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'Two Million Minutes,' in a Couple Paragraphs

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I've been backlogged with a couple assignments recently, so I didn't have time to give my impressions of "Two Million Minutes: A 21st Century Solution," a film that debuted in Washington late last week. I attended the premiere. The crowd included a lot of business representatives and education-policy types, though the big-ticket draws were probably the Rev. Al Sharpton and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The unlikely duo have moving through the talk-show and public-appearance circuit, talking about the need to improve American schools, among other things. They came in support of the documentary, which is a sequel to a similarly themed 2007 film.Earth_NASA.jpg

Both men addressed the audience after the showing, and they directed some good-natured jabs at the other. Said Sharpton, while musing about politics making strange bedfellows: "When you roll over on the bed one morning and Newt's on the other side of you, it can be a little traumatic."

In the spirit of journalistic objectivity (I reported on the film's release last week), I'll refrain from writing a review. I'll just make some general observations, and invite the comments of others who've seen the film, or its predecessor.

Like the first "Two Million Minutes," the film makes the argument that U.S. students are performing at a mediocre level, at best, in math and science, and that this cannot stand, given the growing economic and educational might of nations like China and India. Unlike the earlier film, this one makes that case through a profile of a single school—BASIS Tucson, a charter school in Arizona—and scaffolds out from there. BASIS is depicted as a high-performing, pioneering school that has succeeded despite initial community opposition and relatively meager state financial support, which caused all sorts of problems for the founders in the beginning and creates continued budgetary woes to this day. The kids at BASIS are not math-and-science drones. They're presented as smart and engaged—with interests ranging from dance and roller derby to art and fire-juggling (I kid you not). One key difference in the school's approach appears to be that very advanced concepts in math and science and other subjects are integrated as far back as middle school. (The school serves grades 5-12.) The curriculum is demanding; the filmmakers interview students who struggled to keep up after arriving from lesser schools, but who eventually made it.

The film features interviews with the recently retired chairman of Intel, Craig Barrett, and former Arizona schools superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, both of whom argue that the current educational system is not cutting it. It also includes some direct and indirect jabs and teachers' unions and teachers' colleges; at one point a narrator refers to the education "bureaucrats" who "keep our children locked in the 20th Century."

In one segment, Barrett, who has a Ph.D. in materials science, and who and taught at Stanford University for 10 years, remarks that he wouldn't be allowed to teach in a California public school without going back and picking up certification. Keegan, who was also an adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, praises Teach for America. One of the BASIS school's founders talks about how she rewards teachers not only with financial incentives for student performance on AP tests, but also with the promise that they'll be given autonomy in the classroom. She praises the College Board for creating a "community of Advanced Placement teachers," held to similarly high standards.

I suspect that reaction to "Two Million Minutes" will depend on viewers' willingness to buy a premise. Actually, two of them: 1) That the United States' education system is falling behind those of high-performing nations (not everyone buys that argument); and 2) that the story of what ails the United States' schools, and the answer to how they can be improved, can be told through the story of a single school. The filmmakers obviously believe it can. Here's a school, as they present it, that through determination and a willingness to fight through the constraints of the public school establishment, produces some of the world's best K-12 students.

Other viewers could be more skeptical. For instance, I wonder about the reaction from principals and teachers at other top-notch public schools, whose curricular approach, teacher corp, and governance is much different than the Arizona charter's. They might read the message in the film's trailer—"The world has outpaced us, and the solution is right here in America"—and respond: "The solution is in America. And not only at BASIS Charter."

There are probably plenty of EdWeek readers who will be sitting through showings of "Two Million Minutes" at schools, colleges, and other settings in the weeks and months ahead. Here's an invitation for them to play film critic, on this blog.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

20 Comments

After so many non-partisan, Blue Ribbon Commissions and published reports on how far American students are behind their global peers by 8th grade, I’m amazed that serious, intelligent, caring American adults believe our school children are among the best educated in the world.

President Obama, Secretary Duncan and hundreds of leaders in industry, government, education and philanthropy have looked at the data and concluded our kids are behind.

After reports such as "A Nation At Risk" or "Before Its Too Late" or "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" or "Is America Falling Flat" or "Benchmarking For Success" – to name only a few – it seems inconceivable anyone with an honest heart and a love of children could say US kids receive a world-class education.

But, you are correct, if one thinks that US public schools are the global gold standard, there is no need to watch “Two Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution.”

Regarding the second premise - that the story of a single school answers all of what ails American education. Of course not.

There are hundreds of excellent schools around the country, but to have made a film about all of them would have resulted in hundreds of hours of video to watch.

By focusing on the Tucson BASIS charter school, I was attempting to illustrate larger patterns of excellence:

1 - what a world-class curriculum looks like in a US high school,

2- the value of teachers with advanced degrees in the subject they teach,

3- the ability to start a world-standard school without Foundation or corporate capital,

4- the viability of delivering an excellent education on $6,500 per student per year

5- that a globally competitive education is desired by US students of all economic means

6- that a fabulous education, 3-4 years ahead of most US high schools, can be achieved in 180 days,

7- that "pay for performance" is a motivating reward.

Are there other examples of some or all of these characteristics elsewhere in the US. Of course.

Secretary Duncan has stated "Charters are supposed to be laboratories of innovation that we can all learn from." I felt BASIS offered the broadest array of lessons possible in a single school, for a one hour documentary.


Bob Compton
Executive Producer
Two Million Minutes

Where can one see this film?. Can you publish venues and dates where the film will be shown?

Thank you,

L Alcott

http://2mminutes.com/

You can see everything here - trailers of the films, upcoming screenings, blog posts from creator, etc.

The next screening is in Memphis, TN tomorrow. (followed by screenings in Indiana, Arizona, TX, MO, IL, CA...)

I'm looking forward to seeing this film - (I've already ordered a DVD copy). The first one was eye-opening to say the least, though I already had my concerns about the American educational system.

My daughter attended BASIS Scottsdale for a time and it was what I thought a school should be - in most ways. Math and Science were very important, but they also had English, Latin, Ancient History, Geography, Art and Music as well as P.E. They also offered numerous extra-curricular activities - more than her previous private school had.

The school was tough (and personally I don't think school should be a cake-walk), however, I think some of the work was overboard. It may have just been some of the particular teachers that year, I'm not sure.

This school (BASIS Scottsdale/Tucson) is a fantastic choice for some families and I still believe in their idea, even if it didn't work for us. We left for personal reasons, not related to the school itself. I'm hoping that this film will finally open some eyes to other educational possibilities - especially here in Arizona!

The first "2 Million Minutes" was a wonderful video because the message it really conveyed was precisely THE OPPOSITE of what it intended.

The American kids had options. The Chinese and Indian kids did not. The American kids were engaged in extracurricular activities that develop precisely the kinds of "soft skills" that employers value. It's no wonder that in its study of 9 occupations--including engineering--McKenzie concluded that 9 out of 10 college graduates in China would be too incompetent to be hired by multinational firms. I kept wanting to yell out at the Chinese and Indian kids, "Get a life!"

The American view of high school has for a long time included dating, cars,jobs, etc. It's in college that students should put it in high gear (and the principal at Carmel High tells me they have).

What I would like to see is a long-term follow up of the kids in the original. That none of the Indian or Chinese kids got the programs they wanted had to be a terrible disappointment for them and a loss of face for them and their families.

Oh, and just for point of comparison, a recent publication from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that, as measured by its Program for International Student Assessment, the U. S. has 25% of the highest scoring students IN THE ENTIRE WORLD--at least in the world as defined by the 60-odd nations that take part in PISA.

Jerry Bracey


Mr. Compton is yet another in a long line of hysterics screaming that the sky is falling. I suppose that the lack of millions of Americans rushing to emigrate elsewhere and the continuing, ceaseless stream of non-Americans coming here for, amongst other things, our public education system, hasn't struck him yet.

As usual, comparing apples to giraffes can produce just about any message one wishes. Doing an objective, well-designed study of apples to apples in international education just doesn't seem to be of much interest to propagandists, however (and as Mr. Bracey's work has repeatedly shown, the positive news that emerges from many of the existing comparative tests showing that Americans are in fact doing quite well, just doesn't seem sexy enough for our media). If Mr. Compton released a movie showing that US students were, on balance, doing quite well and improving within ethnic groups, even as the changing composition of our population is over the short haul lowering the overall averages at the same time (Simpson's paradox, as statistical fact of which I'm sure most education reporters and critics are either ignorant or in denial), he wouldn't get much attention in the press. But scream that American public schools are lousy and the country beats a path to your door. Who cares if what's being screamed actually is true or makes any sense.

That Mr. Compton wants us to accept that it's "common sense" that our schools are collapsing and failing, that we're "losing the competition" to swarms of Asians who will soon bury us in the ruins of our economy, and other myths, is a sure sign of a fellow with an agenda. It's not a new agenda, however, and the "facts" that support it just don't stand up to much scrutiny. As usual. See, in this regard, Gerald Bracey's EDUCATION HELL: RHETORIC VS. REALITY for a healthy antidote to the nonsense of TWO MILLION MINUTES and Robert Compton, et al.

I wonder if Mr. Compton has studied PISA data or considered recommendations based on evaluations of this information, as suggested by Mr. Bracey. The headline story in the most recent newspaper edition of Education Week noted yet another "Blue Ribbon" panel calling for "nothing short of a 'literacy revolution,'" to engage adolescents as readers. We wouldn't have needed that panel if Secretary Duncan had studied those PISA results!

This latest call to action is really late for this generation of readers. Sadly the best the Carnegie panel can offer is expanding on more of the same. The reality is that our newest middle and high school readers are graduates of 7 years of NCLB & Reading First. They will represent the least motivated and least engaged adolescents our nation has ever sent to high school. The "explicit" instruction the panel calls for didn't help second grade readers in Reading First schools, and actually reduced the amount of time they actually spent reading. (Can we talk engagement?) These new high school students believe that reading engagement means word calling, "fluency" based completely on reading rate & listening to teachers talk about strategies,

Probably even more meaningless than citing unnamed "Blue Ribbon Commissions" and "published reports" was Compton's quote from Mr. Duncan, hardly the agent for change that President Obama promised. It won't be standards, curriculum guides, and more data that will save our adolescents. Mr. Duncan continues to allow special education departments to take over where Reading First failed so many of our readers, with RtI & "fidelity" to core programs for which there is no research to support their use. No. It's not a new agenda-just new players.

Whether we label it hysteria or not, it can't hurt to focus more closely on the quality of education in the U.S. The University professors know the numbers and the facts are clear that we are graduating fewer and fewer computer scientists and the like. Bill Gates spoke at Stanford not long ago and lamented the fact. The CEO of Intel laments the increasing lack of workers and the need to go to China, Russia, and India.

I'm less concerned about the hysteria because it causes us to examine more closely what we are doing. What I "AM" concerned about is the number of people who are complacent with the status quo. America was not founded by the complacent. America was not built by the complacent. But America could certainly degrade due to complacency.

http://fora.tv/2008/06/30/Craig_Barrett_Technology_the_Human_Impact_2_of_2

Thursday evening here in Tucson I viewed a premier screening of the brand new film, 2 Million Minutes: the 21st century Solution. Now, I am here to report that it is a poor and disappointing film, and inappropriately singles out one charter school program as “the solution,” without making an effective educationally grounded case for that school’s qualities. This is a quickie, uninformed, film which does not reflect or convey a good understanding of teaching, learning, or contemporary best practice in 21st century education. It is more a piece of propaganda and political advocacy than it is a film about, truly or deeply, teaching and learning.

I want to be careful here in my review to say that I am not seeking to criticize the subject school, BASIS, though I am, sharply, criticizing the film and film-maker who calls BASIS the best school in the world. While I have a number of questions about BASIS, I admire its founders the Blocks, I commend them for their valiant efforts and outstanding successes in some quarters, and I am glad that BASIS offers Arizona families an additional, valuable educational option and alternative. But I think the film that praises it does not serve it well; I think the film that praises it does not capture or convey any important insight about contemporary and/or effective teaching and learning.
Much of the film make various broad, political points about US education: 1- in the 25 years since A Nation at Risk was published, US education has continued to decline. 2. It is important to improving student learning in this fast-changing era, and to better prepare our kids for global competition. 3. Charter schools face opposition from many and varied quarters, but we, the US, should make fast changes to make easier charter school operations. 4. The teacher unions, and “educational bureaucrats,” have a stranglehold over educational reform and must be overthrown in order to make advances. I suppose I agree with all these points, very generally, although there are many, many nuances I would think are important about each of this assertions that this, un-nuanced film, mostly misses.

2Million Minutes also spends quite some time lionizing the founders of BASIS, and I am not complaining about this. Michael and Olga Block have, to their credit, given their life to starting and lifting up this school, and fairly swiftly have taken it from nothing to the tip-top of the Newsweek 100 best high schools list. Yes, that is an outstanding achievement, and huzzahs to them. I do not think it is indicative of the school’s being “the 21st century solution,” but it is in itself a great thing. I salute them, and think they deserve praise.

But this 55 minute film, after covering all the ground outlined above, plus a good five-plus minutes of showing gorgeous landscape photography of Tucson, doesn’t have much time left for what this blogger thinks is the most important thing: what is the teaching and learning here that is so great?

The film’s few claims for the excellence of teaching and learning are generic, vague, contradictory, and unsubstantiated. It is said that students do better when we have very high expectations of them. I think this is true, and I think it is true that some schools, sometimes, make the mistake of expecting too little . But I think that there are many, many, many schools that do not make this mistake, and simply saying that it is important to have high expectations doesn’t offer a whole lot of information about the practice of holding high expectations.

BASIS is praised for its decision to hire only great teachers. Well, this is very nice, but it is hard to find schools that don’t share this commitment. The movie does next to nothing to clarify either what is meant by great teachers, or by what particular and specific means they hire them, rendering this advice rather empty.

One specificity is offered: they hire teachers without regard for their holding teaching credentials, and they hire subject experts, usually MA and Ph.D. holders. This is good; this is actually saying something, which in this film of generalities I appreciate. This is also something Intel’s Craig Barret makes a big point of, expressing his disbelief and irritation that he, as a Ph.D. in Physics with ten year’s teaching at Stanford, could not teach in a public school. This is an important point, that we should not be restrictive in who can be employed to teach, and those of us in independent education strongly agree with this argument. I have myself made this case, many, many times. But I also know that to simply assert that better teaching will come from teachers with subject expertise can be a bit naive, and in an age when we need to be more intentional than ever about how and what we teach, it does not offer great value to the world to say that the 21st century solution will be found when we simply require subject expertise in our faculties.

Two other points are made about teachers. First, it is said that they are given, at BASIS, great autonomy and room for creativity. My own opinion is that autonomy is easy to claim but varies widely in the details; I prefer to say our teachers are given professional latitude, myself, because I think we as educational leaders have an obligation to coordinate and hold accountable our teachers in a way that true autonomy would not allow for. I would also point out that this is a school that swears a great allegiance to the AP program of the College Board; it is my belief that most excellent teachers believe that it is impossible to reconcile true teaching autonomy within an AP curriculum. So to say that the school is excellent for its provision of teaching autonomy is both a vague abstraction and a fierce contradiction to what is said in other parts of the movie, a mistake that a film-maker more informed about education than Bob Compton would not have made.

The second detail (there were so few) about teaching excellence at the school was the report that teachers are rewarded with bonus dollars, ($100 for a 5, $50 for a 4) for student success on the AP. I don’t know what to say here. It strikes me as crude and a bit demeaning to do this, and I will point out that Dan Pink is launching a new book with the argument that although you can effectively extrinsically reward conventional, inside the box thinking tasks, you cannot effectively extrinsically reward higher order thinking tasks. I don’t think this kind of rewarding performance is reflective of contemporary best thinking in education, but I acknowledge there may be others of different ideologies who might think this is the cat’s meow.

Now, onto what little the film says about learning. The school’s claim to excellence rests almost entirely on its record of AP exam success. The only moment in the film when a BASIS educator refers to an external frame of reference is when Olga Block sings the praises of the College Board and its AP exams. The school’s national claim to fame is its success on the Newsweek 100 best high school list, which is a formula driven ranking based solely on proportion of students taking the AP test. (and IB, which I think is much better, but this film is only about AP). In the brief moments discussing the details of the educational program at BASIS, (there is so little of this essential topic in the film!), the one thing we really learn is that students begin taking AP courses in the 9th grade, and that often they take one year AP courses over two years. This is a school, the film reports, that has hung its hat on the AP– in an era when a very wide array of leading contemporary educational thinkers are sharply critiquing the AP as not reflecting contemporary evidence based best practices, and not supporting 21st century learning. Ironically even the College Board has recognized the AP needs to change to better meet 21st century learning demands. If the film had been entitled BASIS: the AP powerhouse, I would be fine with this. But not the 21st century solution.

It also should be pointed out that the film, after saying that its 9th graders begin taking AP courses, says nothing about what happens in the classroom to make that work. One commentator says it is hard to motivate students to do this challenging work (a teacher says in the film that “some think we are torturing the kids”), and then the film reports that it just happens. We learn it is hard to come into school after 8th grade, and that the middle school preparation helps, which is a little bit of information, but not much. We are told that the students have a lot of homework, but there is no discussion or explanation of how much homework they have, or what the trade-offs of this homework is. We are told that the English curriculum focuses especially on grammar (and a student is depicted diagramming a sentence), but we are given no understanding of why this is valuable, or why it would be especially a 21st century solution (this blogger does not think that especially close attention to grammar is an especially 21st century teaching technique). Similarly in Math there is mention of close attention to mathematical notation, when I would have been more intrigued by real-world mathematical problem-solving as being a topic of interest in a what is being described as a 21st century school.

There are a few short glimpses of classes in session, but we are told so little. Do they have a block schedule or a traditional schedule? How much do teachers lecture? How much time, and how much attention, is given to active student engagement and learning by doing? We are told and shown nothing of this. We know students have to take the AP exams, but not whether they do independent research papers, and of what length and rigor, nor whether they do oral reports, presentations, or other demonstrations of learning mastery. Nothing , other than the AP, is told to us about the assessment tools employed, or how assessment drives curriculum, as contemporary educators know it must. Had an educator made this film, these are the things about teaching and learning we would have learned about. Had someone made a film about High Tech High or NTHS, we would have learned about these things, I believe, because these are the things the educators who lead those schools think about and talk about, and you could not easily overlook these topics.

There is, to the film’s credit, a moment when a student in a physics lab shares a cool scientific tool he is using, and explains that he has this opportunity to pursue his intellectual interest. I like this, I am glad for this, and yet, I will tell you, it feels bit perfunctory; it feels as if they are saying it because they know it ought to be said. But maybe I am being too harsh.

The other perfunctory-feeling moment was when BASIS students were asked whether they had interests other than academics, and, well, methinks perhaps they doth protest too much. It is great to see the kids talk about their interests in fire-breathing, in roller derby, in music. I am gladdened by this, and I think this is so important. But there is no explanation about how much or even whether this happens at school, and it simply overlooks the question of how the challenging (torturous) “AP in 9th grade” homework-load might compromise this opportunity for students to broaden their development. It employs what by now is the film’s familiar rhetorical trope- “some might say that we couldn’t also do sports or music in this school setting, but guess what, we can.” I don’t find this very thoughtful, informed, or persuasive.

There is no reason to be especially surprised at the film’s disappointment. Bob Compton, the 2 Million Minutes film-maker, is not an educator, he is an activist. These are not films about teaching and learning; they are films claiming that the sky is falling, that China is overtaking us, and that only if we teach a hard-core, accelerated, developmentally inappropriate, whole child depriving, content mastery but skills deprived curriculum of the type that, to some extent, the AP exemplifies, will we hold off the Chinese hordes. I don’t know whether this statement is an accurate description of BASIS, I hope it is not, but Compton, I believe, has not done justice to BASIS, and if I were a BASIS educator, I would feel as I had been used, and that my school were being exploited to serve a political agenda rather than being truly celebrated for outstanding practice in teaching and learning. But true 21st century educators, like Tony Wagner, Dan Pink, Ken Kay, High Tech High, New Technology High School, and so many others, who are actually educators, and are intentional educators, know better. If only a film were made (better made, I would hope) about their work as the true 21st century solution.

One more topic here. The film has a brief section where the point is made that no national foundation, not Gates, Broad, or any other, has come to visit BASIS, or offered to support BASIS. In his Q&A session after the film, Compton talked about this at some length, and was quite nasty in suggesting that Gates (himself and/or his foundation) has lost interest in education, and/or just doesn’t get or appreciate BASIS. This is inaccurate and absurd, and again reveals Compton’s biases and lack of information. Gates most certainly is still interested in education, and he is funding many charter high schools including both of my favorites, High Tech High and New Technology High School. The lack of Gates foundation support for BASIS does not reflect poorly on Gates (which Compton clearly suggested it did), it reflects that the Gates foundation is savvy enough to know what really is, and what really isn’t, 21st century education, and, I am sorry to say, it reflects poorly on BASIS.

Dear Jerry Bracey,

Thank you for your thoughts. I have a few observations.

1- I believe you are referring to the McKinsey & Company Consulting report, not the McKenzie Report on Botswana and Namibia. Just want to clarify your research source. I have not read either report.

2- It would not surprise me that only 1 out of 10 Chinese college graduates would be hired by US companies. Since China graduates close to 5 million from college each year, that's still a respectable 500,000 students. Not bad for a Third World country.

3- Did the McKinsey report address how many of the 1 million US college grads American employers would hire? I hope at least half, so we can equal China.

4- Chinese colleges are working year round, literally, to improve the quality of their students - I doubt the 10% hiring number will stay static.

5- The 6 students in my film, 2 Million Minutes, are currently college juniors. I am in touch with all of them and intend to interview them when they graduate college.

The Indians and Chinese aimed VERY high for college and fell short. There was disappointment, but little loss of face. Their parents were VERY supportive of them. It made them even more determined to succeed.

Here's their current status:

- Neil - Purdue: majoring in Computer graphics. Has added Comp Sci minor and Entrepreneurship certificate at my recommendation.

- Brittany - Indiana University: pre-med, just below an A average. Studying now for MCAT exams.

- Apoorva - switched majors to Computer Science at my suggestion. Doing very well at a school comparable to IU.

- Rohit - studying nano-technology at an engineering school comparable to Purdue. Doing well.

- Xiaoyuan - did not get into Yale, because SAT's are not offered in Mainland China. Studying Business Management at Tsinghua University - the second best university in the world.*

- Ruizhang - did not get into advanced math program at Peking U - the #1 university in the world.*

So he enrolled in the toughest math courses Peking U offered and so impressed his professors he was promoted into the Advanced Math Program on merit.

As a Junior he is generally considered the best undergrad mathematician at Peking U. His other courses are wide ranging, including Latin, which he takes "because I was just curious about the language."

Hope that answers your key questions.

Bob Compton
Executive Producer
Two Million Minutes

* More graduates of Peking and Tsinghua receive PhD's from US universities than any other colleges in the world. Berkley is 4th.

Dear Michael Paul Goldenberg,

I'm not sure what aspects of "Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination" struck you as "hysterics screaming that the sky is falling."

My agenda was to show interested Americans how our largest economic competitors are educating their children because our kids will face them in the global economy.

Many people feel our high schools are adequately preparing our children for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the hyper-competitive 21st century. I saw something quite different in Indian and Chinese K-12 schools I visited and in the calibre of new employees at my US, Indian and Chinese based companies.

I sought to share as dispassionately as possible, the situation as I experienced it. I'm a documentary film maker, not an agitpropist like Michael Moore. 2MM is a far cry from "Sicko"

Perhaps it was the data on US high schools that you found alarming and therefore inferred I was having fits of hysterics. The facts on US high school seem troubling and I'm worried, but not panicked, yet.

Here are the facts on US High Schools:

1- Only 70% of US kids complete high school

2- By 12th grade...
97% - of African Americans
96% - Hispanic
80% - Caucasian
66% - Asian
...are NOT proficient in math.

3- 40% take only 1 science class – biology

4- 55% don’t go beyond Algebra and Geometry

5- 11% of US HS students are functionally illiterate

6- only 16% of Michigan HS grads are “college ready”

7- one-third of this year's freshman class at Purdue required remedial high school math.


While I don't feel our high schools are "collapsing and failing" (except in a few cities like Detroit or Memphis), I'm not ready to hold them up as paragons of global excellence.

And yet for the $668 BILLION America spends on K-12 education - more than any other nation on Earth - I'd like to be able to boast about some aspect of our high schools.

My newest film - "Two Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution" is about one of the best high schools in the world: Basis Charter School in Tucson AZ. It is something for America to be proud of and as Sec Duncan states "learn from their innovations."

There's still hope we can teach our children to world-class levels - BASIS gives me hope.

Bob Compton
Executive Producer
Two Million Minutes
www.2Mminutes.com

Dear John Delich,

Yes, I have studied the PISA data, but I have not "considered recommendations based on evaluations of this information, as suggested by Mr. Bracey."

Can you guide me to his analysis and recommendations? I would be very grateful.

Thank you.

Bob Compton
Executive Producer
Two Million Minutes
www.2Mminutes.com

Dear Dallas McPheeters,

I believe you have strayed on to the wrong blog. :-)

Bob Compton

Dear Jonathan Martin,

Thank you for being among the 1,150 people attending the sold out Tucson Premiere of my new documentary "Two Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution" and for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and thought-provoking review.

I regret you found my documentary to be "a quickie, uninformed, film." It is my 5th documentary and I had hoped I was getting better.

I'll take your criticisms to heart and try harder on my next 3 education documentaries already in production. In hindsight, 55 minutes was way too short to cover what an educator wants to know.

The film DOES advocate for improving the education of children in America so that they may lead self-sustaining, productive lives. In that sense I am an activist for children. I don't feel that to be negative.

I appreciate and do thank you for the many compliments in your post:

1 - "Much of the film make various broad, political points about US education: 1- in the 25 years since A Nation at Risk was published, US education has continued to decline. 2. It is important to improving student learning in this fast-changing era, and to better prepare our kids for global competition. 3. Charter schools face opposition from many and varied quarters, but we, the US, should make fast changes to make easier charter school operations. 4. The teacher unions, and “educational bureaucrats,” have a stranglehold over educational reform and must be overthrown in order to make advances. I suppose I agree with all these points..."

2- "While I have a number of questions about BASIS, I admire its founders the Blocks, I commend them for their valiant efforts and outstanding successes in some quarters, and I am glad that BASIS offers Arizona families an additional, valuable educational option and alternative."

3- "One specificity is offered: they hire teachers without regard for their holding teaching credentials, and they hire subject experts, usually MA and Ph.D. holders. This is good; this is actually saying something."

4- "This is an important point, that we should not be restrictive in who can be employed to teach, and those of us in independent education strongly agree with this argument. I have myself made this case, many, many times."

5- "There is, to the film’s credit, a moment when a student in a physics lab shares a cool scientific tool he is using, and explains that he has this opportunity to pursue his intellectual interest. I like this."

You raise so many excellent questions about BASIS in your essay! It is great that you live in Tucson. I know the Blocks would be delighted for you to stop by. They are eager to address every one of your questions.

You state "Compton, I believe, has not done justice to BASIS, and if I were a BASIS educator, I would feel as I had been used, and that my school were being exploited to serve a political agenda rather than being truly celebrated for outstanding practice in teaching and learning." Call or stop by BASIS any day of the week - ask any and every teacher if they feel I exploited them. Let us know what they say. Perhaps I owe them an apology.

As an educator near BASIS, you could do that deeper research which I missed and then write a complete analysis of the BASIS model.

Like you I share respect for both High Tech and New Tech High - I hope to film those schools.

Thank you very much for attending the screening and for your thoughtful critique. I have learned a lot from your essay.

With gratitude,

Bob Compton
Executive Producer
Two Million Minutes

Dear Jonathan Martin,

There was one other point you made about which I feel compelled to differ - the Gates Foundation and K-12 education.

You assert "In his Q&A session after the film, Compton talked about this at some length, and was quite nasty [my apologies - it was frustration, but I guess came out wrong] in suggesting that Gates (himself and/or his foundation) has lost interest in education, and/or just doesn’t get or appreciate BASIS. This is inaccurate and absurd, and again reveals Compton’s biases and lack of information. Gates most certainly is still interested in education, and he is funding many charter high schools including both of my favorites, High Tech High and New Technology High School."

In Bill Gates own words from his First Letter From The Chairman:

"Nine years ago, the foundation decided to invest in helping to create better high schools, and we have made over $2 billion in grants. The goal was to give schools extra money for a period of time to make changes in the way they were organized (including reducing their size), in how the teachers worked, and in the curriculum. The hope was that after a few years they would operate at the same cost per student as before, but they would have become much more effective.

"Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way. These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.

"Even so, many schools had higher attendance and graduation rates than their peers. While we were pleased with these improvements, we are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short."

"But a few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results. These schools are not selective in whom they admit, and they are overwhelmingly serving kids in poor areas, most of whose parents did not go to college.

"Almost all of these schools are charter schools that have significantly longer school days than other schools.

"Based on what the foundation has learned so far, we have refined our strategy. We will continue to invest in replicating the school models that worked the best. Almost all of these schools are charter schools."


Perhaps my interpretation of Mr. Gates text is inaccurate, but it sounds like all of the Gates Foundation funding will go to Charter Schools.

The number of US children in Charter Schools today is less that 3%. Even if it doubles in the next 4 years to 6%, Mr. Gates has essentially concluded his Foundation cannot help more than 90% of American children get a better education.

Do you have a different interpretation?

Bob Compton

P.S. - Mr. Gates applauded my first film, "Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination." You can see his letter here - http://2mm.typepad.com/usa/2008/06/always-nice-to.html

Dear Tucson College Prep School Headmaster Jonathon Martin,

I didn't realize you were the Headmaster of a Tucson 6-12th grade college prep school. Now your criticism makes more sense! BASIS is a frightening competitive threat to you! LOL!!! :-)

If BASIS gets publicity and praise you stand to lose a LOT of money - as a businessman I get that.

Your school's tuition is juicy:

2009-10 Tuition
Upper School, Grades 9-12, Tuition: $15,750
Middle School, Grades 6-8, Tuition: $14,750

WOW, I don't blame you for hammering my film - if I were you, I'd be terrified too. Tucson parents can get a world-class education at BASIS for FREE!!

I just posted the following to your Headmaster Blog:

Jonathon,

Good grief!! It would take me months to assemble this from 100 hours of film – and then you’d have another dozen requests!! :-)

With your education credentials, I can’t possibly satisfy you. I’m just a simple businessman, remember.

You LIVE in Tucson, for goodness sakes – just call Olga Block and go visit for a day!

I’ll pay for a tank of gas and buy you lunch.

Then have the guts to report on what you learn at BASIS.

The Blocks are adults – they can take criticism from a jealous local competitor.

Go have a look for yourself and satisfy your curiosity. That’s what an honest educator does, right? Primary research — rather than rely on a 55 minute film from a “non-educator.”

Then let’s hear your report from first-hand observation. I’d even film and post your report.

BTW – Are you a tad irritated I didn’t make a documentary on your Tucson high school? :-)

***************************

Hahahahaha - Jonathon - you kill me!!! And I was taking your critique so seriously. LOL!

Maybe you should have mentioned your slight potential bias!!

hahaha - sorry I can't stop laughing...were you in Hasty Pudding or on the Lampoon at Harvard? You're a funny man!!

Mr. Compton,

I read Mr. Martin's post from the perspective of a public school parent in California and found his questions and issues illuminating. It does not detract that he is head of a school in Tuscon. I read on in order, nodding at your responses until I came to the last response to Mr. Martin. Your tone is inappropriate and detracts from your cause. I just ordered the DVD; I am having second thoughts now.

Very disappointing behavior.

Dear Jonathan Martin,

As a cofounder of BASIS I would like to address some of your comments to Mr. Compton. First, I would like to make clear that Mr. Compton has done us a great service representing our schools in his film. Our top priority is ensuring our students receive a world class education, both while they are at BASIS and after they leave. Mr. Compton’s film, which has brought national attention to our small schools, will only serve to increase awareness about the rigors of our internationally benchmarked academic program that we hope will, in turn, improve our students’ chances of getting into the college or university of their choice. As a mission driven school, we can only appreciate his help in this endeavor.

Were it not for the incredible efforts, knowledge, ability, and success of the BASIS teaching faculty, Mr. Compton would never have chosen BASIS as the subject of his documentary. I believe any teacher would find it a great professional compliment to impress a filmmaker to such a degree that he is moved to produce a film so the world can share in his excitement.

You mention in your comments that “There are a few short glimpses of classes in session, but we are told so little. Do they have a block schedule or a traditional schedule? How much do teachers lecture? How much time, and how much attention, is given to active student engagement and learning by doing?”

You are correct that these questions are not answered in the 54 minute film and, I imagine, there are both practical and theoretical reasons for this – had Mr. Compton produced a 5 hour documentary addressing all these issues in detail, there would be little to no audience for the film. Instead, he has created a captivating, succinct film that even non-educators can enjoy. As for the educators like you who want to know more – we welcome you to tour our schools and would be happy to answer any questions you might have. On a more academic note, I’m not sure that whether or not BASIS has a block schedule would be particularly interesting even to members of a graduate seminar on “What is a 21st Century College Prep Education?”

You also point out “this is a school that swears a great allegiance to the AP program of the College Board; it is my belief that most excellent teachers believe that it is impossible to reconcile true teaching autonomy within an AP curriculum. So to say that the school is excellent for its provision of teaching autonomy is both a vague abstraction and a fierce contradiction to what is said in other parts of the movie, a mistake that a film-maker more informed about education than Bob Compton would not have made.”

Your claim of an “impossibility theorem” concerning teaching autonomy and the AP curriculum appears to be a rather crude variant of the concerns expressed by educators at some elite prep schools. Olga and I take the concerns of these educators quite seriously. We have visited a number of the most highly regarded prep schools in America, including a number who have jettisoned AP courses, and have talked at length with their faculty and administrators about their concerns with AP courses. While we remain convinced that AP courses provide the best spine for a high quality college prep education, we have tried to design our AP program in a manner that takes account of the concerns of thoughtful educators.

You note at one point, allowing that the Compton documentary has some informative moments, that “the one thing we really learn is that students begin taking AP courses in the 9th grade, and that often they take one year AP courses over two years.” The concept behind spreading AP courses over several years is twofold: We aim, first, to ensure students have enough subject knowledge and preparation to succeed on exams that are usually taken by students a few years their seniors and second, we wish to allow BASIS teachers an adequate amount of time not only to prepare students for the AP exam, but also to cover whatever additional subject matter they believe, in their professional judgment, will benefit their students.

You state, “I think we as educational leaders have an obligation to coordinate and hold accountable our teachers in a way that true autonomy would not allow for.”

Recognizing that autonomy is not license, we believe autonomy and accountability can co-exist. We hold our teachers accountable for their results in achieving student learning gains. It is within the purview of the teachers to determine the best method to achieve these results. We believe the teachers – who are with the students day in and day out and are held accountable for their students’ results- are in the best position to make determinations about what type of instruction will most improve student learning and achievement. We use the students’ performance on AP examinations as an important component of judging how well the teacher has done in achieving student learning gains.

At another point you state “…only if we teach a hard-core, accelerated, developmentally inappropriate, whole child depriving, content mastery but skills deprived curriculum of the type that, to some extent, the AP exemplifies, will we hold off the Chinese hordes.” This seems to me both a gratuitous attack on the AP program and a caricature of the educational philosophy that has as its end product American 15 year olds scoring 29th out of the 40 counties participating in the PISA Test of Problem Solving Skills. This international comparison is not in math or science but rather in “problem solving” the purported “strong suit” of the soft core, decelerated, developmentally appropriate, whole child, skills rich curriculum of the best in contemporary educational thought.

If you take us up on our offer to visit BASIS, I believe you will find that the schools’ administrators are eager to discuss the BASIS curriculum. The schools founders are both former college professors and many of the schools leaders are former or current BASIS teachers.

I sincerely hope you will take us up on our offer to tour BASIS Tucson.

Regards,
Dr. Michael Block

Dear Beatrice,

I've been hammered by "professional" educators for 4 years - from Howard Gardner and the Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty to Mr. Martin.

I guess I get more than a little cynical and sarcastic when I discover hidden agendas by these "holy than thou" professionals.

Every now and then, the hammering I take from educators, unions, school boards, bureaucrats and Headmasters at private schools who fear Charter competition...well, I apologize that I disappointed you.

I do think disclosure of conflicts of interest is vital to an honest debate, don't you?

I'll do as Roosevelt used to do - write my honest response and put it in a drawer :-)

Bob

Why “THE” 21st Century Solution?

There has been just a bit of criticism raised by educators about me naming my new documentary on Arizona’s BASIS Charter Schools “THE 21st Century Solution.” Let me clarify why I view the school as such a powerful model for America.

It is NOT because the BASIS school is “THE” solution, but because it embodies two fundamental attributes necessary for “THE” dramatic improvement in U.S. education:

1- it meets the President’s agenda for K-12 education improvement – an agenda, which I believe, makes sense for 21st century America, and

2- because it passes critical business tests necessary for large-scale replication.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan have articulated an Education Agenda that, to the general public, makes common sense.

Here is Secretary Duncan's 6-point public school agenda:

1- Make U.S. Education World-Class – set world-class academic standards and a curriculum that fosters critical thinking, problem solving, and the innovative use of knowledge to prepare students for college or career.

2 - Assessment and Accountability - require systems that provide timely and useful information about the progress of individual students and the capability of individual teachers.

3- Pay For Performance – use rewards and incentives to keep talented teachers in the schools that need them the most and demonstrate we value their skills.

4- Recruit Best and Brightest to Teaching – support efforts to fast-track private sector professionals with advanced degrees into teaching and push for expansion of Teach For America.

5- Remove Poor Performing Teachers - challenge State and school districts to quickly remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.

6- No Restrictions on Charter Schools – school boards should not limit the number of charter schools; should allow charter schools to create their own rules regarding hiring, curriculum, tenure and unionization; and per student funding should be equal to that of other public schools within the same district. High-quality charter schools give children and parents the option to find the school that best fits their needs.

I titled my film “The 21st Century Solution” because, in addition to Secretary Duncan’s Education Agenda, the BASIS school’s economics make it the most compelling business model I have found for a world-class 5th-12th grade school.

If we are to prepare America’s 54 million K-12 students to compete globally with the nearly 600 billion other K-12 students in the world, we must have 21st century schools that:

1- meet the needs of students,

2- can be affordably scaled, and

3- are economically sustainable with the $668 Billion we annually spend on K-12 education -- an amount that exceeds any other country.

Our economy simply cannot support massive increases in education spending –we must get creative, entrepreneurial and frugal. BASIS, more than High Tech High, New Tech High or KIPP, meets the test of business scalability and sustainability.

That is what I’m referring to as The 21st Century Solution. Here are the specifics:

1- Modest Start-Up Costs – a BASIS school can be started for ~ $150,000. That is extraordinarily affordable. BASIS Tucson is located in a strip mall across from Office Depot on East Broadway. It has very humble facilities. That's fine for a school.Basis


2- A Curriculum Above The Global Standard – in math, science, English, history, foreign language, etc. We must educate our children to at least the level of those with whom they will compete for the high-wage jobs of the future.

3- An Inspiring Culture – can ordinary American kids, middle and low income, achieve at extraordinary academic levels? BASIS proves they can. That is reassuring and inspiring!

4- A School Year of 180 days – lengthening the school day, week, year will take lots of debate and will add to cost. Kids need to compete now. That is not to say that many children would not benefit from a longer day, week and year - it just will add to cost.

5- Sustainable Economics for a “Free Public Education” - for an annual cost of $6,500 per student, BASIS is delivering a world-standard, free public education – that cost is below the national per student average of $8,700 and well below my daughters’ private school tuition of $15,000/yr in Memphis.

6- Passionate, Expert, Inspiring Teachers - all of BASIS teachers are professionals with Master’s or PhD’s in their fields of expertise. Over 80% are NOT certified teachers.

7- College and Graduate School As Students' Goal – 100% of BASIS students go on to top colleges and most plan for graduate school.

8- Entirely replicable – no new curriculum needs to be developed; no major foundation grants are needed to fund start-up; no corporate contributions are required to sustain the school. This model can be scaled quickly across the country and is affordable to ANY community.

My film may have disappointed the pedagogues, but for helping typical Americans and their typical local and State leaders envision a way to bring American children up to world-standard, at a price we can afford, I contend BASIS is “The 21st Century Solution.”

So, I used BASIS as a conceptual metaphor, much as the film uses time lapse photography, slow-motion video, a tiny bird at the end and the song Une Annee Sans Lumiere by Arcade Fire: metaphorically.
Bob Compton

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