No, there isn't any 'magic bullet' solution offered in the film for schools like Douglass. We feel strongly that offering simple solutions to complex problems is inherently misleading in documentary filmmaking.
How representative is Frederick Douglass compared to other high schools?
We feel that Douglass is very typical of large urban high schools throughout the country, and it's important to understand that this documentary is not about the failings of the Baltimore City Public School System alone. There are struggling high schools like Douglass in every major city in the United States, and all of them share a core group of issues.
Most of these schools are now more segregated than ever since federal courts began dismantling Brown v. Board of Education almost 20 years ago. Some critics like Jonathan Kozol even call this a "system of apartheid," and with a 100% African-American student body, Douglass is no exception. National studies have repeatedly shown that an alarmingly high amount of minority students entering urban high schools are performing, on average, four years below grade level. These are the kind of enormous problems that influential foundations have been trying to address, with mixed success.
Other important issues these schools have in common are a terrible lack of resources, including textbooks and student access to working computers. There is a shortage of qualified teachers in these schools, and this situation alone creates tremendous academic shortcomings. These schools all have astoundingly high drop-out rates - around 50% of those entering never complete their education and graduate. As a result, Douglass, like one-fourth of the nation's public schools, cannot meet the demands of No Child Left Behind.
It is my hope that people will see Douglass as an example of an urban public high school and not specific to the city of Baltimore. The film hopefully will provoke a discussion on the struggles educators face in meeting the No Child Left Behind mandates, which are tremendous obstacles for any educator, as well as the problems occurring in big cities.
Were you able to arrive at any solutions in the film?
No, there isn't any "magic bullet" solution offered in the film for schools like Douglass. We feel strongly that offering simple solutions to complex problems is inherently misleading in documentary filmmaking. The problems and challenges faced by urban schools like Douglass are enormous, and there is no one simple solution to making them more effective schools and improving their graduation rates.
We choose to make documentaries on social issues that are overlooked by the mainstream media. There needs to be an open dialogue regarding education in America. The problems are enormous and we are failing generations of young people. Change will take time, but it is up to everyone to start talking about what those solutions should be - educators, politicians, families and presidential candidates.
What happened at Douglass after you finished filming?
The school did not meet the adequate yearly progress standards set by No Child Left Behind for several years in a row, and under this situation the state had the right to restructure. At Douglass, the entire administration was replaced, including the principal. Then Baltimore City brought in an academic partner - the Center for Social Organization (CSOS) at Johns Hopkins University - to help raise the academic standards at the school, with special attention to ninth graders. It will most likely take a number of years before any dramatic results are achieved.
The restructuring caused many teachers and support staff to leave as well. The school has a new principal and with that a new atmosphere. We documented the end of an era, and now Douglass begins another chapter in its long history. The school now has metal detectors and a uniform dress code, among other changes.
What is principal Isabelle Grant doing now?
She retired from the Baltimore City School system and is now the head pastor of a church in Baltimore.