Blackboard Wars

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Blackboard Wars TV Poster Image
Tough school with fights, disrespect faces uphill battle.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The message here is that everyone deserves an education and people must work hard to make sure that happens even under difficult circumstances. The show demonstrates some hope, but it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges the featured school faces.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Troubled students aren't necessarily bad kids, but lack the guidance to help them do well. School teachers, administrators, and counselors are forced to play the role of parents as a result of students' personal circumstances.


The school has a zero-tolerance violence policy, but scenes of students fist fighting and engaging in thug-like behavior are frequent (and lead to suspensions). It also features lots of descriptions of shootings; healed bullet wounds are visible. Teachers occasionally lose their composure in front of students.


Teen pregnancy and teen parenthood are discussed; pregnant students are visible.


Words like "hell," "pissed," "damn," and "ass" are audible; curses like "s--t" and "f--k" are bleeped.


The series subtly promotes charter schools, and prominently talks about Future Is Now charter company.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The new school's new rules include a zero policy for drug use. Occasionally discussions about marijuana use are audible.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blackboard Wars contains positive messages about the importance of education, self-respect, and having goals, but includes some strong content, including scenes of students being disrespectful, fighting, and talking about gun violence. Teen pregnancy is a theme (and visible), and the use of marijuana on school grounds is discussed. Language is strong, too, with stronger words bleeped. The series subtly promotes the use of for-profit charter companies, like Future Is Now, as a positive way of turning troubled schools around.

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What's the story?

BLACKBOARD WARS is a documentary series that showcases how a team of committed educators are attempting to reinvent an infamous public New Orleans high school. It centers on John McDonogh High, which has a reputation for being one of the worst schools in America thanks to low test scores, a 70 percent drop out rate, gang violence, and drugs. Now being run by the state-appointed charter company Future Is Now, CEO Steve Barr is working with new school principal and no nonsense education veteran Dr. Marvin Thompson to transform John McDonogh into one of the best schools in the nation. But enforcing a new set of rules, including dress codes, respect for staff and students, late policies, and zero tolerance policy for violence and drugs, isn't easy. Also making it difficult are resistant parents, many who are being encouraged by community activists like Sandra Ewell, who resents having an outside company coming in to their neighborhood. The challenges can be overwhelming, but the reward that comes from watching students make positive changes and succeed academically are even bigger.

Is it any good?

Blackboard Wars notes the various and unique challenges that come with transitioning troubled schools into successful ones. While some of the issues discussed here, like violence, drugs, and teen pregnancy, are nothing new, conversations about the need to transform the school's overall identity offers a new perspective on how complicated and difficult making these changes is. Adding to this are observations made by newly hired teachers, some of whom are not from the local area, and are only beginning to understand how their students' difficult circumstances impact how they make sense of the world around them.  

The discussions about helping John McDonogh succeed are positive, but the series also promotes the creation of a charter school as a way of coping with its problems. As a result, it glosses over controversial issues, like placing the blame on good teachers for students' low test scores (and firing them as a result), as well as the fears that stem from allowing for-profit charter companies to take control of neighborhood schools, which play a part in a students' understanding of their community's long-standing traditions and values. But despite all of this, it sends a strong message about the importance of education in every students' life, and the need for more people to get involved to ensure that they get a good one.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about charter schools. What is the difference between a charter school and a public school? What are the potential benefits of becoming a charter school? Drawbacks? Who gets to go to the school once it becomes a charter?

  • Violence, swearing, and other inappropriate and/or dangerous activities are often shown by the media as a way of highlighting social problems that communities are facing. Is showing these things the best way to bring attention to these issues? If we were to simply talk about these problems, for example, would they be taken as seriously?

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