Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Racing to the Top is causing me to Bottom Out...

School is kicking my rear-end this year.  I hate it.   And I don't mean the schools I work in...I mean my children's school.  My kids are in Kindergarten and 3rd grade, and education in New York has gone to hell in a hand basket.  With the adaptation of the Common Core Learning Standards, and the addition of testing for teacher evaluations, it is a whole new game.  And one that is definitely less fun for the whole family.  It's not only making me hate school, but my kids as well.  Five o'clock, the usual witching hour, is now the dreaded homework hour.  There is frustration and yelling and tears.  This is not how school should be.

Firstly, it needs to be stated that New York State has adopted both of the aforementioned programs in order to receive federal funding.  Without adopting these measures, New York State could lose out on the monies from the Obama Race to the Top initiative.  It is a huge sum of money (something like $700 million).

However, the Common Core Learning Standards are not developmentally appropriate.  By adopting them, they are essentially accelerating the learning process up by about a year.  Meaning, third-graders are now expected to know material once presented in fourth-grade.  But they were never presented with the third-grade skills.  These "gap skills" are being crammed in here and there, without time for actual mastery of the material.  Also, presenting material that is above the learning level of the student does not lead to mastery and generalization of the skill.  It leads to poor compensatory strategies, poor study habits, aversion to school and learning, increased frustration and increased anxiety.  This is the perfect storm to increase the level of children acting out, thereby further disrupting an already disrupted and stressed classroom.

The teacher evaluations are making matters even worse.  Kids are now being subjected to testing of some sort or another at a disgustingly high rate.  (Even the kindergartners.  This is even more outrageous, because, in New York State, KINDERGARTEN is NOT MANDATED.)  The first two months of school have been about testing students for the the teacher evaluations, which include the APPR's and SLO's.  This means that the teachers have been out of the classroom, testing students.  Instruction has been interrupted, stalled and otherwise off-kilter for the first seven weeks of school.  In other words, to boost the effectiveness of teachers, we are pulling them out of the classroom.  Please, if anyone can understand this, explain it to me.  I do not understand how a teacher can teach if they are not in the classroom.

Our children need to attend school to learn, not to learn how to take tests.

Improving test scores will not make the United States more competitive in the world market.  Teaching at a level too developmentally high for a child's neurological development will not make a better student.  Here is my analogy for this...children typically learn to walk between 9-18 months, which is a huge range.  Every so often, you'll hear about a child who walks at 8 months.  Sometimes, kids are working on it, but just don't master it until they are about 2.  Outside the normal range, but they get there.  But someone notices that Russia has the best gymnasts.  They are physically superior to ours...they must be.  After all, at the World Gymnastic Championships, they have won an overall 772 medals, while the US has only won 243.  To be a better gymnast, the government decides that ALL children born should walk earlier so that they have more time to work on gymnastic skills.  So now, all pediatricians will be responsible for making sure that children walk by the age of six months.  Otherwise, they cannot get paid.  If they cannot get paid, they will not be able to rent office space and buy supplies and pay staff.  They will be forced to close.  But, you say, a six month-old can barely sit independently.  They do not have the trunk strength or stability to stand, let alone walk.  This is ridiculous.

This is what is happening in education.  Kids are being asked to read and write before they are PHYSICALLY and PHYSIOLOGICALLY able.  And if they are not successful, the teacher and the school are at fault.

The Common Core Learning Standards are designed to make us competitive with China and Korea.  However, the average US school year is 180 days, while in China, India and Korea, children attend school 200-220 days per year.  Up to 40 more days each year.   That means, but the time a child in China is in third grade, they have attended 160 more days of school, which is almost a full year for our students.  They simply have more educational time.  Also, the family structure is different.  In Korea, there are often several generations of family living under one roof, with only one to two children per parents.  This creates a large extended family...after all, it takes a village.  In China, parents can only have one child.  And because of this, most children with apparent or suspected disabilities are abandoned into orphanages, and education is not a priority.  In the United States, as of 2009, 33% of families are single parent.  In African-American households, 66% are single parent.  Right there, that indicates that American kids don't have the support that their supposed peers in China and Korea have.  Also, the cultural differences in Asia and America, especially in regards to mandatory military service for all males and length of work days is so staggering that it likens comparing education between the two regions to comparing apples to oranges.

All this being said, we do need educational standards, and teachers need to teach.  We have a lot of stale, ineffective or overall crappy teachers out there.  It is nearly impossible to fire a teacher in NY.  This, too, has to change.

I don't have any good answers.  I don't think there are any easy solutions.  One that I can think of is to propose is to lengthen the school year.  We no longer need our children available to assist with the harvest, so an 11 week summer vacation is needless.  The time off creates regression, and then teachers lose even more time re-teaching material that was taught at the end of the previous year.  What if we went to school for 7 weeks, and then had a 2 week break, all year round (with possibly an extra week during the December holiday break), or something like that?

We need to create a dialogue, and quickly.  Our children are suffering.  Our home lives are suffering.  Good teachers are being driven away from their calling.  Homework is being used as a catch up tool, and it is creating un-happy home lives.  My friend actually said this to me tonight (her boys are 10 and 7, and fight often), "The boys still have homework to finish, and I just checked on them.  They are playing nicely together, with the older boy teaching his younger brother to play chess.  I know I need to tell them they need to get their homework done, but this is so nice to see.  What do I do?  Can I let them play?"  We as parents should not have to ask that hard of a question...can I let my children play?

2 comments:

  1. This should be a "Letter to the Editor" and sent to the New York Times, Times Union, every newspaper in NYS. I know every family circumstance is different, but I have to be honest with you, this is why so many people homeschool. The kids are taught how to think and have the time and freedom to pursue those areas that are of great interst to them. We've only been in "real school" for a week and a half, and I cringe at a lot of things. One that makes me shake my head is my fourth grader's manadory reading log. Every day, he has to read a book for half an hour and we have to sign that he's completed this. Its the last thing he does every night, and its something that's a chore. He was my early reader. He sat at 10 months, pouring over books, taught himself how to read, and always had his nose in a book. Now, he doesn't have time to read what he wants. He came home with a book that was reccomended to him by the librarian but now refuses to read it because it "has bad grammar" (the narrator has a deep south/not well educated tone) and opted instead for one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia. As for your friend who's sons were playing chess? They chose the better part, IMHO. Problem solving, patience, finding common ground with someone whom you usually fight with- these are the life skills you need. Not test taking skills. The educational system needs a MAJOR orvehaul, and I really wonder how that's going to take place.

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  2. Very well said. Michigan has just moved into the "testing of students" as part of the "teacher evaluation" process. While I don't mind it playing a small role in the process, Michigan appears to be headed towards it being the major criteria in the evaluation. This scares me and I think you put it perfectly. Your blog should be sent to Michigan's Governor and Lt. Gov. along with the legislature. You are living what Michigan is headed for.

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