Making schools work

Before President Bush turned the phrase "No Child Left Behind" into law, many schools were already experimenting with how to reach struggling students. A new documentary called Making Schools Work (PBS, Oct. 5, 9-11 p.m. EDT), highlights successes from two decades' worth of such efforts. But instead of simply celebrating platitudes (how many times have you heard, "Every child can learn"?), it emphasizes the "work" part of its title.

In Chicago, we see a principal shedding his autocratic style to collaborate with teachers. A full-time social worker helps transform the environment from combative to calm. And, as the whole school engages in The Comer Process, a method developed by a psychologist to create discipline and a positive atmosphere for learning, academic achievement surges ahead.

The show takes viewers on a tour from rural Appalachia to urban San Diego. Along the way, we meet students whose path toward failure seems to be reversed just in time by key teachers who engage them. One Houston teen says that if his mother hadn't insisted he attend a charter school with high expectations, he'd probably be in lockup. The end of the tour drags a bit, but it's worth seeing what lessons communities learn as they come up against obstacles to reform.

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