Fifteen education documentaries that need to be made

2. The effects of poverty on education

“The impact of poverty on the classroom, learning, and individual students lives. Show what problems students bring to school every day and how these impact education on a day-to-day basis.” —Betsy Miller-Jones, associate director, board development and policy services, Oregon School Boards Association

“My vote is on childhood health issues. It’s the easiest thing to fix, and the one ailment in our society that we can cure in our lifetime, more so than any other disease.” —Jen Ohlson

“One of the most unrecognized problems about failing schools is environmental lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is ubiquitous in low-income urban neighborhoods, and the well-documented consequences of even low-level lead poisoning (below the official federal level of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood) is a major loss of IQ, learning disabilities, irritability, distractibility, impulsivity, and aggression, which manifest themselves as disruptive misbehavior. I completed a summary of the educational consequences of lead poisoning back in 2002, posted on our website at

“Before that, however there was a dramatic story developing in Rochester, N.Y., in the Enrico Fermi Elementary School where a hard-charging principal named Ralph Spezio instituted major reforms, including replacing most of his teachers with teachers who had received special training in working with urban poverty, bringing in grant money to fund special programs such as music, and establishing a medical clinic on the campus. From 1990 to 2002, Spezio worked to overcome the poverty of his students and was largely successful, but there remained a large core of children who did not respond to these academic enrichments and whose behavior often displayed rage and violence without even first displaying anger. One day, however, he overhead two nurses in the clinic mention ‘another lead child,’ and when he asked they explained that many of the students had a history of lead poisoning. That awakened him to dramatic consequences of lead poisoning, and he began a community awareness campaign about lead poisoning that eventually resulted in the organization he formed receiving a major environmental justice award about a year ago. You can get an overview of this from a TEDxRochester video at” —Michael T. Martin, research analyst, Arizona School Boards Association, Phoenix, Ariz.

1. A day in the life of a teacher

“What does the actual school day of a teacher really entail? The public has a perception that a teacher works from the time the students come in each morning and that [the teacher’s] day ends when the children go home. Educators know that it really isn’t the case. Let’s show them what a teacher really does.” —Dawn Lynn Eibel, instructional technology specialist, Office of Media Services, Norfolk Public Schools, Va.

“Why not a film that looks at the life of a good teacher. It would highlight all the hours spent planning, reaching out to students and parents, tutoring before and after school, grading, attending school-sponsored events. … We work hard at teaching because we have a calling.” —Dr. Dawn Wilson, associate professor, School of Education, director of M.Ed. Cohort Operations, Houston Baptist University, Texas

“I think a documentary that balances out the negativity that always gets press would be very welcome by teachers and probably highly attended if it was released in select theaters. We have amazing teachers who deal with challenging situations and challenging students. Why don’t we ever focus on those stories? In fact, the big teacher unions always gripe and moan about media like Waiting for ‘Superman,’ yet I never see any high-profile documentaries of their own. If the big teacher propaganda machines are dropping the ball on a counter-strike to bad publicity, who is going to go to bat for public education? What better way to spend union dues than to cheer outstanding public teachers on through a documentary celebrating their success?” —Dr. Kevin T. Goddard, Ed.D., superintendent, Sarcoxie R-II School District

“I would take teachers from all over the U.S. (rural, suburban, urban, new, veteran, good, and bad) and show what we really do in a day. It might be cumbersome, but I believe that if people really saw what we are dealing with (poverty, ADHD, autism, ELLs, helicopter parents, positive and negative administrators, etc.) they may stop blaming us and start helping us.” —Anita Marie Murano-Sweetman

[Editor’s note: The documentary film American Teacher, released a few weeks ago, aims to do just that.]

Meris Stansbury

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