‘Blackboard Wars’ in New Orleans

Blackboard Wars, a six-part documentary on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network looks at the struggle to turn around New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School, which has been known for low performance, high dropout rates and violence. The Recovery School District consider closing the school, but instead gave control to Future is Now (FIN) Schools, a charter group run by Steve Barr, Green Dot‘s founder, who worked on the turnaround of Locke High in Los Angeles. Dr. Marvin Thompson took over as principal and  hired a new staff.

Some community members oppose turning “John Mc” over to “outsiders,” writes Dave Walker in a Times-Picayune review. Others complain the documentary too harsh.

The final minute of the premiere is a preview of the season to come. A student shooting. More fighting. More heat from community activists. Sobbing teachers. Future Is Now CEO Steve Barr saying, “Teachers are just getting their asses kicked.”

“I know what y’all are capable of,” Thompson says at a student assembly at the end of the premiere’s season-preview segment. “The question is, do you?”

The first episode aired Feb. 16 on OWN.

Yesterday, a teenager was shot at a bus stop near the school after a fight broke out between students.


Oprah to teach Life 101 in South Africa

Oprah Winfrey will teach a class dubbed “It’s Life 101” to high school girls in the South African school she founded four years ago.

She tells PopEater.com, “(It) should be fun since I love to teach. And they’re like sponges.”

Winfrey grew up in poverty and made herself a media mogul and multi-millionaire. I’m not sure South African girls — however bright and ambitious — have the same opportunities.

Oprah promotes ‘Superman’

Oprah Winfrey’s Sept. 20 show, a promo for Waiting for Superman, will feature filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, D.C. school chief (for now) Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and other education reformers.

Winfrey will give $1 million to six public school organizations that are succeeding in educating low-income and minority students.

Among the six is Aspire Public Schools, which calls itself California’s top-performing school system serving predominately low-income students. The charter group’s 25 schools average 824 on the state Academic Performance Index, exceeding California’s goal. All students in Aspire’s three graduating classes last year were accepted to four-year colleges or universities, with many being the first in their family to attend.

Waiting for Superman is getting incredible media coverage, no doubt because of Guggenheim’s Inconvenient Truth credentials.

In a rave review in New York Magazine, John Helleman writes:

“Superman” affectingly, movingly traces the stories of five children—all but one of them poor and black or Hispanic—and their parents as they seek to secure a decent education by gaining admission via lottery to high-performing charter schools. At the same time, the film is a withering indictment of the adults—in particular, those at the teachers unions—who have let the public-school system rot, and a paean to reformers such as Canada and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools, who has waged an epic campaign to overhaul the notoriously dysfunctional system over which she presides.

. . . “The movie is going to create a sense of outrage, and a sense of urgency,” says Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s secretary of Education. New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein concurs. “It’s gonna grab people much deeper than An Inconvenient Truth, because watching ice caps melt doesn’t have the human quality of watching these kids being denied something you know will change their lives,” Klein says. “It grabs at you. It should grab at you. Those kids are dying.”

Katie Couric also is a big fan of Superman.

Union leader Randi Weingarten is not.

Summit Public Schools, which operates the high-performing Summit Preparatory Charter High School and Everest Public High School in Redwood City, is one of the schools featured in Superman. Summit is trying to open two new high schools in East San Jose to meet demand from 900 parents, but the East Side Union High School District rejected one of the charters Thursday night on the basis that the schools are too similar. (Summit likes to keep its schools small.)