Heartland Film Festival 2015: Movie Review – Beyond Measure (2014)

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  • Documentary Feature / USA
  • Director: Vicki Abeles
  • Writers: Vicki Abeles, Jeffrey Friedman, Mitzi Mock
  • Featured Subjects: Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling Hammond, Yong Zhao, Daniel Pink, Ron Berger

This review is part of my coverage of 2015’s Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Click here for more of my coverage of the festival. You can find my coverage of other Indianapolis area film and TV events here.

Beyond Measure is Vicki Abeles‘ followup to her 2010 documentary Race to Nowhere. While her last film examined the pressure-filled lives of overworked students, Beyond Measure spotlights alternative learning methods created by students and faculty across the country to combat the outdated data-driven methods.

The film begins as an indictment of modern education practices before introducing the alternatives. There are some eye opening statistics and sound logic in Beyond Measure‘s first twenty minutes. The film explains that the current model for education is failing more of our students in the long run. A 4.0 grade point average in high school doesn’t yield as many college graduates as one might think. Beyond Measure posits that this is due to students being forced to memorize material and have standardized tests reflect their accomplishments and aptitude.

The documentary uses the case of a high school in Seattle that boycotted a standardized test as a frame for the alternative education models it profiles. Beyond Measure does a great job of establishing the greater problems facing students today and addressing why the system is failing students. Education is referred to as a “fast paced business” at one point in the film and with the context of the information provided, that statement really resonated with me.

To introduce us to the alternate methods, there’s a wonderful analogy made by someone in the film. They ask “What if we taught baseball the same way we teach science?” They explain that over the course of 12 years we would be teaching children basic history of baseball, a few noteworthy players, then after many years we’d finally have the students play the game, but only to replicate certain games exactly. It was spoken much more eloquently in the film, but the analogy really struck a chord with me and helped transition the film into its main subjects.

Beyond Measure profiles a couple different alternative education models. The Independent Project and High Tech High are two of the alternative education programs profiled in the documentary. The former is a school within a school started by a student and the latter is a project-based school that eschews traditional grading. Most of the film is devoted to presenting these schools as examples of successful alternative education models. The documentary accomplishes this well and lets the results speak for themselves.

Beyond Measure examines the problems facing educators and students today and shows what alternative teaching methods can achieve. It’s an eye opening documentary that addresses problems and also offers out of the box solutions.

Obsessive Grade – 7.0/10

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