Back to School: Five Docs to Watch About Education in America

September 1, 2015
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

A schoolbus travels down a rural highway near Leroy, Kan. May 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

This week and next, many students across the country are heading back to the classroom. You can, too. From unique efforts to reduce the high school dropout rate, to trends toward school resegregation along class and race lines, to how for-profit colleges operate, here are five documentaries to watch from FRONTLINE to better understand education in America:

1) Separate and Unequal

In 2014, 60 years after the Supreme Court declared separate schools for black and white children unconstitutional, we explored the comeback of school segregation and traced a controversial “breakaway” movement in Baton Rouge, La.

2) Omarina’s Story

What if the make-or-break moment for preventing kids from dropping out of high school actually happens in middle school? In this 2014 documentary — an update of our earlier report, Middle School Moment  we followed the story of one student who was part of a groundbreaking intervention program at a high-poverty school in the Bronx.

3) Dropout Nation

Every year, hundreds of thousands of American teenagers quit high school before they earn their diplomas. In this 2012 special, we looked at four students in Texas who were grappling with issues like poverty and homelessness and struggling to stay in school — and educators’ efforts to help them get to graduation day.

4) College, Inc.

An investigation into for-profit colleges and universities that raises concerns about aggressive job placement promises, questionable enrollment and recruiting practices, and disproportionate debt loads. Soon after the documentary aired in 2010, Congress held hearings to investigate. One of the institutions featured in the documentary, Corinthian Colleges, closed earlier this year after the Department of Education fined it nearly $30 million for “misrepresentation of job placement rates to current and prospective students.”

5) Educating Sergeant Pantzke

In this 2011 follow-up to College, Inc., we took a close look at how for-profit universities woo service members and veterans — and just how many GI Bill dollars were ending up at for-profit schools. Sergeant Chris Pantzke, the titular Iraq War veteran who shared his story with FRONTLINE, would eventually testify before a Senate committee hearing on protecting veterans from predatory for-profit colleges. A legislative battle over how federal money can be allocated to for-profit colleges is still ongoing.

These five documentaries — and nearly 190 more — are all streaming online at pbs.org/frontline.

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