A reader from Houston suggests that we watch the PBS documentary on Houston’s Apollo program and watch the faces of the students:

He writes:

To see how many kids react to an overemphasis on testing, watch Dropout Nation. PBS Frontline’s Dropout Nation series featured HISD and its Apollo Program in its September broadcast. While there are some good things about Apollo-individulized tutors, more support staff, etc., it’s data driven focus contains the seed of its own destruction. Talking about tests all the time, doing test prep all the time, making kids take tests that they are not relevant to them and that they are not prepared for is wrong.

Watching these kids tell their stories is painful. Watching what some staff are willing to do help kids is heroic. Seeing testing be a focus is exasperating. I was not surprised by the emotional and physical reactions of these kids as staff kept trying to get them and keep them in school. The kids keep saying that the learning is irrelevant. They keep saying that school is boring. They keep saying that no one understands them and their plight. Telling them, “No Excuses!” is disrespectful. Children are not responsible for the circumstances that they are born in and a pat phrase is offensive.

At one point a kid shows up after being gone for days and the staff try to get him to take an SAT test that is about to start.

The Apollo program is in its 3rd year and only the featured high school, Sharpstown, has shown slight improvement. Much of those gains may be to student attrition. Teacher attrition has been high as well. Perhaps that is why Frontline did not show one classroom teacher in the whole episode.

Superintendent Dr. Grier has asked for 17 million more from the Board. If only there were a way to make sure that money went to anything but testing. Social workers, psychologists, teachers, etc. but not a dime for testing.