Extra Credit: A Seat in Class Is No Ticket to a Movie

Thursday, October 8, 2009; PG06

Dear Extra Credit:

I was surprised to read the letter saying that showing movies after testing seems to be prevalent in the Fairfax County school system (Sept. 17). I retired from 30 years in the Alexandria public schools. In working toward my degree to become a school librarian, one of my classes involved copyright laws.

I learned that showing movies to children in school, unless there is a strong educational tie-in with active teaching going on, is an infringement of copyright law and subject to fines of up to $200,000 per incident, even if the movie is owned by the school. The wider the audience, the greater the infringement.

I am surprised that such showings are going on in Fairfax. I had been under the impression that it was strict about the enforcement of these laws.

Kathy Orr


Your intriguing suggestion that movie-showing teachers might be just a few steps away from a lawsuit led me to ask several school district spokespeople about this. The answers were not consistent. I pray some legal scholar specializing in attempts to rip off Steven Spielberg will write and give me the case law. Here is what I was told:

-- Arlington County: "We purchase a 'movie license' each year that permits schools to show movies per the licensing agreement. The agreement covers the "building," so that Arlington County Parks and Rec activities are also covered in our joint-use facilities. Information is available about the license on the Web at http://www.movlic.com. We also checked with our library media services and instructional technology supervisors, who confirmed that fines apply only if there was a charge to the students to watch the film, and we are not aware of any of our schools showing films for which they are charging admission."

-- D.C. Public Charter School Board: "Of the few responses I got from D.C. public charter school leaders, most had not had any issues raised by lawyers or movie companies regarding the showing of movies in schools. Most show movies that are tied in to the curriculum. One school's parent group did a movie afternoon and paid the movie company for a one-time showing release of approximately $75."

-- Carroll County: "Our understanding is that showing movies to classes of students for entertainment or reward purposes does violate copyright laws. The only movies we endorse showing are those that are purchased by the school for instructional purposes. This has been communicated to principals. We have had to remind teachers and principals of this at times when this is brought to our attention. However, to my knowledge, we have never been threatened with a lawsuit from a film company."

Dear Extra Credit:

Although I agree with your column in theory that U.S. children need to be challenged in math to improve, unfortunately the support is not there to achieve the objective. My daughter goes to school in Fairfax County, and she has never had an elementary teacher who taught math well. The best math teacher she had was the math resource teacher in fifth grade, and that was only after we complained to her principal about the incompetence of the classroom teacher.

Now that my daughter is in middle school, she is enjoying math because the teachers are so much better, and she is being taught the subject matter.

In elementary school, I often asked the teachers to explain why a particular math problem was incorrect, and all they could do was recite the teacher's textbook. If we want to get serious about math, we need math specialist training in elementary school. This will probably never happen because the schools won't spend the money.

Kenneth Lewis

Mount Vernon

This has been a problem for a long time. As you know, elementary school teachers have not had to demonstrate great competence in math to be credentialed and hired. Some have proved to be as mathphobic as some of their students, which is why you see more math resource teachers these days.

Those specialists are devoted to improving math teaching. Their work, along with some raising of standards, seems to be having an effect. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that some of the country's greatest academic improvement has been in elementary school math. In international comparisons, that age group also looks pretty good.

Dear Extra Credit:

In your Sept. 24 column ("Open Classroom Doors to Better Teachers"), one contributor claimed that "U.S. teachers are drawn from the bottom third of college graduates." This claim was given no attribution. As a highly qualified, highly educated teacher (who came to teaching through an alternative certification program), I take umbrage with that assertion and ask the contributor to provide supporting documentation for it so it can be evaluated and debated.

Rebecca Watt

JEB Stuart High School

Fairfax County

Several teachers challenged this. My Web search proves once again that drawing from secondary sources is often like that kid's party game, telephone. Each citation might slightly alter the meaning.

I found a 2007 McKinsey & Co. report that said, "We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high-school students going to college," and it cited a 2007 report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which was not so specific: "We are now recruiting more of our teachers from the bottom third of the high school students going to college than is wise."

If anyone finds an earlier reference, let me know. It's fun running this stuff down.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail extracredit@washpost.com.

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