September 14, 2012

Guest Post by my sister Kami

I stole this post from a blog I share with my sister.  She was thrilled to find a Spanish immersion program for her children because she is married to a Colombian and wants her children to be able to speak with their dad in both languages and their other relatives in Spanish.  That is why she and her hubby picked the house that they did when they recently moved to Houston.  

Let me make one thing VERY CLEAR: I am not anti-public school in any way.  I've mentioned that before on this blog because I value so dearly the fantastic teachers with whom I have had the privilege of working.  I know how many hours they spend and I know how deeply they invest in their students.  I also think our system of education is pretty decent.  It is popular to criticize American education--a hobby started by politicians to give them a talking point in speeches.  Politicians like to compare American education to Asian models or the Swedish model where it is convenient (like math scores) and ignore the rest (like the Swedish model's emphasis on time outdoors and free play or the Asian family structure and culture that is so different from here), but anyone who takes the time to think through those comparisons carefully or do the math (ha!) realize that the test score differences are statistically very small and that in the Asian model only the best and brightest are being tested, unlike here.

I could go on forever on these subjects.  Suffice it to say that while there is always room for improvement in any model, the American model has been educating the majority of people quite well for a long time despite huge problems like the sheer size of the country and the incredible diversity within it.  

I am in no way anti-public school.  However, in recent years there has been a huge push to "fix" our system.  That would be fine except the people doing the "fixing" are politicians--not educators--and they are creating problems that I find extremely worrisome.  In fact, the more they "fix" the worse our schools get.  In my opinion, of course.  One change is the refusal to "social promote" as we have in the past, essentially keeping children with their peers even if their understanding of the material does not warrant promotion.  Politicians like Jeb Bush have really sold this idea to the public, without any care for all the research that has been done that shows that a child who is held back is at incredibly high risk for dropping out of school.  If you hold a child back twice it almost guarantees the child will not finish high school.  Therefore our most at-risk students (those in poverty who are not doing well) are being held back, thereby increasing the chance that they will not finish high school.  Foolishness.  

Another movement that makes me want to pull my hair out is the move to increased preschool despite the mounds of research that show that the more time a small child spends with his primary caregiver (usually the mother) the more likely that child will be to make better decisions in adolescence about drugs/pre-marital sex/etc.  Basically, the more time spent with Mom in the preschool years, the stronger the mom voice in the adolescent's head saying, "What would Mom say if I did  . . .."  

There are many other examples.  Right now I'll let my sister rant about another issue that bothers me--because it is personal for her and she does a great job.  Thanks for letting me re-post your original post, Kami.

This Tuesday, I went to two open houses, one for the elementary school and one for the junior high.  First of all, they overlapped the scheduling.  Umm..that's dumb.  Second of all, is it just me, or is this some heightened form of helicopter parenting?  That's what I felt like, but on the other hand, I did find out several things.  The first one of which will be my rant.

Elena goes to all day kindergarten from 8:20 till 3:40.  I think this is much too long, and she comes home exhausted each day and cries half the mornings about having to go to school. However, I figured, it's kindergarten, they'll have lots of play time and recess, and she'll adjust.  At the open house, I received a detailed schedule of their day.  Guess how much time they have for recess during the entire day???
15 minutes!  

Seriously??  I would be exhausted with the schedule they have these kids on.  I literally cried when I was telling Leo about it at home that night.  (Okay that might be a bit of postpartum hormones.)  She does have PE for 55 mins, 2 or 3 days a week--it varies.  But that's not the same as unstructured play and downtime.  Here's her schedule:

8:20-8:30 Morning announcements and pledge
8:30-8:45 Calendar (reviewing days, months, seasons)
8:45-9:00  Phonemic Awareness (ABC chants, sight words review)
9:00-9:45 Writer's Workshop (kid writing)
9:45-10:30 Extended Learning/Developmental Centers
10:30-10:48 Handwriting
10:48-11:18  Lunch (this does not include recess time, I asked)
11:30-12:35 Math/Science
12:35-1:30 Specials (Art/PE/Music/Library)
1:30-1:45 Recess
1:45-2:00 Snack/Quiet time
2:00-2:20 Themed Interactive writing (science/social studies)
2:20-2:35 Shared reading/read aloud
2:35-3:20 Literacy Centers/Guided reading
3:20-3:40 Pack & Stack/Dismissal

So is it just me, or does this seem crazy?  And the teacher kept explaining how the district upped it's standards this year, and kids have to be reading at a 1st grade level by the end of kindergarten, and how they're requiring more sight words to be memorized, etc.   Really?  I know I'm the odd person out by not having Elena in preschool, but Kindergarten, I thought, was still supposed to be a transition into regular school.  But not only that, I would want my older kids (1st graders, 4th graders, etc) to have more recess too.  Even the national recommendations are at least 20 minutes of recess a day.   

My father referred to my school district as "abusive," and said that "No educator in the country would consider that as developmentally appropriate for that age group." The reason my dad's opinion is significant is because he's the dean of the college of education at a university and has worked in education for many, many years.

My good friend who has a ten year old brother in an elementary school nearby--which is rated the number 1 elementary school in the entire Houston area, and one of the best in the state--told me that her brother is being treated for anxiety.  And the problem is the pressure he feels at school.  That's insane.  She herself went to a the number 1 ranked high school in Houston, and she said BYU (most of her classmates went to Ivy League schools) was easy for her, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing, because she was so burnt out from high school when she got there and she felt that her high school had been too extreme and not in proportion to the needs of preparing for college and a career. I definitely want my kids challenged in school, but this is too much. 

Back to play, here's some tidbits I found.

 In a comprehensive review of numerous studies on play, researchers found evidence that play contributes to advances in "verbalization, vocabulary, language comprehension, attention span, imagination, concentration, impulse control, curiosity, problem-solving strategies, cooperation, empathy, and group participation" (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990). Recent research provides additional evidence of the strong connections between quality of play in preschool years and children's readiness for school instruction (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2000; Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Further, research directly links play to children's ability to master such academic content as literacy and numeracy. For example, children's engagement in pretend play was found to be positively and significantly correlated with such competencies as text comprehension and metalinguistic awareness and with an understanding of the purpose of reading and writing (Roskos & Christie, 2000).
The Importance of Being Playful. By: Bodrova, Elena, Leong, Deborah J., Educational Leadership, 00131784, Apr2003, Vol. 60, Issue 7

Because of the positive effects of physical activity on attention-to-task, it is recommended that elementary school teachers consider implementing physical activity sessions throughout the school day in the form of recess and classroom-based physical activities.

Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children Matthew T. Mahar Activity Promotion Laboratory, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA

When youth participate in at least 60 min of physical activity every day, health benefits accrue, such as healthy bones and muscles, improved muscular strength and endurance, reduced risk for developing chronic disease risk factors, improved self-esteem, and reduced stress and anxiety (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008).

So I'm going to write a letter to the principal and superintendent of the school district voicing my opinion.  Also, I am definitely holding my other children back a year before they start kindergarten and I'm going to start looking at other school districts nearby and charter schools.  However, the reason we moved to this area WAS the schools.  Elena is in the Spanish two-way immersion program, and I really want my kids to stay in a immersion program for Spanish.  So my options are limited.  (See me now banging my head on the table.) What to do?  What to do?


  1. I agree with both "rants." I sent my oldest to public school right after I had my baby due to postpartum problems and my daughter wanted to be busy, busy, busy. She attended our local public school for about 6 months -- from December to the end of the school year. The emphasis the school was placing on reading and math was fine except that every day the math lesson was 90 minutes long!! 90 minutes?! My daughter used to love math when I homeschooled her and this idea of burning kids out on math just angered me. On top of that, she had math "morning work" and math homework twice a week ("due by Friday" kind of thing). Anyway, suffice it to say, if a child is "behind" in math (as my daughter was because I chose to put off math for a year when I had her home), when on EARTH do they get the chance to catch up???? Thankfully she had three recesses otherwise I don't think sending her to school would have been wise at all. It goes without saying that she's not stepping foot into a public school until at least junior high. I cherish the preschool and elementary school years, as challenging as it can be.

    On another note, I find it interesting that here in Utah, the emphasis seems to be on preschool, but then when they get to kindergarten it's basically a review of what they learned in preschool! I've heard this from several close friends of mine, so I can't speak for myself...But nevertheless, I don't send my kids to preschool because the preschool years are short and precious to me.

    ...I guess my rant is on preschool. :)

    Anyway, thank you for a terrific post! It certainly makes me grateful I have chosen to homeschool the elementary school years. :)

  2. Hi.. sorry for blog stalking, I was in your sister Kayli's ward for a while. Anyway, I completely agree with you that all-day kindergarten is too long, preschool is not helpful for some children, and that pushing too hard too soon is not the way to help kids succeed on future tests/live up to state standards. I think that it is a parent's job to ensure their child gets the education that meets their needs, and if you believe the school is not meeting you daughter's needs, dump them! Charter schools, homeschool, etc. may provide options that better fit your educational goals. Have you looked into your school district's public access policy? Some school districts allow homeschooled students to participate in only the public school activities they select- perhaps your daughter could participate in a Spanish class, and you and your husband could do the "immersion" part at home.