pass them along, what else can they do? According to the head of the “English” department, of the 500 entering freshman only 3 or 4 read on grade level, most read on about a 5th grade level.

    All but a handful of these kids need an immediate and continuing focus on basic skills; reading, writing, arithmatic and vocational skills training. Algebra and chemistry are a complete waste of time.

    They would be doing these kids a tremendous favor if when they entered as freshman they treated them academically as 5th graders. What a mess.