Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise Image Strip of Linda Brown walking to school, girl taking test at desk, Nettie Hunt and daughter with newspaper headline on steps of Supreme Court, present day children raising hands, children at computers
Long Road to Brown
Long Road Ahead
About the Film
Tune-in Info
About the Producers
Funder and Film Credits
Q & A with the Producers
Full Transcript
To Purchase the Film
Community Discussion
For Educators
Check local listings
Buy the dvd or video
Full Transcript
NARRATION: In the first half of the 20th century, Southern American schools were segregated by race. The Supreme Court had ruled that "separate but equal" was the law of the land.

But separate was never equal, and segregation contradicted the very idea of American Freedom.

R.R. Moton, the only black high school in Prince Edward County, Virginia, was like many in the South. Moton's dilapidated building housed twice as many students as it was built to hold. Even the text books were hand-me-downs from white schools.

ISSAC: They were discards from from the elementary and the high school there were pages torn out it there were um obscenities written in the book they'd write nigger, coon uh those kinds of words
ISSAC: by the time I get got here in 1951the student population had mushroomed to 450 I think there were about 5 temporary tar paper shacks, they were leaking to the point to you had to raise your umbrella to keep the water from dropping on your papers because we writing with ink at that time um.
STOKES: It's a program for failure ... as a person looks around and sees a brick building for another race and he has to walk by that brick building two miles to a school that's wooden in the county and that school has an outdoor toilet, and when he goes at that outdoor toilet he looks and he sees maggots up there right near where he has to sit, that is demeaning to another human being.

NARRATION: In April of 1951, a small group of Moton High School students decided to take matters into their own hands.

NARRATION: They took over the school and called the student body to the auditorium and called the student body to an assembly and called the student body to an emergency meeting and addressed the student body

STOKES: Well, I just asked them if they were completely satisfied with the school that they had to attend in the rural area."How many of you went to schools that had pot-bellied stoves, raise their hand?" How many of you attended schools that had outdoor toilets?" Well, all of them had to raise their hand because there was not but one elementary school in Prince Edward County that had indoor toilets And the only way to get even would be to follow us. If you don't follow us then your children and your children's children will be going to those outdoor toilets looking at those maggots. It's very simple.

NARRATION : 16-year-old student leader Barbara Johns told the crowd, "The town jail can't hold all of us."

The entire student body went on strike. Then, the students went a step further: They called in the NAACP.

OLIVER HILL: The phone rang about 5 o'clock in the afternoon it was Barbara Johns on the phone she wanted us to take her case and handle it and uh she she was so insistent so I said we'll meet you in Farmville.

STOKES: And uh, we were excited about that. Here are these big, big guns coming in to meet us, you know. Here we are with little water guns, you know, they're coming with the 105 howitzers.

NARRATION: But the lawyers told the black community of Prince Edward County they had to demand more.

ISSAC: The NAACP told us that they could not fight for a new school that they had to fight for integration and that caused a lot of fear um among the community because they were afraid of the word integration but then the parents realized they wanted a better life for the children.

NARRATION: Nearly two hundred students and parents signed on to sue the all-white board of education.

NARRATION: Segregationists reacted immediately.

ISSAC: There were Klansmen who came from all over the United States to uh burn crosses and uh to intimidate people they burned a cross down on the the athletic field out there that was so huge and so hot the grass never grew there in that spot again.

NARRATION: The community held firm, and the lawyers went to work. The Prince Edward case became part of the NAACP's push to overturn segregation through the courtsóa strategy they had pursued for decades under the guidance of Thurgood Marshall.

NARRATION: After three long years, the Prince Edward County case— along with 4 others —finally made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Collectively, they came to be known as Brown versus Board of Education.

STOKES: our caseóDavis versus Prince Edward Countyóis the only case that was student led. It was the only case whereby students walked out and got something as a result of it.

NARRATION: On May 17th 1954, the Supreme Court declared, "in the field of public education, the doctrine of ëseparate but equal' has no place. Segregated schools, the Court said, "are inherently unequal."

NORTON: I remember the exact moment. I remember sitting where I was sitting in the 11th and I remember that the principal, rang the bellto ask for everyone's attention, and to tell us, in so many words, that the Supreme Court had just declared schools like the ones in which we sitting unconstitutional, the whole school sprang up. Teachers ... some of whom had PhDs whom we also always saw in their most dignified uh, pose, broke down in cried. It was if they never believed that this would happen.

NARRATION: Author Ralph Ellison said "the court has ...recognized our human psychological complexity and citizenship ...what a wonderful world of possibilities are unfolded for the children."

The Supreme Court decision started a revolution.

Hanbury: Undoubtly, when you mingle the little children together in the same school on a social level, within one generation you will have completely broken down racial integrity.

NARRATION: Many Southern communities resisted but none fought as long or as hard as Prince Edward County. In 1959, rather than integrate, Prince Edward did the unthinkable. It closed not only Moton, but all public schools - black and white.

HURT: The word was they done closed the school. That's the word. You know, like school was just out.

HURT: My sisters they was crying they was crying they was crying But it never affect me that I wasn't going you know I thought I was going you know I thought I was going back to school because I thought I was I don't know special I thought they were going to work something out for me you know. But it didn't turn out we began to believe that we wasn't supposed to go to school

NARRATION: Public funds were used to establish private academies for whites only, locking out black children — indefinitely.

Gregory Watkins (archival):

Q: (Off camera) Gregory, what did you do when you weren't going to school?

Gregory: (Sync) Well, I got water, I cut wood, we have a little beaver damn below our house where I go fishing with my cousins

Q: (Off camera) Was that more fun than going to school?

Gregory: (Sync) No, sir. (V/O) I can read little easy books by myself, but the hard books... I can't read em'

NARRATION: It wasn't until 1964, five years later, that the federal government ordered the Prince Edward County public schools to re-open. But for a generation of African Americans, there was no going back.

HURT: I'm finding now that it's just it's terrible to try to get about in this world without an education you know I mean I was middle aged man working 16 hours a day and had to go night school to try to figure out you know how to um just function in the world how do you fix it? Can you take me back when I was 6 years old and give it to me can you do that? Can you give me what I missed as a kid?

JEANNIE OAKES: Part of what Americans ask their schools to do, is to prepare students for an economy that has jobs in it that range from very low level jobs to very high level, well paying, professional and business jobs. We don't expect that the place any one child will occupy either in school or in life will be determined by their race or the wealth of their family. And unfortunately, that's exactly what tracking systems do.

When you walk inside many racially mixed schools, you see a real mix of students in the hallways. But when you step inside classrooms you often see a classroom that's mostly brown and black and a classroom that's mostly Asian and white. The Asian and white classes, you can be practically guaranteed will be higher-level classes.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: Segregation is a very big issue today ... I've been to classes where things are mixed but man, I'm gonna tell you honestly, that's rare.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ (to classroom): How do you feel about integration?

NARRATION: Luis Rodriguez is an internationally renowned author who speaks to students across the country about identity and segregation.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: ...about changing or fixing some of these things.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: I went to a high school that was mixed. The white and Asian kids were given a special place in that school. There was A classes for advanced kids, B, C, D. The D were the dumb classes and we were, the Mexicans were generally in the dumb classes. The biggest, most important class I had was Home Ec. you know, and woodshop. I mean those were my two biggest classes. Home Ec., you know ... I made lemon meringue pie. The counselors would actually tell you, ëYour good with your hands, don't think about college courses.'

NARRATION: Today, many school systems still sort students by perceived ability. Only a handful are considered exceptionally intelligent and placed in highly gifted magnet programs.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: It's become more insidious, because people can find ways to mask a lot of these things by calling things something gifted. Here's a gifted class, the mask is that these gotta be the kids who are better than the other kids. The fact that most happen to be white is not our intention.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ (to classroom): This is the percent of highly gifted magnet enrollment at North Hollywood High School. You have a 70% Latino school. Latinos, 70%, only 11% are in the magnet gifted school. This is within your own school.

STUDENT: I feel that race has a lot to do with this, because looking at the numbers, it kind of makes you think like, ëkay how come Hispanics aren't up there? Since we're the majority, shouldn't there be some smart Hispanics up in there too?"

RANDY VAIL: 49% of all the kids in that program are what? Asian? 40% are white. Uh, there's a smattering of Latinos and a trickle of the rest. That does not reflect the ethnic breakdown of the rest of the school.

JEANNIE OAKES: We have built a structure that says at this high school, some students are gonna be high ability, some are gonna be in the middle, and some are gonna be slow. Some are gonna go on to college and some are gonna go to work, and we're gonna have all kinds of places in which to slot these kids.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: You have a system that says there's gotta be winners and losers. When you look at this you get an idea about who some of the winners are, compared to who some of the quote losers would be.

STUDENT: Um, the losers and the followers are those people who don't have motivation to go through school, to study every day. It doesn't matter what color they are, what race. The people who don't pay attention, the people who don't want to do this, are becoming the bus drivers, the janitors. Everyone who didn't want to study, who are lazy, this is what I think.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: Okay, if everything was even, and you say its up to you, that should be a mix of people right? Because we're saying there's no racial superiority, but it just so happens statistically those people that are filling in those jobs happen to be Latino. So what is that about? Are they all lazy?

: Some people simply aren't suited to be the next president, to, you know, to discuss politics. That's not what they like to do, it's not what they can do. I don't think everyone should go to college. I mean I have friends who don't want to go to college simply because learning isn't their, isn't what they're good at.

NARRATION: While Luis Rodriguez was considered unfit for higher education, his granddaughter was recently identified as "highly gifted."

ANDREA RODRIGUEZ: My daughter's name is Catalina Adragna. She had a couple of teachers who told me that she talked too much and they weren't very happy with her, and I knew that her distraction should not be seen as a deficiency but actually it was her being bored or not being challenged, or she just always had a lot to say. So, that's when I started volunteering at her school and I've noticed that the teacher, instead of viewing her talking as a deficiency, now uses it, and when she started her reading program one of the teachers identified her as gifted.

JEANNIE OAKES: A child has to come to the attention of someone. Often it's that child's parents who are interested in having the child tested for gifted and approach the school.

JEANNIE OAKES: Then a school psychologist does a battery of tests to the student to see if their IQ is sufficiently high to qualify for a gifted program. Other children whose parents understand how the school system works, they take their child to a psychologist outside of school and get a privately administered test.

DR. VELASCO: You sit down with the child, you give them a test for an hour and a half and then you decide, you are gifted, you are not gifted, and you are retarded. What is it you're measuring? Some of these children they come home. They may have traveled more they have wider experiences. There is a difference between your innate ability, meaning what you're able to do, you're born with, and the cultural aspects that a particular test may be tapping.

STUDENTS: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ...

ANDREA RODRIGUEZ: I know how to work the system, I know when I become really close with the teacher and I let them, um, see how involved I am, and I offer my assistance and make sure that I'm helping out, that that's gonna help my daughter's progress

STUDENTS: ...for liberty and justice for all.

CATALINA ADRAGNA: You may sit down.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: You have a situation where, yeah, how come I was treated like I would never amount to anything, and yet my kids and my grandkids are now considered gifted? And and you know what happened, what was the difference? They always had the capacity just like just as I had

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: I was a kid who started off like all kids, like all kids wanting to learn. But what happens when you start school? And what happens when you get the perception somehow that you're less than others? A lot of kids buy into it because you start believing that I don't deserve better, I don't deserve college, I don't deserve this

JEANNIE OAKES: When students who have comparable ability are placed in different tracks so one of them goes into a higher ability class and one of them goes into a lower ability class, even students who start out with, say, similar scores on a math test, get very far apart after one year, two years, three years of being in different tracks.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ: You see this disparity. You see white and Asian kids doing better than black and brown kids. Now do you think it's because, maybe money? But do you think it's because white and Asians are smarter than black and brown kids?

STUDENT: You know in some weird way, I mean, I kind of agree, um, because, you know, everything shows that, you know, the white people, they are smarter, they do. They know more stuff. You know, get a white person and put a Hispanic and ask them questions. The Caucasian is gonna know more.

DR. VELASCO: It does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They get the message that one quote, race, is superior to another race. That's pretty dangerous.

JEANNIE OAKES: I think the Supreme Court could not possibly have predicted how resistant Americans would be to desegregation, and how the institutions would find ways to re-segregate students, even when they were going to the same building.

SOPHIE HAYDEN: This is definitely a big enough kitchen.

SOPHIE HAYDEN: People always said once you had kids it'll push you out of the city. And I know they were talking about education.

SOPHIE HAYDEN: The public schools that we encountered the teachers are overwhelmed and schools are understaffed .
DAVID ROSEN: We put Hallie in public school for kindergarten and then she went to first grade
DAVID ROSEN: We just decided that the academics were being were not being emphasized as much as they should and we pulled her out
REAL ESTATE AGENT: The square footage is 1,049 and the taxes before the STAR exemption are 8500.

NARRATION: By moving to the New York suburb of Hastings, David Rosen and Sophie Haden are giving their daughters something hard to come by in the city: a good education ‚ for free.
DAVID ROSEN: So would this be a walk to her school
NARRATION: Their taxes will be higher in the suburbs, but when David Rosen considers his family's options, they'll still come out ahead.

DAVID ROSEN: In essence we are sort of paying a private school tuition but we're paying probably 1 quarter for our taxes in Hastings what we would be paying for 2 private school tuitions in the city.
NARRATION: New York, like most states across the country, relies on local real estate taxes to finance public schools. So the higher the property values, the more funds flow to education. It translates into gaping disparities between schools in affluent suburbs and those in the inner city.

SAMERA: We have some districts in our state which are spending as little as 7000 dollars or 8000 dollars per pupil and we have some districts that are able to spend 20,000 dollars parents in New York City see if I just move across the border my child's going to have 20% more spent on him or her 25% more spent on him or her that translates into a better educational program.

NARRATION: not everyone can escape to suburbia. Solangel Cabral's children are among the one million public school students in New York City.
SOLANGEL CABRAL: [In Spanish] We can't move because of our economic situation. People who can't move basically have to say I'll accept what the system gives me.

NARRATION As president of the Parents' Association at her daughter's school, Cabral sees first-hand how the city's schools are squeezed for resources.

SOLANGEL CABRAL: [In Spanish] Many times my daughter says to me, "Mom we didn't have scissors we didn't have glue to complete the projects. We didn't have the materials to finish our work." I said those things can't be happening in the classrooms.

RACHAEL BRINKMAN: We do a manipulative phonics activity where children use individual sets of letter cards to form a series of words none of those letter cards were provided for teachers.

RACHAEL BRINKMAN, teacher, NYC: Add one letter to ran and you can spell rain.

RACHAEL BRINKMAN: I made the template on my computer at home. I bought the cardstock to print them I laminated them. I cut them apart.

DIANA SMITH BROWN: It's a constant thought of when do I get these supplies, how do I get these supplies, where do I get them and how I'm going to pay for them. There's a different environment that you have upstate. The classes are smaller, the schools are smaller, there are a lot more up to date computers, the classrooms are brimming over with books.



GAIL KIPPER: David, Gail Kipper. Pleasure.

HALLIE ROSEN: Hi. GAIL KIPPER: Hi. And you are? HALLIE ROSEN: Hallie. GAIL KIPPER: Halie and where's your hand there it is nice to meet you Hallie.

DAVID ROSEN: Money talks.

DAVID ROSEN: It pays for the quality of the classroom it pays for the quality of the teacher it pays for you know the the books. GAIL KIPPER, principal: If the computer lab is being used you can work with our wireless labs and those are our computers on a cart and you take them off the cart and they are um internet accessible so the children are using wireless um computers in their classrooms. RACHAEL BRINKMAN: There are no computers in my classroom um and my children aren't lucky enough to have access to the technology lab this year because not all of the classes get to go.

DIANA SMITH BROWN, principal: We do have leaks in the building and uh some of the ceilings are crumbling.

DIANA SMITH BROWN: The library is small and there are not a lot of books.

GAIL KIPPER, principal: This is the reference area of the library and then over here we have a 5th grade library class.

DIANA SMITH BROWN, principal: We do have a very serious issue here with overcrowding this used to be an office now its space used for a classroom.

GAIL KIPPER, principal: All of our children are a year ahead in math actually there are going to be some children who have 2 periods of math a day.

SOPHIE HADEN: So does that mean that the 8th graders are taking 9th grade math?

GAIL KIPPER: Yes it does.

GAIL KIPPER: Hallie's moving to Hastings they'll be coming here in April she'll be going into 7th grade.

DIANA SMITH BROWN, principal: I'm not ashamed to admit the fact that that I'm leaving because the school system's not good I think people are moving to the suburbs and its perpetuating the problem but until there is more money that's focused on the New York City public school system then its its going to continue.

SOPHIE HADEN: We're going this way?


Man: Welcome again to Albany, home of not necessarily truth and justice but it's home of where we have to have our influence. We are here on behalf of the children of the state of New York.

NARRATION: Fifty years after Brown vs. Board of Education promised equality, parents and advocates are raising new questions about the way public schools are financed.

CFE: We think that the way schools should be funded is first you should access what it costs to educate a child then you need to figure out how much can legitimately be raised by a locality, and what they can't raise the state should kick in.

NARRATION: A legal group called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity took New York State to court, charging that the state failed to provide sufficient funding to meet the basic educational needs of students. in June 2003, the state's highest court agreed.

NARRATION: But even that is not enough. though the court has spoken, the state government has yet to increase funding for schools. Solangel Cabral and other parents of city students, are taking their fight to the state capital in Albany.

ALL: We want to see Adriano Espaillat. We want to see Adriano Espaillat. We want to see Adriano Espaillat.

AID TO ASSEMBLYMAN: The Assemblyman does want to meet with everybody but unfortunately he's in a committee meeting. He should at like around he should be back like around like around 12:20.

ALL: We want money now. We want money now. We want money now. We want money now.

ASSEMBLYMAN: [In Spanish] Let's listen to the adults.

SOLANGEL CABRAL: [In Spanish] Our after school program doesn't have any funds. We need computers. We don't have good technology lab in our school. My question is do you think these children can compete?

ASSEMBLYMAN: I'm willing to go to the school to meet with all three directors of the after school programs.

SOLANGEL CABRAL: [In Spanish] There's talk about a lot of money. I don't see the money. And I see that everyday children are failing.

SOPHIE HADEN:We feel like we're barely affording being able to move to an exclusive suburb with a good school system. But there are people that don't even have that much money to be able to do that.

SOLANGEL CABRAL: [In Spanish] There are parents that have two or three jobs to support their families and pay their rent. I don't think it's fair that someone should have to move from a place for a better school.

DAVID ROSEN: There's a little bit of guilt to say, you know, that you gave up on the system. I just found it too daunting. It's unfair — it should be equal, and you know, and I wish I had the power to make that equal but I don't.

TAMARA BROOKS: There have been days where I've gotten tired of waking up so early because I'll be like why do I have to wake up so early? Boston kids don't have to wake up until 6:30. But I have the opportunity//there some kids that can't even get into this program. So I need to get up and go to school.

NARRATION Tamara Brooks is enrolled in METCO, one of the oldest voluntary integration programs in the country. METCO buses inner city children to schools in 32 Boston suburbs.

Town Moderator: Good morning and welcome to the 2004 Annual meeting of the Town of Lincoln

NARRATION: Thirty-eight years ago, the town of Lincoln helped start METCO because it wanted racially mixed schools. But today in Lincoln, where the average home sells for a million dollars, there's a heated debate about the importance of integration.

RENELL FREDICKSON: We've got a town meeting going on, the big event in Lincoln, annual event. Article 19 is the METCO article which is a it's a vote from the school committee asking for uh the support of the town to continue to support the METCO program.

BARBARA LOW: For some people in town the METCO program is the be all and he end all and they feel that without it the school system will be no good. I don't feel that way. I think that diversity is important but for me that's not a primary thing that drives my life.

ELLEN MORGAN: When I grew up in Lincoln, it was all white. Intellectually you know oh yes everybody's just the same but you look at somebody that's different and it takes a lot of getting used to. It's not quite preconceived uh prejudices but it's just a matter of comfort. My kids grew up very differently only because of the METCO program

TED SHAW: It's ridiculous to think that we are going to educate children, be they African American, or Latino, uh, European American, Asian American, Native American, educate them completely separately and then throw them together in college or the work environment and expect that we're not going to have conflict.

TAMARA BROOKS: The first time I rode the bus to Lincoln was in kindergarten and I was so scared I didn't even want to go and I was crying because it was such a long ride I didn't know where I was going.

Tamara (reading): Once I had driven out of Newark past Irvington and the tangle of railroad crossings.

TAMARA BROOKS: I think that if I had went to like a Boston public school compared to this school I don't think I would have learned as much as I did out here.

NARRATION: In 1974, after a long court battle, Boston was ordered to desegregate its public schools. busing ripped the city apart, and made Boston the symbol of white resistance in the North. But even as the rocks were flying, the METCO program was working. For African American families, METCO was one of few ways to escape failing schools and white hostility.

JONOTHAN KOZOL: The suburban busing program METCO began and I went with the black kids from the black community out to a white suburb. Suddenly I saw the difference Between separate and unequal schooling at its most racist and most invidious and most destructive and the wonderful beautiful possibilities of first rate schooling in one of the best school systems in the US.

NARRATION: Thirty years later, busing has ended and METCO stands as the last remnant of the push for integration. Today the majority of students left in the Boston school system are black or Latino, and the schools are in decline.

HUBIE JONES: We do know today that the Boston public schools, in terms of its district high schools, they are an abomination. They are absolutely awful, ah, and kids who are trapped there are not getting the education and the training and the social development that will make it possible for them to have opportunities for further education and — and further opportunities.

NARRATION: The only hope for many students is to get out. Twenty-eight percent of all Boston public school students are on the waiting list to get into the METCO program.

KAHRIS MCLOUGHLIN: The METCO program currently services about 3,200 children. Although that sounds like a lot um we have to remember that the Boston public schools um they I think we have 60,000 children so really this a drop in the bucket.

BARBARA LOW: I don't see this as a question of race as much as a question of what can we afford, and the cost to Lincoln over and above what we're reimbursed through state funding is over 400,000 dollars a year. To bring these 90 or 91 kids into Lincoln, I'm not sure that the benefit equals the cost,

TAMARA BROOKS: I dream of being a pediatrician because I like working with little kids and I'd like to help them. I'm not sure what college I'd like to go to. In April I'm going on a college tour.

KAHRIS McLAUGHLIN: Ahm, what is difficult, I think, about the vote, ahm, is when I think of, ahm, Brown Versus the Board of Education, ahm, I think that was also a time when parents who knew what they wanted for their children — you know, they were very clear about what was needed to educate their kids well — were unable to do that for themselves. In the case of Lincoln, it's almost as if you feel that powerless once again, because you have METCO parents, who will not be able to decide what's going to happen to their children. They have no voice in this vote.

NARRATION: In the last ten years, more than 500 court-ordered and voluntary school desegregation plans, like METCO, have been eliminated.

GWEN MORGAN: If you look back the whole history since Brown vs. Education this is one of the few things that is working, we know it's working it's been in place, the kids have started in kindergarten, we met them when they were 5 years old, we followed them all the way through high school, they went to college.

TAMARA BROOKS: By coming here, I've I've learned a lotta different things and I've met like a lot of new people that I probably would have never met if I haven't been in the METCO program.

NARRATION: Today, Lincoln will vote on whether its METCO program should continue.

ELLEN MORGAN: This is more than just a vote in Lincoln because a lot of towns are facing this issue and if Lincoln falls on this issue a lot of people think that it's the first one in the domino that they're gonna go down like that. I mean that's worst case scenario but really could knock down the METCO system.

TED SHAW: I think the METCO program and other voluntary desegregation programs throughout the country, many of which which have produced modest but significant results, the truth of the matter these program have precious little support, not because of the money but because of what our priorities are. The ironic thing 50 years after Brown we are involved in the fight to preserve even voluntary opportunities.

NARRATION: Today, Genill Prendergast, like every third-grader in the state, will take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. Florida is part of a national trend: in a growing number of school districts across the country, third graders who fail a single standardized test may be forced to repeat a grade.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The state of Florida is on the leading edge of education reform; we've raised the standards, we expect results, so that not one single child in America is left behind.

TEACHER: Okay you guys, today you're going to take the FCAT. Remember, you will have sixty-minutes to take your test.

NARRATION: If Genill doesn't pass the test today, next year she may be in third grade, for the third time.

TEACHER: Relax. We've reviewed this since August, right?


TEACHER: You ready?


TEACHER: Okay, let's get started.

NARRATION: In 2003 forty-three thousand third graders failed the test in the State of Florida. Advocates describe a vicious cycle in which the schools with the greatest need are assigned the most inexperienced teachers, and even they don't stay long.

FREDERICA WILSON: It's very difficult for those principals to recruit teachers because people who work in low performing schools don't get a bonus, so when you get the opportunity, you transfer and many classes have been taught by substitute teachers.

TEACHER: Eight, six, four, four hundred and sixty eight.


TEACHER: and the very last one

CYNTHIA: Genill is a very smart girl. She's the type of child that retains so much information, you can ask her about a book she's read two months ago and she will give you every answer. Two and a half years I've been working with her, and I've never even seen a C. And how can a child who works this hard be retained?

GENILL: There was forty-three kids in my class this year and there were only four kids that passed. There was things on the test that my teacher didn't teach me and that was not fair.

JAY GREENE: In the past we moved students along, um for the most part, simply because they got older and doing that doesn't do them any favors.

GENILL: It bothers me when my friends ask me why I'm still in third grade

JAY GREENE: Part of progressing in life involves stresses. Now the fact that forty two thousand students failed the third grade FCAT, that you know that impression that it's too high of a number may be wrong in fact maybe its too low of a number.

FREDERICA WILSON: No one is consciously guiding these children into the appropriate coursework to pass the test. They didn't raise the resources, they didn't invest in the children, so consequently they're caught in this quagmire and they're collateral damage across the state.

SPEAKER: High Stakes tests such as the FCAT shames and stigmatizes children and turns our schools into giant test prep centers.

NARRATION: The Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform is a grassroots organization of parents, teachers and students who believe that High Stakes Testing undermines education.

SPEAKER: ...and guarantee a permanent underclass to do society's drudge work.

NARRATION: The coalition points to students like Ashley Johnson, one of twelve thousand high school seniors who failed the FCAT last year.

NARRATION: Ashley was an honor student who won a scholarship to a four-year college. When she failed the FCAT she was denied a diploma and her scholarship was withdrawn.

ASHLEY: There were lots of things on the FCAT that I was never taught and I had never seen before. I don't know how they expected us to pass. I know some teachers said "well I know I can't pass it and so I know you're not gonna be able to pass it, but go ahead do your best and try"

FREDERICA WILSON: There is such a difference in going in one school, in one community, and going into another school in another community. Why don't we tackle this problem, instead of testing the children, predicting they'll fail, watching them fail, and denying them a good life? And that's exactly what's happening and that's racism.

GARY SIPLIN: The vice chair of the department board of education, having drinks with the president of Wackenhut-and you all know who Wackenhut is right? They run the prison systems in Florida and around the country. He said Mr. President, how do you all decide how many prison beds you're going to need in the future? And you know what Mr. president said? He said they look at the number of third graders who have to repeat third grade.

ASHLEY: The place where I lived with my grandmother there were a lot of fights, robberies, and shootings, and killings, and high speed chases, and everything. I could be a mother right now. I could be on drugs. It's kind of tempting sometimes.

ASHLEY: I got a job working at Universal. I have to get up at five, takes about an hour, hour and a half to get to w-work some days. My father didn't finish school and my mother didn't finish school because she got pregnant, and my older brother, he wasn't able to finish school, and so I was the one that was there to go ahead and lead that path to finishing school and then going to college ‚like a role model for my little sisters and cousins. When I first told my grandmother, I said, I didn't pass the FCAT and then walked out. She said, "What did you say?" and I said, I didn't pass the FCAT. And she said, "How long did you know?" and I said I been knew, I just I just didn't want to tell you because I was embarrassed. It, it drives you to that point of, you want, where you want to kill yourself. Some people just can't handle the hurt and it just, they just feel the only way out is just to kill themselves.

VICTOR T. CURRY: Test our children? Yes! We believe in accountability, but the reason why I'm upset is because I sat in the living room of an honor student who passed every other test, met all of the other requirements, but did not pass the FCAT. I sat in her living room after she attempted suicide. You don't know the pain.

VICTOR T. CURRY: Boycott the FCAT. Oh, I know that's radical, but when a child tries to commit suicide, that's radical. When children are dropping out because they have a feeling of helplessness, that's radical.

PROTESTORS: No more FCAT. No more FCAT. No more FCAT.

ASHLEY: I feel like I should be in school, you know, working towards my career right now. It was really hard just, you know, this one test holding you back from college and starting your dreams and starting your life. While I'm working, my mind just roams, and think about my future, and my major's changed about a thousand times because I think about all the things that I really love to do

FREDERICA WILSON: This is what we have been taught and this is what we tell our children, you can be anything you want to be, just go to school. And then when the school turns its back on you, what happens to the children? What happens to society?

Home | Long Road to Brown | Long Road Ahead | About the Film | Community Discussion | For Educators | Resources | Buy the DVD
© 2004 Firelight Media. All rights reserved. | PBS Privacy Policy