Saturday Night: Most Likely to Succeed Documentary Film

By Laura Guest

About 20 of us gathered for movie night. After a brief introduction from Cordova’s Superintendent Alex Russin we watched the one and a half hour film. One of the quotes from the film’s website is “Most Likely To Succeed is the best film ever done on the topic of school — both its past and its future. The film inspires its audiences with a sense of purpose and possibility, and is bringing school communities together in re-imagining what our students and teachers are capable of doing. Run, don’t walk, to bring this film to your school. After seeing this film, you’ll never look at school the same way again.” I couldn’t agree more! My first thought was: why isn’t this being shown to all of the Superintendents in the State and to the Principals? But why stop there, why not all of the teachers and parents in our state or the union.

I was so inspired by the film, I headed to my room to research more about the school and the film.  Our current school system was designed in 1893. It no longer serves the best interest of our students nor the business world that they will attempt to work in.  We are no longer at the top. The film states “the U.S. is 18th out of 23 industrialized countries, only 1 in 4 high school students graduate college-ready in English, Math and Science, and 85% of current jobs require some or more college or post-secondary education.” We all fear change. Human nature has us wanting what is comfortable to us; the tried and true.

A few hours before the film, the keynote speaker, Jenny Magiera, ended her talk with five tips. The third one was “Don’t just teach topics, teach children”, number four was “Try something that scares you” and the fifth one was “don’t wait to take a risk.” George Couros, Keynote Speaker on Monday night, had similar believes. He showed a picture of an excited kindergartener on his first day of school and a picture of the same child in a detected poise a day or two later with “the excitement for learning sucked out of him.” I don’t know where to go from here… but I know we have to stop doing the same thing over and over and hope for different results. What we have no longer works.

The high school featured in the film, High Tech High in San Diego, CA opened its doors in 2000 with 200 students after two years of planning. It sprung from the need for more qualified employees in the high tech and biotech industries. “Developed by a coalition of San Diego civic leaders and educators, High Tech High opened in September 2000 as a small public charter school with plans to serve approximately 450 students.  HTH has evolved into an integrated network of thirteen charter schools serving approximately 5,300 students in grades K-12 across three campuses. The HTH organization also includes a comprehensive adult learning environment including a Teacher Credentialing Program and the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, offering professional development opportunities serving national and international educators.” , One of the last statements in the film said it is too new to have concrete data/proof of its success. At the time of the film, the school had been around for 15 years. I wonder how successful that first graduating class is—it would be at least 10 years. Clearly it is serving a need for the community if it now includes 13 schools.

They do not use textbooks, they do not take tests nor receive letter grades. The students lead their own learning rather than listen to teachers lecture. The students work collaboratively and cross curriculum. They do not attend separate classes an hour at a time. The school teaches students perseverance, innovative thinking, collaboration and determination. The film follows a few groups of students that work on their authentic project for the public showing. They interview some of the parents about their fears and why they enrolled their student in the school. One mother expressed her fear of her daughter not being able to get high enough scores on the SAT and ACT to get in to college. Some of the students expressed a preference to the typical math class of drill and kill. The first graduating class had 98% of the students accepted by at least one college.

In preparing this article I found a YouTube interview about the film with the director Greg Whiteley by TheLipTV . It looks like the entire film is also illegally out on YouTube.  In the interview, Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence, Harvard Innovation Lab said, “For all of human history the primary focus of education has been acquiring more content knowledge…. The only way to get it is through the teacher. You don’t have to do that anymore. Today content is ubiquitous. It is free. It is changing constantly.” Status quo is not good enough for our nation’s children.



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