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Great Expectations

Aired August 30, 2013 - 22:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Do you want to read a book with me?


O'BRIEN: Have you ever read this book? It's called "Duck on a Bike." It looks like it's about a duck on a bike. That's kind of silly. You ready?


O'BRIEN: You want to use my finger?


O'BRIEN: One day.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Lavon Longstreet (ph) is 7 years old. He's about to start second grade.

(on camera): But it was -- do you recognize that word?


O'BRIEN: It was fun. Wow. Want me to read this page? Duck rode past cow. Moo said...


O'BRIEN: That's cow.

(voice-over): Academic standards in Minnesota say Lavon should be ability to read or sound out one- and two-syllable words.

(on camera): Can we do some math together?

(voice-over): In math, those standards say he should be able to do addition and subtraction with one-digit whole numbers.

(on camera): Two plus two equals?


O'BRIEN: Two plus two equals? Well, let's use our fingers.


O'BRIEN: Two plus two. How many do I have?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Two, three, four.

O'BRIEN: Oh. So it must be?


O'BRIEN: Excellent. Should we try a really long one? No?

JENNI PATERSON, ACADEMIC MANAGER: Essentially, he is where he should be about in October, November of kindergarten.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Kindergarten. Lavon is nearly two full years behind.


O'BRIEN: To get on level, he needs to cram three years of learning into 195 days of second grade. It may be impossible.


O'BRIEN (on camera): You knew it was that bad?

ERICA MCMILLAN, MOTHER: Well, I didn't know it was exactly that bad. I had been helping him at home.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Lavon's mother, Erica McMillan (ph), says she's been teaching Lavon and reading with him since he was a baby. But since kindergarten, school has been a torturous experience for Lavon.

MCMILLAN: The teacher was telling me, I'm one teacher with a volunteer and I have 26 students. Have you considered trying to hold Lavon back? And at the time, like, holding him back is not going to help him. Helping him now will help him.

O'BRIEN: That school was closed in 2011 for poor performance. Lavon was kicked out of his second school.

MCMILLAN: Lavon and another student was in a bathroom. The garbage can got set on fire.

O'BRIEN: By the time he arrived at his third district school, Lavon had been labeled special ed, 7 years old and firmly on a path to failure.

(on camera): How many Lavons are there, do you think?

ERIC MAHMOUD, FOUNDER, HARVEST PREP: From Minneapolis, 70 percent of African-Americans that are taking the state assessment, they're actually failing. That kind of gives you an idea of the number of Lavons that are out there.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Across the U.S., black children lag behind white kids on standardized math and reading tests. It's called the achievement gap, the difference between the percentage of white kids who pass proficiency tests and the percentage of black kids who pass those same tests.

In Minneapolis, the achievement gaps are massive. In reading, white students are ahead of black students by 44 points. In math, white students are ahead of black students by 49 points.

But there are two schools that get stellar outcomes for black children. They are charter schools, run by this man, Eric Mahmoud. He's an engineer-turned-educator who oversees Harvest Prep, a coed kindergarten through sixth grade school, and Best Academy, a kindergarten through eighth grade school with separate classes for boys and girls.

(on camera): What percentage of this school is African-American?

MAHMOUD: Ninety-nine percent of the students are African- American; 92 percent are free and reduced lunch.

O'BRIEN: So poor black kids?

MAHMOUD: And successful.

I'm going to share with you the preliminary results.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): When the math scores of Mahmoud's students are compared to white kids in Minneapolis, there are gaps. But it's Mahmoud's students who are ahead.

At Best Academy, his students are six points ahead of the white average. At Harvest Prep, his students are 14 points ahead of white children. In reading, they're near to closing the achievement gap. Best Academy is behind by 13 points. Harvest Prep is just six points from closing the gap.

MAHMOUD: We're doing it, and these other schools are not doing it.

Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do.

O'BRIEN: So he's working...

MAHMOUD: What are we going to do, scouts?


O'BRIEN: ... with the city's public school superintendent, Bernadeia Johnson.

(on camera): How controversial is that? You're the superintendent of a public school district. (CROSSTALK)



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor of the resolution signify by saying aye.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those against? Motion passes unanimously.


O'BRIEN: In February 2012, a critical vote authorizes Eric Mahmoud to open four new charter schools over the next 10 years. It puts them at the center of the superintendent's initiative, to grow quality schools regardless of who runs them, the district or charters.

JOHNSON: When you start partnering with charter schools, people think you're giving up on public education.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Are you giving up on public education?

JOHNSON: Absolutely not. We can't.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's an experiment of sorts.

MAHMOUD: Who do we want to give a shout-out to? Joshua. Let's give Joshua a hand.


O'BRIEN: The district will get to study Mahmoud's best methods.

MAHMOUD: Jessica, you think you can bring it this morning?

O'BRIEN: And the city should get more quality schools for its children of color.

MAHMOUD: We want it to be excellent.

O'BRIEN: It's crucial, because when these students of color are adults, they will be the majority in Minneapolis. It's the same story in every major city in the nation.


O'BRIEN: Sondra Samuels is a community activist.

SAMUELS: What we're allowing to happen to low-income, particularly low-income children in this country is egregious. It's not sustainable for cities, for regions, for our country. We're no longer competitive. It's a moral issue, it's an economic issue, and we don't have time to play.

O'BRIEN: The first new school is called Mastery. By August of 2012...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need six classrooms.

O'BRIEN: ... it's squeezing into this place with Best Academy and Harvest Prep. And it's starting small, just kindergarten through second grade. They will add a grade every year. Among the second graders, Lavon Longstreet. He's 7 years old and this will be his fourth school.

For Eric Mahmoud, it will be a new front in what's become a bruising fight to improve education for poor black children in Minneapolis.

(on camera): Does it feel like a battle to you?

MAHMOUD: Every day, having to justify how we do things.

Let's go in quietly.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): How does he do things? Highly structured, longer days.

MAHMOUD: Excellent job. Excellent job.

O'BRIEN: A longer school year, an Afro-centric culture, and testing, and lots of testing. All that has critics charging that he's teaching to the test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that we want train people to simply fill in the correct bubble.

O'BRIEN: That he's segregating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's devastating for children, low-income children particularly.

O'BRIEN: And that his model just can't last.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can those teachers stay at a school for 10 or 15 years?

O'BRIEN: Ahead, our year-long journey at Mastery. Can Mahmoud win his battle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lavon, I'm up here, son. I'm not down the .

O'BRIEN: And if he doesn't, what happens to boys like Lavon?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I do not know how to do this.





O'BRIEN: Lavon Longstreet and his friend, Chamar Anglin (ph), are in the middle of a tug-of-war over education reform. So instead of playing, they're beginning school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your summer is over.

O'BRIEN: They're both second graders at the new Mastery charter school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bus is coming. Little hug?



O'BRIEN: It's August 13, a full two weeks before the district schools here open their doors.

MAHMOUD: We're in school 35 percent longer than the school next door.

O'BRIEN: Mastery school has lots of rules.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please shake the hand of your greeter. You're facing forward with your voice off.

O'BRIEN: There are two teachers in Lavon and Chamar's class, Terrence Price (ph) and Jason Burns (ph), making the student-teacher ratio 1-14.

The local public schools have an average of one teacher for every 26 students. And, at Mastery, the boys and girls are educated separately.

(on camera): What's the value of a single-sex education?

MAHMOUD: Boys are a lot more immature than girls, so they get the behavioral referrals and the special ed labels. So by having the boys in an environment where the expectation is that they can move around a little bit, we can focus on their needs.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Brendon Montgomery (ph) is also a second grader. His mother has struggled with finding the right school for him.

CHRISTEA MONTGOMERY, MOTHER: It wasn't unheard of for me to get a message saying Brendon decided to push his stuff off -- you know, his paper off the desk and run to the wall and pout and cry, and it would be kicking and screaming.

O'BRIEN: So she's transferring him from his mostly white suburban school.

MONTGOMERY: There are no teachers of color. And I think that kind of affects Brendon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to reach out your hand. You're going to shake me. Mr. Price (ph) and myself, hand -- firm handshake and I want your first name.

MONTGOMERY: I think that might feed into his confidence level to see here, you look like me and you're teaching me.

O'BRIEN: Brendon's mother believes if Brendon has more confidence...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to be doing the right thing 100 percent of the time.

O'BRIEN: ... he will be better behaved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brendon, you may line up. Chamar, you may line up.

CALLIE LALUGBA, PRINCIPAL, MASTERY/HARVEST PREP: So, let's talk about who we are and what we represent.

O'BRIEN: This isn't just a pep talk

LALUGBA: Everybody say, no excuses.


O'BRIEN: Mastery's principal is laying out the philosophy of the school.

LALUGBA: We want you to have the growth mind-set. Everybody say, growth mind-set.

O'BRIEN: It's a theory developed by a Stanford psychologist about 40 years ago.

MAHMOUD: The growth mind-set is the idea that the mind is like a muscle, and the harder they work, the smarter they get. And so it's important in particular in working with African-American children, because they have been told over and over again that they have an inferior innate ability, intellectual ability.

O'BRIEN: Mahmoud says it's key to closing the achievement gap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to pass out a piece of paper. It's just a "get to know you" type of assignment.

O'BRIEN: Lavon Longstreet needs to grow a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I do not know how to do this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe, Lavon, maybe you want to practice during lunchtime. Almost there. Lavon is the only one that's keeping us from being at 100 percent.

Is there something that's keeping you from following directions today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job, Lavon. Lavon is really trying hard. He's really focusing now.

Wait for directions. Just have a seat where your name is.

O'BRIEN: It's week five, and the second graders have their first big test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lavon, get focused, son. Keep going.

O'BRIEN: To measure how much math and reading they know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will take it again in the spring, and then we will be able to see how much growth they made.

O'BRIEN: Lavon scores at the very bottom, the first percentile for math, the third percentile for reading.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lavon, sit up, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs a lot of support. Instead of just one lesson, it will be two lessons a day until he gets -- tests out of the program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you seen a boy or girl as far behind as Lavon get to where they need to be in a year?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I can't say that I have.

O'BRIEN: There's a lot at stake.

MAHMOUD: There's a significant probability that a third grader that is not reading on the third grade level will not graduate from high school. And then there's a correlation between high school and crime, not graduating from high school.


ROBERT PANNING-MILLER, TEACHER: What we don't need are charter schools that do drill and kill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're not listening, OK? I'm trying to help you.

O'BRIEN: Is Lavon really learning or just learning to cram?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are we going to find the perimeter, Lavon? No help.

O'BRIEN: Mastery students are tested...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time for you to do your independent part.

O'BRIEN: ... every day.

MAHMOUD: We're constantly looking at data on a daily basis, weekly basis, and every six weeks.

O'BRIEN: Daily tests are called exit slips.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do the exit slip and then come back over here.

MAHMOUD: It's a quiz at the end of every lesson.

O'BRIEN (on camera): So, every day, they get a quiz. Is that a lot for a second grader?

MAHMOUD: No, it's not. It's a three-question dipstick basically to see how students are learning. If most of the students aren't getting it, it's a corrective measure for the teacher. The teacher has to go back and reteach the lesson.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Weekly tests are Friday quizzes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your name on it. Do not look it over. Get ready. Go.

Two minutes.


O'BRIEN: Comps are every six weeks to see how much the students are retaining. Lavon often takes the test in a one-on-one environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to put what comes after that number.

PANNING-MILLER: What we don't need are more tests and charter schools that do drill and kill.

O'BRIEN: Minneapolis high school teacher Robert Panning Miller is a fierce charter school opponent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the title of this graph?

O'BRIEN (on camera): What does drill and kill mean?

PANNING-MILLER: It basically means an emphasis and focus on memorization, repetition. It does not make you a critical thinker, does not evoke any level of creativity.

MAHMOUD: We definitely drill. We don't kill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lavon, here you go.



O'BRIEN: Mahmoud says the constant testing is a way to see how much the children are retaining.


O'BRIEN: Jump.


O'BRIEN: It also helps prepare them, he says, for yearly statewide tests which begin in third grade.

(on camera): A criticism of you is, so you are teaching these kids to test.

MAHMOUD: We are teaching to the standards. And the test measures the standard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're an individual, you have three minutes to speak.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The rules keep this school board meeting congenial. But the debate simmering underneath is about charter schools, and whether they should exist at all.

PANNING-MILLER: I don't want that culture brought here and then asked to live up to those expectations that are really just based on test scores. Our partnership with charters is a disaster.

O'BRIEN: A disaster because, Panning-Miller says, charter schools take money from district schools. And he says they siphon off students with the most involved parents.

PANNING-MILLER: This is not a partnership that is going to benefit all students.

O'BRIEN: Panning-Miller points out that only a tiny number of Minneapolis' nearly 50 charter schools are doing better than district schools.

PANNING-MILLER: When you look at charter schools, they're doing more often worse than public schools.

O'BRIEN: Panning-Miller would like to eliminate charters and focus on improving the city's district schools.

(on camera): If you were to shine a light on the few schools that are doing really well, Eric Mahmoud's school would be one of those. Why not say, whatever it is he's doing, let's do more of that?

PANNING-MILLER: By what standard is he doing well?

O'BRIEN: Let's do a standard by which most schools are judged, proficiency on reading tests, proficiency on math tests.

PANNING-MILLER: Right. And the problem is that those tests are flawed to begin with. The idea that we are measuring with these standardized test is part of the problem.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, but if I look at Bethune across the street, their math and reading scores are awful for black students.

(voice-over): Bethune Elementary is a district school located behind Mahmoud's building. For black students at Bethune, 89 percent cannot do math at grade level; 70 percent can't read at their grade level.

(on camera): Why is that a better model than someone who at least has great math and reading scores?

PANNING-MILLER: It's not that Bethune is a better model. The public schools collectively are a better model. Nobody...

O'BRIEN: For black kids?

PANNING-MILLER: Nobody -- for every child, including black children.

No one that's fighting against the charter school movement is suggesting that public schools are where they need to be.

O'BRIEN: But black parents might say what seems to be working is this one out of a lot, one guy's charter school.

PANNING-MILLER: How many kids are going to go to that school?

O'BRIEN: One thousand.

(voice-over): The total number of children in Mahmoud's building.

PANNING-MILLER: And how many African-American students are there in Minneapolis?

(on camera): Twelve thousand.

(voice-over): The number enrolled in district schools.

(on camera): You're interviewing me. But I tell you, I get your point.



O'BRIEN: So is the answer, then, build 12 of them?


O'BRIEN: Why not?

PANNING-MILLER: Because that is not a school, a model that is going to create the educated society that we need.

O'BRIEN: Is it a problem that you're a white guy saying that?


O'BRIEN: And black parents will be like, what do you know? You don't have a black son who you're trying to educate.

PANNING-MILLER: I can't speak for African-American parents, and I can't tell them what to do and I wouldn't tell them what to do. People need to make decisions for their own children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grab a leg. Grab a leg. Turn, turn, turn, turn. Get off your back. Quick, fast, quick, fast. Belly. Base.

O'BRIEN: Six months into second grade, there is slow progress in Lavon's academics, but big progress outside of class. Lavon is on the school's wrestling team.

MCMILLAN: He's very good.

O'BRIEN: Good enough to become one of the best in his weight class.

CHANDELL KNOX, WRESTLING COACH: When I look at the other kids, I don't think there's anybody, if Lavon wrestles his best, that can beat him, just because he's so athletic and he will work hard. And he won't give up on himself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on to him, Lavon.

MCMILLAN: I'm so proud he can accomplish something like this that lets him know you can really do anything if you set your mind to it.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Even academics?

MCMILLAN: Even academics.

O'BRIEN: Even when you're two years behind your classmates?

MCMILLAN: Even if you're two years behind.

KNOX: Excellent job today, gentleman.

O'BRIEN: Up next: another criticism.

(on camera): Are you re-segregating schools?




O'BRIEN: Lavon Longstreet (ph) is succeeding on the wrestling mat and having some success in the classroom.


PRICE: Did you add the one also?


O'BRIEN: By March, his math his improved enormously.

PRICE: So does that check out right?


PRICE: Twenty-seven? All right, good job. He really has bought into solving problems, and even the word problems. That are challenging for him.

O'BRIEN (on camera): You've got to stand up. Nice.

PRICE: He will nine times out of 10 solve them correctly.

O'BRIEN: How many students voted him total? What do you have to do to get that number? I think you're right.

Where would you have placed him in the class in terms of math when he first came here?

PRICE: When he first came in, I would say he was near the bottom, absolutely.

O'BRIEN: And where is he now?

PRICE: He's in the middle of the pack.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): His reading? Much better. But still an uphill climb.

PRICE: Ready, go.

LONGSTREET (PH): The other cowboys say, let's see if a horse...

PRICE: Good job.

LONGSTREET (PH): ... touched...

PRICE: No, that word is "tried." Look at that word, try it out.


PRICE: Stop. So close, so close, Lavon. You did really well. You got to 2 1/2 minutes so we had to stop. But I love the effort. You're working hard; you're right there. You're doing really well.

GRAPHIC: Parent-Teacher Conferences

PRICE: How do you think you're doing in the class or in school overall?


MAHMOUD: He's still well below grade level, but just the improvement and the ability for him to sound out words is very important. We keep the standards where they are, and we just try to push him.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Do you worry about him going to 3rd grade?

MAHMOUD: Yes. Third grade is when they start state assessments.

O'BRIEN: Do you think Lavon is going to be promoted to 3rd grade or will he be held back?

MAHMOUD: We're looking at that.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): It matters because 3rd graders not on grade level are more likely to become dropouts.

Mastery is helping Chamar (ph) Englund (ph) become a top math student and a better reader. An enthusiastic stepper, he's thriving in the Afrocentric culture. A culture that's meant (ph) for here. The school is nearly 100 percent back.

(on camera): Are you re-segregating schools?

MAHMOUD: Absolutely not. What we're doing is providing an excellent education to the underserved community.

O'BRIEN: And at the same time it's segregating. Most of the kids at this school are black kids.

MAHMOUD: Well, that's like saying people who have cancer goes to a cancer hospital and you call that segregation. I wouldn't draw that conclusion.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Law professor Myron Orfield believes Mahmoud's success has encouraged the creation of more all-black charter schools.

MYRON ORFIELD, LAW PROFESSOR: The public schools are getting segregated by themselves. The charter schools have accelerated that process.

O'BRIEN: Orfield says in the twin cities in 1990, there were no segregated schools. Now he counts about 130.

(on camera): What's the impact of segregation?

ORFIELD: Devastating for children, low-income children particularly. Segregated schools dramatically decrease the possibility that kids graduate.

O'BRIEN: A black kid in an integrated school is more likely to go to college?

ORFIELD: Yes, much more likely.


ORFIELD: White schools or integrated schools tend to have more resources, so they tend to have more tax base in those jurisdictions. They tend to have higher qualified teachers. They tend to be in districts that have more money. They also have powerful peer groups in those schools that are geared toward college and graduation.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Mahmoud's charter schools have the children focused on college from the moment they walk in the door. The second grade boy's classroom is named Morehouse. Then there's Spelman, Lincoln, USC.

MAHMOUD: I think that our success runs counter and is a threat to people like Myron Orfield that has the theory that all we need to do is to sit African-American children next to white children and they're going to learn.

O'BRIEN: Scores for black children at integrated suburban schools like those in Wayzaba and Edina, are higher than they are for black children in the city of Minneapolis. But there are still large achievement gaps.

MAHMOUD: The point is, you may get a bump in achievement, but it doesn't change the game. I'm talking about game-changing achievement at our school, and we're not focused on who they're sitting next to.

O'BRIEN: Ahead, is Eric Mahmoud losing his battle?

SUPERINTENDENT BERNADEIA JOHNSON, MINNEAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I just knew that all the people who were against what he was doing were going to find ways of using this as a leverage to stop the good work.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Have they been able to do that?


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Lavon Longstreet (ph) likes to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't put the slip down.

O'BRIEN: So today, instead of grappling with school work...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty-nine one. There you go. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lavon Longstreet (ph).

O'BRIEN: ... he's grappling on the mat. To make it to states, he's got to get first or second place today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lavon, you've got to listen.

O'BRIEN: Lavon is a good wrestler.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

O'BRIEN: But he loses his first match.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't ever quit, don't ever stop. And you didn't quit one time on the mat. You didn't slow down one time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's wrong with you? Why are you sitting on someone's lap getting babied up? Stop that. You've got two more matches. Don't feel sorry for yourself. You've just got to listen, OK?

O'BRIEN: Next match.

He starts listening.



O'BRIEN: One more win and he's going to state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good legs, Lavon, good legs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job. Way to listen. You made it, baby.

GRAPHIC: March 2013. Minneapolis, Minnesota.

PRICE: Chamar (ph) missed the bus this morning, and mom doesn't have the transportation to get to school.

O'BRIEN: Chamar Englund's (ph) teacher, Mr. Burns, is going to bring Chamar (ph) to school.

PRICE: Thought you had a free day, huh?

It's easier to go get him versus him miss a day. If that happens, then we have to kind of reteach what they missed out on.

O'BRIEN: Petina Englund (ph) has been volunteering at the school. She's been unemployed for six months.

PETINA ENGLUND (PH), VOLUNTEERS AT SCHOOL: I have a gas bill, electric bill, water and trash. About $2,000. You want to help me with the eggs today?

O'BRIEN (on camera): Is there a point you had to send Chamar (ph) off to his uncle's?

ENGLUND (ph): One weekend. You can't explain to a child "We don't have any food, so we can't eat again."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Jesus, for giving us this food this morning.

O'BRIEN: There's a whole theory that says kids in poverty can't learn because there's just a lot of stuff, as you know, right, that goes along with poverty. Can't make your bills, you worry about the water being shut off. Sometimes there's no food to eat.

ENGLUND (ph): I don't agree with that at all. My son has not deescalated at all in his academic skills because of our struggles.

I personally feel like if a child is not learning because of a struggle, it's because the parent or adult that is taking care of the child has placed that adult business on that child to figure out.

GRAPHIC: April 2013.

PRICE: All the ones, stand up.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Brendon Montgomery's mother tried to solve his problems at school by transferring Brendon to Mastery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a team effort.

O'BRIEN: She hoped that men who looked like her son would be the best people to teach him how to behave.

PRICE: Brendon was suspended, so he wasn't here. He was suspended for three days.

One of the reasons is...

Losing control, pushing furniture, talking back to adults, talking back to other students.

You've got ten seconds.


O'BRIEN (on camera): There's a three strikes rule here. He's been suspended how many times?

PRICE: Brendon.

At least three.

O'BRIEN: What are the chances that he's not going to make it through? (voice-over): And if he does complete the year, what are the chances that he'll return next year?

CHRISTEA MONTGOMERY, BRENDON'S MOTHER: I don't know if I'll keep him there. You wonder is that the school for your child?

O'BRIEN: Brendon's mother is torn. She believes in Mastery's mission, and its teachers.

PRICE: We want to make sure we're closing the achievement gap.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Are you doing that?

PRICE: I believe so.

O'BRIEN: You're choking up. Why is that -- wow.

PRICE: I mean, it's -- that's why I do what I do. These boys -- they have me, Mr. Burns and everybody that works with them to push them and make sure that they're successful. I just want to keep it going and give all these children a chance to have a successful life.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): For Mr. Price, it means long hours.

MAHMOUD: Our teachers are here by 7:30 in the morning and they don't leave until 5, 5:30.

O'BRIEN: Ten hours a day.

(on camera): Can you move to a really long day, which is what Eric Mahmoud has done?

JOHNSON: I want to get there, and it's going to take a lot of conversations with the union to do that.

O'BRIEN: And do you think you'll ever get there?

JOHNSON: Well, I'm going to try my damndest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right, that's right. That's right.

O'BRIEN: Those long hours at Mahmoud's school have his critics questioning if his model can survive long-term.

JEFF HAYDEN, MINNESOTA STATE SENATE: I don't know necessarily know if you or I or anybody else can raise a family if we're spending that much time at work.

PRICE: What do these two letters say, everybody?

HAYDEN: Can those teachers stay in the school for 10, 15 years?

O'BRIEN: Mr. Price has been teaching at Mahmoud's school for more than nine years.

(on camera): So what's your teacher retention rate? MAHMOUD: Our teacher retention is anywhere from 65 to 70 percent.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The district's retention rate, more than 90 percent.

MAHMOUD: School is all about challenge.

O'BRIEN: Then, another blow for Eric Mahmoud.

(on camera): Eric called you and said there's going to be a story in the paper.

JOHNSON: I was shocked and concerned.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): There had been newspaper stories revolving around a 2005 case in Georgia where Mahmoud and four others were charged with residential mortgage fraud.

MAHMOUD: At the time I was managing our schools, I was also doing real-estate investment in Minnesota on the side, and quite frankly, my mistake was I got involved in something that I truly didn't understand the full impact.

O'BRIEN: He pled guilty and was given probation. In mid-August, the court dismissed the case.

JOHNSON: All the people who were against what he was doing or against what the district were doing were going to find ways of using this as a leverage to stop the good work.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Have they been able to do that?


O'BRIEN: Did your faith in him waver?


O'BRIEN: Not for a second?

JOHNSON: Not in the work that he does, no.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Mahmoud says his focus now is school. And training.

MAHMOUD: I'm training for a marathon.

O'BRIEN: His first.

MAHMOUD: It's about never giving up, keep trying, keep working.

O'BRIEN: That attitude has gotten Lavon this far. State. Today, he's behind. He lost an earlier match. And he's got to win this match to get second place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, come on, Lavon. Let's go! Let's go, Lavon. Let's go.

O'BRIEN: He starts strong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Walk up his back. Up, up, up!

O'BRIEN: But then it's his last match and, with just 20 seconds left, Lavon is down four points. A win seems impossible.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): There's 20 seconds left in Lavon Longstreet (ph)'s final match.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right, Lavon. That's right. Get up!

O'BRIEN: A win will get him second place at state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grab the elbow and pull it.

O'BRIEN: But he's four points behind, and that seems impossible.


MAHMOUD: This is really about grit, it's about working hard, effort, improvement.

Good job, buddy. Good job.

He's also demonstrating that in the classroom. So there's a direct translation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right, Lavon.

O'BRIEN: Then he pulls off the unexpected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't let him up. Stay on him, Lavon.

O'BRIEN: This attempt at a pin gets him five points, the win, and the second-place trophy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's get a picture.

GRAPHIC: Spring 2013.

O'BRIEN: As the school year winds down, it's clear Lavon had wins in the classroom, too. He grew from the bottom one percentile in math to the 31st percentile.

PRICE: What's the rule?

LONGSTREET (PH): Five before nine (ph).

O'BRIEN: Amazing growth, but still below the 50th percentile, which is average. In reading, sessions two times a day.

PRICE: You already know it? Good job.

He's about at the beginning of 2nd grade level.

O'BRIEN (on camera); Is he going to be up to grade level in reading by the time he's in 3rd grade, that critical 3rd grade?

MAHMOUD: He has grown two years in one year. So he stays on that track, he will definitely be at grade level by the end of 3rd grade.

PRICE: Let's do some more.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): And his behavior?

PRICE: He doesn't have many issues except for when he's frustrated with academics. And so that's just his competitive spirit, wanting to do well.

Two minutes.

O'BRIEN: That spirit is one reason he's being promoted.

PRICE: If we held him back, it might impact the way he feels about himself. I don't know if that would be good for him.

Let's get back at it now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he did great. He was where he was at, he would still be struggling or even worser [SIC] than he is now.

O'BRIEN: Public schoolteacher Robert Penn Miller disagrees.

ROBERT PENN MILLER, PUBLIC SCHOOLTEACHER: Developmentally, there are differences. To look at a kid and to say magically this all happened, suggests that if he were at the public school next door that that wouldn't have also happened.

MAHMOUD: We're constantly assessing the progress of Lavon. So we know Lavon's progress in math and reading is a direct consequence of this support that we've given him academically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, defense. Let's go!

O'BRIEN: And Chamar (ph)?

PRICE: His math was 88 percent, so he's well above grade level.

O'BRIEN: Chamar (ph) is now reading at a beginning fourth grade level and he's returning to Mastery, and his mom finally got a job.

ENGLUND (ph): I'm not pulling my hair out trying to figure it out.

O'BRIEN: As for Brendon Montgomery...

MONTGOMERY: I would say it's been pretty successful academically.

PRICE: What's the first thing we're going to do? We have to follow...

O'BRIEN: And to control his behavior, Mr. Price is using a system of points and rewards.

MONTGOMERY: That helped quite a bit.

O'BRIEN: He's returning to Mastery.

Community activist Sondra (ph) Samuels.

(on camera): Do you think Eric is going to be able to create four schools in ten years?


He has a whole host of people holding him up.

O'BRIEN: And a whole host of people tearing him down.

SAMUELS: Oh, yes, that's right. But I want to think that we have justice on our side. And that because of that, we got a little bit more might.

O'BRIEN: If Eric is trying to create four of his schools over ten years, isn't that a movement towards excellence and equity?

MILLER: At best, in a pocket. It's not a system of change, and it's not a change that you can take across the system.

O'BRIEN: When I come back in ten years, will the Minneapolis public schools have taken over your model?

MAHMOUD: We're starting to see a lot of the innovations that we've incorporated in our program. They're going to incorporate in theirs.

PRICE: Have a great summer.

JOHNSON: I am going to look under every rock and look every place I can to find where people are being successful with our students and figure out how we can replicate that on a broader scale within this system.

PRICE: All right, Lavon. Good job. I'm proud of you. You guys have a fun summer, OK?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): But it's going to be a long haul. By the end of the summer, bad news for Mahmoud. What's been two steps forward is now one big step back.

MAHMOUD: I go back to my marathon running. Don't think about the 26 miles, think about the next mile that you have to run. Drawing from that analogy is how I move forward with this work. O'BRIEN: Results from the new, more rigorous state reading tests are out, and all Minneapolis students have dropped.

Some of Mahmoud's classes are still beating the white proficiency scores. His 8th grade all-boys class, which has been there the longest, is ahead of their white counterparts in both reading and math.

But while Mahmoud's students still beat their black counterparts at the district schools, their overall proficiency numbers have plummeted. Down an average of 25 points in reading and math.

Mahmoud's plan now? A big dig into the scores, to understand what went wrong and fix it.

MAHMOUD: Never give up. Never quit.

PRICE: Sound it out.

MAHMOUD: It's important to have grit.

LONGSTREET (PH): "Hello, Cow," said Duck.

MAHMOUD: That's the main message.

PRICE: Close. You're doing good.

MAHMOUD: There's always going to be things in your life where people say that you can't do it.

PRICE: What's that word?


MAHMOUD: Just keep on trying, never give up.

LONGSTREET (PH): Duck rode past cat. "Hello, Cat," said Duck.