‘I Got Schooled’: Acclaimed Filmmaker’s Book on How to Fix Education

16130208I Got Schooled is an ambitious book about education reform. The author M. Night Shyamalan is not an educator, policy analyst or even a parent of public schooled children (his three girls go to private school); but a film producer—a successful one at that. Readers may be familiar with the “Sixth Sense” and “The Village”, two of many films produced by Shyamalan. He is in unfamiliar territory here. I admire Shyamalan willingness and tenacity to tackle the complex and gnarly issue of the achievement gap in U.S. public schools. His view on education reform is fresh and bold. The research backing up the five keys outlined in I Got Schooled  is extensive. Though there is nothing really startling in Shyamalan’s book,  he does frame the five keys quite well. I appreciate the scholarly research referenced, and the extensive personal interviews Shyamalan conducted for the book. His interviewees are eclectic, teachers of public and charter schools, principals, economists, professors, students, and student teachers. Each provides a thought-provoking perspective on education. For these reasons alone it’s a worthy read.

I also appreciate Shyamalan’s neutral viewpoint on U.S. public education; he approaches the book without any baggage, or with an axe to grind. His purpose for writing the book seems to be to jolt readers into caring about education, to shock them with the numbers on the United States’ public school performance for example (which are quite depressing), “My goal is to systematically awaken every part of us that cares” (p 17) —another reason why I found myself liking the book, and Shyamalan. He appears genuine, smart, and passionate about improving education.

Myths Uncovered – Class Size
Though not all readers will find Shyamalan’s five tenets pleasing, nor the myths he debunks. He addresses numerous misconceptions about education which many hold dear. ‘Myths’ as Shyamalan calls them that he even admits to adhering to until digging into the research. One contentious issue addressed is class size. Shyamalan interviews an expert on public education, Professor Eric Hanushek, economist, professor of education, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute. Several pages in the book describe Professor Hanushek views on class size, as well as results from numerous studies, for and against.

All kinds of people believe in smaller class size. I did, and I had a lot of company. According to the Gallup Organization’s survey “The Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” the number-one choice for a change that would improve American education was reducing class size. I don’t usually go with the crowd, but this one was common sense. (pp. 43-44)

Finding out just how much it would cost to reduce class size in the United States by a third was a wake-up call, but not because of the expense. After all, we’re spending more than $ 500 billion every year on primary and secondary education, so spending another $ 10 or $ 20 billion or so isn’t as crazy as it sounds— as long, that is, as it actually closes the achievement gap. The real problem with class-size reduction isn’t that it costs so much but that it buys so little: barely a fifth of the difference between the bottom quarter of America’s schools and the top quarter. (p. 53)

Other myths Shyamalan ‘busts’ are teachers salaries and education. He outlines that paying teachers more does not produce higher [and better] student achievement, and teachers with advanced degrees do not prove to be more effective teachers. There is no question that Shyamalan claims will rankle many. However, the topics do provide for discussion, consideration, and perhaps may be a catalyst for change, big or small.

Shyamanlan’s five keys to closing the education gap
1. No Roadblock Teachers
2. The Right Balance of Leadership
3. Feedback
4. Smaller Schools
5. More Time in School

I agree with four of five of the keys; I disagree with number five, more time in school. Starting with using school time more efficiently, is the place to begin rather than lengthening the school day as Shyamanlan suggests. I’ll use my children’s public high school here as an example, cut out the daily brunch of twenty minutes (recess), shorten lunch hour and reduce teacher collaboration time at least change the timing so that it doesn’t shorten the school day. In our district collaboration times translate to ‘late start Wednesdays’. I suggest scheduling full days for collaboration throughout year and extend the school year by these days [this last point is updated based upon a comment from a reader]. Another option which some districts are implementing is year round schooling, which means shorter break periods, avoiding the summer break.

Overall the book is an enlightening and fresh read, highly recommended for parents and educators. However the downside, is that the barriers to implementing the ‘five keys’ are such that another book would need to be written on how to dismantle them.

Other Reviews:

9 thoughts on “‘I Got Schooled’: Acclaimed Filmmaker’s Book on How to Fix Education

  1. Debbie

    I listen to an interview of the author “I got schooled” looks like I will have to buy & read the book to see what he said on discipline.
    Education has long been a major concern eldest son quiet compliant had able to make most of his education youngest son more energetic more challenging to authority & because teachers no longer had the last basion of assisting children to respect authority the smack one child although as bright as his brother has not achieved when it comes to formal education. I have done what I see as my best if I could I would have home schooled him. I now pay for my grandson to go to a small private school but see the same challenging behaviour and the same lack of discipline option. I am not advocating beating a child but if a child finds it hard to comply & there is no current effective consequence to assist the child to comply how will they beable to make the most of their education. Consider how much time teachers attention is taken from teaching to managing challenging behavioiurs.

    I hear of even young primary school children being excluded from school because of behaviour issues. If a teacher cannot control a young child what chance does the child have & those teachers who have to contend with as they go through the system. The problems compound.


    1. Hi Margaret,

      In the book “I got schooled” the topic of discipline is not addressed except when the author discusses the various types of classroom structure he experienced during the research. As you mention in any school settings discipline is a challenge for the teachers. My suggestion for parents of children with discipline concerns is to discussion the situation with the teacher and develop a strategy for dealing with the child’s behaviour problems that both can agree on.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


  2. “reduce [or eliminate] teacher collaboration time” ???
    Studies show that higher levels of teacher collaboration lead to higher levels of student achievement (http://wmpeople.wm.edu/asset/index/mxtsch/_25). The fact that you have a blog designed to share educational information, resources, and strategies with others attests to the fact that no isolated teacher can do as well as a group of connected teachers. When I taught high school, the late-start Wednesdays were an invaluable time to do everything from discussing specific interventions to work with specific students, to sharing effective classroom management or vocab-retention practices that would be even more beneficial if they were standard throughout the school, to aligning our curriculum and activities with other teachers to develop cross-curricular units. I don’t know what people think goes on in these sessions that would make them such a waste of time that they should be stopped. We’re not sitting around eating donuts and talking about our weekend plans and complaining about students. Teachers barely have time to plan, teach, and assess their own lessons, let alone coordinate anything with the rest of the faculty, whom they may only see during the rushed 25-minute lunch (which should also be shortened???). To say that these collaboration times are an inefficient use of about 60 minutes of class time every other week is short-sighted, but maybe that is easier when you are on the outside looking in.


    1. Joseph,

      Thank you for your response. I am in full support of teachers, and the public school system, and I did not say that teacher collaboration time is a waste of time, nor do I view teachers as wasting this time, far from it – however I can see how it may be interpreted that way. I will clarify – I do not view extending school hours for children as an option for closing the gap -which is the point I was making. Making the school day longer I don’t see as feasible for middle school and freshman and sophomore students.

      I have heard from teachers in my children’s school specifically in the AP and honors teachers, that they are hard pressed to teach all of the curriculum that is required of them within the hours and days in the school year. Many of these teachers offer extra hours of class time and study sessions early in the mornings, on their lunch hours and/or on Saturday mornings. This is something my husband and I are very appreciative of, and do provide positive feedback to the principal and the respective teachers for doing so. I also have my children write personal cards at the end of every school year thanking these teachers for providing the extra time they do for the kids.

      As it stands now, with the little time teachers have to teach the curriculum, late start Wednesdays push them even further behind according to the teachers I’ve spoken with.
      Perhaps collaboration time could be full days, and then the school year be extended by these number of days.

      I stand corrected.


      1. Debbie, sorry if I seemed too ranty. That wasn’t the intent. And I am glad that you are so outwardly pro-teacher (and make your kids do so also), which is probably as under-thanked as teachers feel they are for their extra efforts. I still feel like full-day collaboration is a lateral move for parents who still have to re-arrange daycare and family schedules, and a worse solution for collaborative teachers, because of the necessary infrequency of a full day of cancelled classes. (Although teachers would love the extra work time they will be left with after they run out of things to collaborate on for an entire 7-hour day.) But that would be like saving time doing the dishes each day by letting them pile up for a month before you deal with them. Yes, the dish-doing may be more focused and efficient when you finally get to it, but what happens in the meantime? Collaboration time seems more effective in the short bursts given with the late-Wednesday plan… A quick shot in the arm to talk about the progress that a student is making or to get help with something that has just come up.
        And I may be wrong, but length of the school year is determined by hours of seat time rather than number of days (maybe that varies by state), so the hour missed every other week (which for me meant simply compressing the 90-minute classes to 70-minute classes) should already be accounted for with a longer school year. The extra days are already there, meaning that late-start Wednesdays don’t necessarily sacrifice seat time.
        But basically, we’re on the same team regarding what we want for teachers and students. We just disagree on strategy.


        1. Joseph,

          Thanks for your response and for the opportunity for the chance to discuss such a critical issue. I see your point – the value of the collaboration time in smaller chunks seems to be far more beneficial. As you said the challenge is the strategy and implementation. Another option that is done here in our district at another school is block scheduling, where periods are longer – which I’ve heard is supposed to maximize learning time, and be more effective for instruction. It’s a complex issue with many factors and restraints, so I see how challenging it is for educators and administrators.

          Thanks again for your comments and for sharing your important points. Debbie


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