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 third grade, and education in New York has gone to hell in a handbasket. 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.
First, 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.
Not ready for next step
However, the Common Core Learning Standards are not developmentally appropriate. By adopting them, they are essentially accelerating the learning process 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 teacher evaluations. 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. If anyone can understand this, please explain it to me. I do not understand how teachers 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 and 18 months, which is a huge range. Every so often, you’ll hear about a child who walks at 8 months; sometimes kids just don’t master it until they are about 2.
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 United Sates 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.
Way too early
So now, all pediatricians will be responsible for making sure that children walk by the age of 6 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 6 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 U.S. school year is 180 days, while in China, India and Korea, children attend school 200-220 days per year. That means by the time children in China are in third grade, they have attended 160 more days of school — 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 percent of families are single-parent. In African-American households, 66 percent are single-parent. Right there, that indicates that American kids don’t have the support 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 workdays, 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 lousy teachers out there. It is nearly impossible to fire a teacher in New York.
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 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 seven weeks, and then had a two-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 unhappy 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?
Kathryn Biel lives in Cohoes. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.