PBS documentary explores academic achievement gap

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Here was the idea: Students from low-income inner-city backgrounds could perform as well as better-off suburban students -- if they had a school that gave them proper support.

Founded in 1999 with that idea in mind, Amistad Academy is a public charter school in New Haven, Conn., whose 250 students, overwhelmingly poor and minority, are drawn at random from New Haven's public schools. They enter in fifth grade on average more than two years behind -- yet leave the school at the end of eighth grade doing as well or better than their suburban counterparts.

"If we could close that gap," says program host Clarence Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune, "and truly equalize educational achievement between the races, most of our other socio-economic debates would just go away."

"Closing the Achievement Gap" airs 9 p.m. Wednesday on PBS (check local listings).

His Atlantic City casinos have gone bust. But mogul-author-celebrity Donald Trump still has billions and -- even better -- a hit reality TV show, "The Apprentice." That's good enough for cable's E! Entertainment network to salute him with "It's Good To Be ... Donald Trump," which chronicles the good life, Trump-style, from his personal jumbo jet or on the links of one of his four golf courses. It airs 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Court TV's popular "Forensic Files" celebrates its 200th edition, which is airing Friday, with a week of new episodes weeknights at 8 p.m. Launched four years ago, the series takes viewers along as investigators solve complex cases by analyzing forensic clues with state-of-the-art technology and techniques. On Friday, "Making the Collar" tells the story of 16-year-old Leanne Tiernan from Leeds, England, who, after a Christmas shopping outing, began her walk home and never arrived. Her body was discovered nine months later.

Relax, you're not as nutty as you thought. At least, not in comparison to the subjects of "Totally Obsessed," a new VH1 series profiling people consumed by their extreme hobbies. Such as Pat and Joe Prosey, who for 19 years have been raising a Cabbage Patch doll as their real-life son, much to the displeasure of their flesh-and-blood daughter. Or a 45-year-old man who, with 10 extreme body modification surgeries, has surgically transformed himself into a cat. Or Nicki Roberts, who once tipped the scales at 160 pounds but wants to weigh 600 pounds, and is now 365 -- and gaining. The show airs Monday through Thursday at 10 p.m.

Ed "Speedo" Jager is driven by a lifelong passion for stock cars, the dream of becoming a "real" race-car driver, and a simmering anger at whatever stands in his way. But despite his status as one of the top drivers on the demolition derby tour, he is also a man who, after a failed marriage, is determined to be a good father to his two sons and "to make the best of what you have." Filmmaker Jesse Moss's portrait "Speedo: A Demolition Derby Love Story" follows Jager through the 1999 season, culminating at the National Demolition Derby Championship. This documentary airs on "P.O.V." 9 p.m. Tuesday on PBS.

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