The PBS documentary “180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School,” debuted Monday and Tuesday and received a great deal of feedback on Twitter. Emotions ran high in the audience as viewers learned about the trials of Washington Metropolitan High School, in the District of Columbia. (Affectionately known as D.C. Met.) And trials there were, in everything from school climate to financial aid for college.
“180 Days” averaged a 0.4 household overnight rating for Monday and Tuesday’s telecasts, according to figures provided by PBS. That means each night had about 540,000 viewers. What grabbed their attention during the four-hour documentary? I sifted through Twitter so that you don’t have to:
We host dance parties just so kids will show up for school? How do we help kids find a connection to the importance of education? #180days
— KimKelling (@KimKelling) March 25, 2013
Attendance is a major problem at D.C. Met, as it is in many areas of the country. The D.C. Council proposed a bill earlier this year that would require parents of serial truants be prosecuted, but city officials, including Mayor Vincent Gray, vigorously protested. This tweet in question is about getting students to show up during “student count” days that decide funding for the school.
Who’s fault is it when kids don’t come to school? #180days
— Katie Bordner (@mskbordner) March 25, 2013
There’s a scene where the school holds parent-teacher conferences, and attendance seems a bit sparse. In a prescreening in Washington last week, participants in a panel discussion noted that many parents have at least two jobs to hold down, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. One student there said that schools tend to contact parents mainly about bad news. The student said that if schools called parents more often with good news, instead, parental involvement could increase.
— Ajaya Monell (@inspirEDucator) March 25, 2013
Many states have moved to end social promotion, which many argue does more harm to a child than good.
— Tiffany N. Berkenes (@UBTiffany) March 25, 2013
Rural schools and urban schools share a number of problems, but poverty tends to be a root cause.
#180days I must admit that I had higher expectation for the content. Maybe I am not that impressed because I live it every day.
— Taurean Branch (@jadedace) March26, 2013
Many districts have difficulties like those shown at D.C. Met. As followers of Rules for Engagement know (are you a follower? You should be), school climate is a difficult beast to contend with.
“We may move mountains, but we may not. But, that wouldn’t be for a lack of trying.” -D.C. Met High School Principal #180days
— Amelia (@aameliaqr) March 26, 2013
The principal and her staff appear nothing short of tireless, although as the movie progresses, it’s clear that effort does not always predict reward.
Sure the dress code is lax @ DC Met, but whether someone is teaching with a tie on is the least of this school’s problems.
— Kevin F (@kevfor84) March 26, 2013
— japalladino (@japalladino) March 26, 2013
How much does what teachers wear alter the school climate? In an Education Week Commentary from October 2012, former teacher Scott D. Farver argues for teachers dressing up. “We dress up for important people and events. We dress up for presidents. My students are important. Every day of school is important, as important as if the president were visiting,” he writes.
Although it’s not like the teachers are slobs. Most of them, when they wear jeans, are also sporting alma mater pride. The dress code seems like an effort to promote a college-going culture, which some districts are trying to implement as early as elementary school.
— Bette Midler (@Bette Midler) March 26, 2013
Mama Rose is right: Stability is a major difficulty for schools, because they don’t control students’ personal lives. One student in the film, Rufus, goes through three schools in 12 months. He’s an example of high student mobility at its worst.
I am completely in love with the DCMet students and teachers profiled in this documentary. Relationships are heart of everything. #180days
— Rachel Babcock (@RachelBabcock) March 26, 2013
For those who have not yet watched, both parts of “180 Days” are available online.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.