Documentary Film Looks at “De-leveling the System” in SOMA

Cris Thorne has been asking some tough questions about the South Orange and Maplewood school district’s controversial system of student placement called “Leveling.” Thorne has been interviewing teachers, principals, parents, students, community activists, and the superintendent for a documentary film titled De-leveling the System. Originally designed to be a fluid system by which students can move up or down based on a set criteria, the reality is that most students remain stuck in their level regardless of their performance.

According to Thorne’s findings, most of the students in the lower levels are of black or latino descent, while the majority of students in the honors and AP levels are white. While race isn’t part of the placement criteria, the racial disparity among the levels has become too clear to ignore. Over the past decade the debate over the effectiveness of this system has been a heated one; last summer the NAACP even considered suing the district, asserting that the leveling system was creating a system of “racial segregation” within the schools.

The district has put new changes in place this school year that appear to be moving in the direction of de-leveling the system. Thorne’s documentary will follow the effectiveness of those changes.

Having come this far, however, the entrepreneurial producer is out of money, so he’s using a new platform called Kickstarter to raise the production dollars he needs. The web-based fundraising system for creative projects, Kickstarter operates under the premise that “a good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide,” and that getting the word out to a large group of people can give projects the boost they need.

Thorne has until July 1 to raise $3,500 (he’s currently at $788), or the crowd sourced project funding system doesn’t give him anything.

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