No Textbook Answer: Communities Confront The Achievement Gap [Abridged]


No Textbook Answer: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap

Published Date: 
Friday, October 15, 2010

Video Info

The recent film, Waiting for Superman, got a lot of buzz for the dramatic way it depicts how our national education system allows so many children to languish and fail, despite the fact that we know how to create good schools that can produce high-achieving students, no matter what their socioeconomic background. Waiting For Superman produces a palpable sense of outrage and a demand for change.

But what change? What are the parents of failing children, and the concerned citizens who see generations of kids being set up for failure and eventual dependence, to do? Waiting for Superman, probably wisely, doesn’t offer an explicit answer, but the implicit command the movie leaves viewers with is, “Demand change.”

But demand change of whom? And how? Where is the influence to come from? Voting? How is voting for a school board member, a levy proposal, a governor, even a President, going to register that demand for change, let alone give a parent a voice in what the change should be? Where Waiting for Superman says, “Demand change,” No Textbook Answer says, “We must be the change. “

By “we,” No Textbook Answer: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap, means we as parents, we as community members, we as a group of people all facing the same problem. Everyone knows, from their own experience and from the stories so clearly documented in both Waiting For Superman and No Textbook Answer, that our children are often failing in school because the school cannot overcome the problems students face at home and in their communities: lack of parental involvement, lack of role models, lack of resources, lack of opportunities, lack of motivation, and bad influences. No Textbook Answer documents the efforts of communities around the country who realized that they had these gaps, and, instead of simply waiting for the schools to fill them, decided to do what they could to start filling them themselves.

These communities’ efforts to fill the gaps ranged from providing meals to hungry parents and kids to setting up mentoring programs or after-school activities, to holding a school board candidates’ forum moderated by district schoolchildren. In fact, many of the kinds of programs these communities managed to build themselves, using their own resources, are the same programs that the highly-performing schools touted in Waiting for Superman offer their students, in addition to their highly qualified and motivated teachers. What No Textbook Answer says is that communities can begin to fill the gaps themselves, instead of waiting for schools to expand their programming. And even if the problem is the schools themselves—bad policies, underperforming teachers, ineffective principal, whatever—that the kind of engaged, involved community that can create its own solutions is also best able to demand change from schools.

No Textbook Answer’s name comes from one of its main findings—that there is no textbook answer that will fix all schools and all students. Each community documented in the film had to create their own answer—by coming together, deciding what the problems were for themselves, discovering what they could do to change them, and taking action. The communities chosen for this film were eight locations around the country with significant achievement gaps, gaps in achievement levels between white and minority students, and between poor and affluent students. Some of these schools and communities were performing better than others, but all were failing at least some large fraction of their students.

No Textbook Answer is not intended to be any kind of answer either. Simply replicating any of the communities in the film won’t work for any community struggling with low educational performance. No Textbook Answer is intended to help people ask themselves a few simple questions: Are my kids and my community facing this problem? What could we do about it? Who can help?

No Textbook Answer: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap will begin airing on public television stations around the country in 2011. It is also being offered free of charge to university and college television stations. Individuals or organizations who would like a DVD of this film should email us at