Is Quality Education Possible? (04:15)
City Springs Elementary School opens a new year under the onus of its probationary status. Long considered the worst elementary school in Baltimore, it must serve its highly disadvantaged students with quality education under a new principal.
Educational Structure and Strategy (02:26)
With military-like strategy, Principal Bernice Welchel implements a highly structured system in the failing school in an effort to create a positive learning environment. Her primary academic focus is kindergarten students' reading abilities.
Direct Instruction: Teacher Responsibility (04:51)
The failing school adopts a controversial teaching method called Direct Instruction (D.I.), which should produce advanced higher reasoning and writing abilities. Teachers' scripts appear to promote rote learning.
Direct Instruction Classroom (02:39)
Not only will all teachers use D.I., they must also control the behavior of their students. The success of D.I. depends on the teacher's ability to keep students still, quiet, and attentive.
Language Deficiencies (05:56)
Many of the inner city children have weaknesses in language that must be "fixed" before reading skills can improve. D.I. focuses a great deal of attention on the early years, and kindergarten teachers are challenged to incorporate well-designed instruction.
Standardized Tests (04:06)
Though the long-term success of City Springs’ D.I. depends upon its lower grades, short-term evaluations are based on difficult standardized tests given to 3rd and 5th graders. Unfortunately, many 5th graders have large gaps in their knowledge foundation.
Student and Teacher Instruction (05:05)
The structure of D.I. allows all students to progress, but not all at the same rates. When Robin, a new teacher, fails to keep her children's behavior under control, the principal deals with her exactly as she wants Robin to deal with her students.
Behavior and Discipline (07:16)
Welchel’s belief that academic success depends on maintaining a culture of order requires persistence and resolve. Students are continually reminded of rules and expectations—daily tests of Principal Welchel's determination to have her school succeed.
Christmas at City Springs (06:00)
Christmas is a stressful time at City Springs because it coincides with report cards and parent/teacher conferences. A mother praises D.I. because it has helped her three children learn better and move closer to grade level.
Classroom Chaos/Classroom Order (05:58)
Halfway through the school year, the kindergarten has completed barely 50 of 160 required reading lessons. The children are still wild and difficult to control. D.I. consultants recommend an overhaul of the classroom to reinstate strong discipline.
Difficulties in Restoring Order (05:16)
As disciplinary order is implemented in the kindergarten classroom, a modicum of order begins to emerge and student learning takes place. Total consistency and adherence to a minute-to-minute schedule is difficult for many teachers.
Model D.I. Classroom (04:37)
Principal Welchel deals with the kindergarten's failures by sending her teachers to observe another school with twenty years' experience with D.I. They learn that children’s ages and poverty do not pose insurmountable obstacles to their success.
Discipline and Learning (04:52)
Teachers must learn their D.I. scripts well in order to keep up the instructional pace in their classrooms. Two teachers implement their new skills with their kindergartners at a pace that keeps discipline under control and promotes learning.
Environment for Learning (04:30)
Inner city schools lose and gain hundreds of transient students each year, lengthening the time to make measurable changes in learning. Principal Welchel, her staff, and the students are saddened after vandals destroy the children's playground.
Testing Day (04:19)
While volunteers begin replacing the ruined playground equipment outside, inside the tension builds as 3rd and 5th graders prepare for standardized testing. Principal Welchel's high expectations for her school are also on the line.
Confidence and Pride (02:24)
The standardized tests completed, City Springs' students pride themselves on their performance, even though the test results are 8 months away. Principal Welchel is proud of her students for their confidence and their spirit.
Success of Direct Instruction (07:31)
At the end of the school year, City Springs' kindergartners demonstrate their reading ability, and parents exclaim over their children's remarkable successes. Even once-skeptical teachers value what Direct Instruction has allowed them to accomplish.
What Is a Healthy School? (02:53)
Though Principal Welchel acknowledges she accomplished only 70 percent of her goals for the year, the health of the school has improved 100 percent. Will these students be able to compete with other American children?
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