How does America's school system fix its problem of under-performance and rising drop-out rates? Frontline's Dropout Nation attempts to answer this complex question. Their documentary team follows four at-risk students at Sharpstown High School in Houston, Texas as well as the teachers, counselors, and school administrators who are desperately trying to get them to graduation day. One student is an orphan refuge who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and nearly every night, she sleeps on a different friend's couch if she is lucky. Another student has a father in and out of prison and an absent mother, and his teacher picks him up every day for school. Yet another student is a football star with the possibility of a bright future, but he can't get his temper under control. The last student has been the breadwinner for his family ever since his father was deported, and he lives under the constant fear that his mother will also be deported, leaving him and his younger sister alone. Will they make it to graduation day, and if they don't, what is stopping them?
Out of the four students, only one makes it to graduation day. There isn't an easy answer to why these three students don't graduate, much less why students across the country drop out every year. The most common factor in all these students, though, is the lack of a family support system. Teachers and administrators do their best to provide these students with extra help. One teacher allows a student to stay with her family, and she regularly buys meals for students who don't have dinner waiting at home. If anything, Dropout Nation proves what teachers and their advocates have been insisting for years, that the role of the teacher has changed. In 2013, the role of the teachers involves nutrition specialist, guidance counselor, free chauffeur for at-risk students, and social worker. Some misguided folks now think that the teacher's role should also include armed bodyguard after the shooting in Sandy Hook. The problem is that the best teacher in the world cannot take on all of these roles and replace an involved parent, and even if a teacher tried to take on everything that role entails, it means neglecting other student under their care.
Dropout Nation might be infuriating for some viewers because it offers more questions than answers, but I appreciate that Frontline did not offer simple answers. This is not an issue of lazy, overpaid teachers like some have suggested. Rather, Dropout Nation shows why parents cannot expect teachers to raise their children and hold them accountable in their school work. Smaller classroom sizes and more available resources like one-on-one tutoring are also helpful, but it is not likely to get much better until these parents step up, take responsibility, and give their children the support they deserve.
There are no special features on the DVD release.
"Frontline: Dropout Nation" is on sale December 11, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Written and directed by Frank Koughan.