Friday, October 4, 2013

Did you even read the book?

Okay, I admit it. There is the possibility that I am obsessed with the attention director M. Night Shyamalan is getting for his book on education reform. After all, I have been following the press tour for his book and even made a parody video of one of the interviews (see here).  But in my defense, the lack of scrutiny interviewers are giving his research is appalling. Take, for example, this recent exchange on Tavis Smiley's show.

Based on the questions Mr. Smiley asks, I am pretty sure he did not read the book. Neither have I, at least not all of it, but even I know Mr. Shyamalan's talking points by now. And I really wish someone would ask him some substantive follow-up questions.

What would I ask? To start with, ...

Welcome to Education Matters. My name is David Coffey and with me today is film director M. Night Shyamalan. But he's not here to talk movies. He wants to share what he found as he dug into the research on education - in particular, dealing with the achievement gap.

Good to have you here Mr. Shyamalan. So your book starts with an origin story that describes how you got interested in improving education. Will you share it with us? (The following comes directly from the transcript of the Travis Smiley interview.)
Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as a do-gooder. That’s really more my wife. I’m kind of just the obsessed guy who’s been writing and making movies since I was a little kid, just in a room and make it. 
So it sometimes has to hit me in the face for it to actually become personal, and it did. We were location scouting for a movie called “The Happening,” and I needed a high school.
I went to – we got out of the van and the whole crew came with me, and we were checking out a location at this beautiful high school in Philadelphia, and walked in.
The kids were all rushing over when I came in, “Oh my gosh, you’re making a movie here, can I die, can I die in your movie?” It was just so fun. We had a great time.
The teachers were out and there was such buoyancy and excitement, and it was just a great spirit. The school was wonderful. We got in the van and drove, like, four minutes, really hardly a distance, in Philadelphia – I shoot in Philly.
We got to a school where there was metal detectors and there was a guard there that didn’t want to be there, you could tell. We were literally treated like criminals as we walked in.
The kids were walking through the hallways with their heads down, they were looking. One kid looked at me, and in Philly, like, a lot of people know me, and the kid looked at me and he was like, thought for a second there was some recognition, and then he shook his head and kept going. Like there’s no way I could be in his school, right?
He kept on walking. In the other school, anything was possible. They immediately were like, “Oh, you’re making a movie? Can I be in your movie?” The classrooms in the second school were locked behind bars, and the janitor had to go get keys to open each and every door.
The top floor had been shut down because there was so much drug use. The theater had been burned down. It was that kind of situation. It was hopeless. I got upset being there, and I got upset for the kids.
I was feeling personally responsible for those kids. They’re in Philly, which is my hometown, so it started like that. What’s the difference? Are they doing things differently? Is that about income? What’s the difference there?
So I have to be honest, Mr. Shyamalan, I haven't read your book - at least not in its entirety. But I read the first chapter on the NPR website, and you seem to answer those questions early in the book. You write: 
"It's not apples to apples. Masterman is a magnet school, and a very selective one. Even to apply to Masterman, a fourth-grader — almost every student starts in the fifth grade, and continues to graduation — needs to test in the top 12 percent of all students in the city of Philadelphia." 
That seems to explain the difference but you never include this detail as you tell this origin story during interviews. Why not? And is it possible that the second school is suffering because some of the best students, and those with the most engaged parents and guardians, are going to Masteman, the magnet school?

I have some other questions but let's start there. Mr. Shyamalan, how do you view the siphoning off of students to magnets and charters as it relates to the achievement gap?

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