A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, March 26, 2006

NCLB also leaves recess (and art and music) behind

EdWonk has a post today from the NYTimes reporting that many schools are cutting back on untested school subjects in a quest to meet the reading and math standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

(To which I say, those of us in the Edsphere have been talking about that for a while now. No surprises there. Assorted Stuff also got inspired by this today.)

Then there's this little tidbit from the Boston Herald:
With schools scrapping recess to tack on more test-prep time, parents in Massachusetts and across the nation are rebelling against the nose-to-the-grindstone trend that robs their kids of vital play time.

“I think it’s terrible. The school yard is dormant,” said Teresa Pimentel, the parent liaison at the Ralph M. Small School in Fall River, where officials have shelved a 15-minute morning recess in exchange for silent reading and writing until the MCAS tests are over.

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests start this week. School administrators and teachers anxious to perform are drilling third- and fourth-graders.

Nationwide, 40 percent of elementary schools have either eliminated recess or are considering shortening students’ free time on the playground, according to the National Parent Teacher Association, which is partnering with the Cartoon Network for the “Rescuing Recess” campaign.

“A lot of parents and the public are appalled there is no recess in school and they don’t know that it’s happening,” said Anna Weselak, National PTA president. The war on recess has already hit the Bay State in several communities.

Peabody parents have been fighting for more than a year to add play time to the school day after Superintendent Nadine Binkley cut recess to 10 minutes a day.

The Frank M. Silvia School in Fall River also recently traded in morning recess for reading time, said Principal Denise Ward.

The Whitman-Hanson Regional Schools have been without morning recess for seven years to accommodate learning demands and MCAS pressure, according to Superintendent John McEwan.

“Success-driven adults are forgetting we have children in schools. They are not business executives. They are not 7-year-old CEOs. They are children and they need to have a break in the middle of the day,” said Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, a Peabody School Committee member and mother of a third-grade girl. Dunne is pushing a “social development” curriculum that would add 10 minutes of play time to the school day.


Some commenters at Ed's place have commented that this is a good thing. After all, shouldn't schools teach reading and mathematics above all else? And, further, if schools are "failing" at teaching reading and math, should they really be "wasting" precious instructional time on frills? You know, frills like recess for six year olds, art, music, and history?

11 Comments:

At 3/27/06, 12:21 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

We need to remind parents that teachers aren't the ones who instigated the "testing culture". We have a 15 minute mandatory unstructured break each day. I hate it. Not because I'm missing precious classroom time. I hate it because the kids don't know how to play. They fight and hurt each other. The premise of the law was to allow students to choose their activity. Unfortunately they choose inappropriately and I get to complete the paperwork---three seperate forms for each altercation.

 
At 3/27/06, 5:17 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Sounds familiar! This is what happens when kids are never given any blasted free time ever. You know, being bored makes you resourceful. Give kids some time to themselves, parents-- it's not the end of the world.

Time to think.
Time to daydream.
Time to read.

They don't have to be in 6 different sports and activities at once!

 
At 3/28/06, 1:05 PM, Blogger KDeRosa said...

And, further, if schools are failing at teaching reading and math, should they really be "wasting" precious instructional time on frills? You know, frills like recess for six year olds, art, music, and history?

Of course, if schools were teaching effectively, students would know how to read and do basic math and there would be sufficient time for everything else.

The problem is that most schools do not know how to teach effectively and many students are not learning how to read and do basic math. Instead of changing how they teach, most schools are resorting to various gimmicks as quick solutions. One gimmick is to try and teach test taking tricks and teaching to the test. Another trick is this latest trick -- eliminating other subjects and focusing on math and reading exclusively.

This new gimmick basically presents the edusphere with a false dilemma. It's not achoice between math/reading and other subjects. The real choice is between effective instruction and ineffective instruction.

With effective instruction students must master reading and writing. Period. Effective instruction also teaches these critical foundation subjects efficiently so that there remains sufficent time to learn other subjects.

We need to remind parents that teachers aren't the ones who instigated the "testing culture".

Teachers teach what they are told to teach. Schools determine what gets taught. Schools are failing, not teachers. So, it is the failure of the schools that has instigated the "testing culture." If schools weren't failing, there'd be less of a need for high stakes testing.

 
At 3/28/06, 7:50 PM, Anonymous Tracy W said...

How do you teach history to a kid who can't read or write?

And, while obviously art and music can be taught to kids who can't read or write, it also obviously is pretty damn limiting to your life if you can only do those things but can't read. Even for those kids who can make a career out of art or music, are pretty limited if they can never, say, apply for a scholarship. And for those kids, who, like me, eventually decided that they liked maths and science would be pretty much stuffed under your preference.

Plus you've just shut out everyone from reading great literature, or poetry, or appreciating the proof that there is no largest prime. Or discovering any one of the numerous artistic events that are open to discovery if you can read.

Like Kderosa, I don't think there's an unavoidable tradeoff here. But *if* there is, it strikes me as absolutely nuts and cruel to chose arts and music over reading, writing and mathematics.

 
At 3/28/06, 10:36 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Who in the world said to choose art and music over reading? What kind of bizarre assumption is being made here?

Where did you READ that (ahem!)? Not here.

The point here is that 6 year old children will actually concentrate better-- yes, better-- when they are given 15 minutes in which to run off some of the energy that makes them 6 year olds.

Under your same way of thinking, perhaps, if YOU work 8 hours a day, you would be even MORE efficient if you worked 16 hours a day. There's no such thing as fatigue, right?

I suppose you've never had the experience, when you are struggling with a task, of walking away from that task and exercising some other part of your brain for a while so that you can come back to the task more refreshed and with perspective.

Social studies DOES involve the skill of reading. History requires dealing with documents-- in some cases, much more difficult documents than what students encounter elsewhere.

In order to play music, you have to---

wait for it---

READ music! Yes, reading again. Not to mention that music is mathematical in nature, and music has been shown to improve both reading and math abilities.

And finally, in my 20 years of teaching, I have had about 15 students who couldn't read or write. 8 of them were severely disabled and placed in my class for socialization-- which, by the way, I do not agree with if it detracts from the ability of the rest of the class to learn.

Four of them were living in a children's home and had been in an average of 6 schools in 7 years. Their inability to read begins with the fact that they had been severely psychologically and in three cases sexually abused by their parents.

Three had allegedly been "homeschooled" by an illiterate grandparent. This meant they received no instruction in any subject at all except for Jerry Springer and playing DOOM. But that is allowed, because there is NO requirement to actually provide any instruction (or indeed to be literate yourself) if you homeschool in this state.

Two of them transferred into our school, and when we became suspicious, we had them tested. They were found to be dyslexic. It broke my heart to see that it took until they were in 7th grade. But at least remediation happened after that.

Finally, there is NOT an avalanche of kids in my school who cannot read-- unless you count the four kids in one of my classes ALONE who came to this country this year from Russia, Mongolia, Gabon, and the Gaza Strip. One of them will have been in this country exactly ONE MONTH with very little English instruction-- but he will be taking that test anyway. He's a very smart young man-- next year, he could probably take that test and pass it.

The standards set under NCLB are set so that American schools will appear to be failing, so that the case can be made that public education is broken, so that the wealthy can receive tax money to partially reimburse them for their children's private school tuition.

Mind you, that private school is under no obligation to take everyone-- unlike the public schools. Also, remember that the wealthy would send their children to private schools with or without vouchers anyway, because they LIKE that exclusivity. "Round here, asking where someone went to high school is the favorite pastime-- it's a secret code that tells one's religion, socioeconomic status, and relative intelligence, not to mention that it hooks you into a social network straight out of the British public school system and school tie.

All that will happen, should this strategy succeed, will be that money will be drained from already underfunded public education, and all the kids who are the wrong color or the wrong religion or who live at the wrong address WILL be stuck in a failing system.

The message being spun here is that kids who go to public schools are losers. Teachers in the public schools are idiots. Fine-- although I'll put my IQ up against yours anytime.

If public education is abolished, this country will be destroyed. 70% of the people in this country will be left truly uneducated.

 
At 3/28/06, 11:29 PM, Blogger KDeRosa said...

The message being spun here is that kids who go to public schools are losers. Teachers in the public schools are idiots.

Who said or implied this?

This is not a fair inference from any comment I've read in this thread.

 
At 3/29/06, 11:36 AM, Blogger KDeRosa said...

The point here is that 6 year old children will actually concentrate better-- yes, better-- when they are given 15 minutes in which to run off some of the energy that makes them 6 year olds.
I believe this point was raised in the first comment. It is a non-sequiter. Whether this point is accurate or not (and it most likely is correct) it is irrelevant to the main point of determining how much of the remaining instructional time should be devoted to math and reading when kids are not learning how to read and do math to score sufficiently high on tests which are being used to determine their proficiency.
Not to mention that music is mathematical in nature, and music has been shown to improve both reading and math abilities.
I don’t want to bog down on this point, but studies like this are examples of bad education research. If you’re interested you can email me and I’ll try to explain why or start a new post and I’ll put it in the coments.

And finally, in my 20 years of teaching, I have had about 15 students who couldn't read or write. 8 of them were severely disabled and placed in my class for socialization-- which, by the way, I do not agree with if it detracts from the ability of the rest of the class to learn.

Finally, there is NOT an avalanche of kids in my school who cannot read

I’m sure you know that this is anecdotal evidence and the plural of anecdote is not data. And, hopefully, we can agree that the objective data (such as NAEP data) shows that majority of students are not learning to do read and do math at the level we want them to.

The standards set under NCLB are set so that American schools will appear to be failing, so that the case can be made that public education is broken, so that the wealthy can receive tax money to partially reimburse them for their children's private school tuition.
First, under each state gets to chose where to set those standards, then they get to choose a test that determines if students are meeting these standards. By and large, states have set the bar much lower than the NAEP level, yet even under these more lenient standards, many students aren’t making the grade.
You are entitled to your opinion as to rationale behind NCLB, it is your blog after all. But, let me suggest that a more plausible explanation is that many kids are not getting an adequate education under the present system and that the public wants them to. I don’t understand why our public schools should not be able to do this.

All that will happen, should this strategy succeed, will be that money will be drained from already underfunded public education, and all the kids who are the wrong color or the wrong religion or who live at the wrong address WILL be stuck in a failing system.
I think the counter-argument is that they are already stuck in a failing system since they are not learning what we want them to learn. And, unless you want to blame the student, the logical conclusion is that if students aren’t learning, then schools (notice I didn’t write “teachers”) aren’t teaching them effectively.
The message being spun here is that kids who go to public schools are losers.
Actually, I think the message is that students who aren’t learning are being short-changed by their schools.
Teachers in the public schools are idiots. Fine-- although I'll put my IQ up against yours anytime.
Teachers do not determine what they teach. Schools do. Schools have set-up conditions where it is impossible for many children to learn effectively. I believe that teachers are capable of teaching effectively once the proper learning conditions are put into place. The problem, though, is that many schools do not know what these conditions are. NCLB gives them until 2014 to find out.

If public education is abolished, this country will be destroyed. 70% of the people in this country will be left truly uneducated.
NAEP data indicates that over 60% of students aren’t being educated effectively already, so maybe we are well along that path to destruction already.

 
At 3/29/06, 4:52 PM, Anonymous Tracy W said...

Who in the world said to choose art and music over reading? What kind of bizarre assumption is being made here?

Where did you READ that (ahem!)? Not here.

...

And, further, if schools are failing at teaching reading and math, should they really be "wasting" precious instructional time on frills? You know, frills like recess for six year olds, art, music, and history?

I got the impression that in this sentence you were being sarcastic when you asked these questions. I got that impression because you put scare quotes around the word "wasting". Which meant that you thought recess, art, music and history was not a frill, and should therefore be taught even at the price of failing to teach kids how to read and write and do maths.

Though, to repeat myself, I think this is false dichotomy and schools could teach history, music, art and reading, writing and mathematics.

 
At 3/30/06, 7:40 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Sigh.

Okay. "Here" means in the town where I live where the question about where one went to high school is asked of everyone, even if one did not grow up here. Here, the message IS that students in the public schools are losers whose parents are too cheap to spend $5,000-20,000 a year on private school tuition.

Now, Ken, one would hope that a person versed in the sciences, say engineering, and the law would realize that statistics are only so good as the people who compile them. I use anecdotal evidence because I have seen studies spun every which way on both sides of this issue. I have experience, you have statistics. Don't denigrate experience. Teaching is as much an art as a science, unfortunately or not. I do not know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. It is as complex a task as, say, engineering or inventing.

 
At 3/30/06, 9:14 PM, Blogger KDeRosa said...

Have you been peeking at my profile again?

You're making the same argument that doctors once made. At that time, you were as likely to be killed by a doctor than be cured. The mean ol' life insurance companies finally made them clean up their act because they were getting tired of paying for the "art" and "experience" of doctors who weren't acting very scientific. Today they do.

I'm not denigrating your experience, I'm just pointing out that your experience doesn't seem to be representative of the student population at large.

Let me tell you about my experience.

Many law firms in Philly help tutor kids in the Philly school system who are having trouble learning how to read. These are perfectly normal kids in every other respect. They come in to us by the bus load. None of them know how to read with anything approaching the fluency or understanding they will need to get a meaningful high school education. Forget about higher education.

These kids shouldn't be statistics.

Just saying.

 
At 3/31/06, 11:50 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, sir, you know your profile is blocked.

Now, since we are being civil, let me say that I understand your experience. I live near an urban school district with much the same struggles: transient student populations, capital projects which are overrun, a magnet system which is largely useless except for one ultra-selective magnet which pulls the brightest students from the other schools in the district (and, in our case, at least for a short time longer, from the county districts around the metropolitan area.)

Now the district near me also has an incredibly bloated bureaucracy, a school board in which people claim that their drinks have been spiked with cocaine and they threaten to put voodoo curses on people who do not agree with them and other fun fun fun which shows that the adults do not seem to care about the students very much if it interferes with their own self-centered agenda.

That's what it's like here. Tell me what other insanities are perpetuated upon these students. But please also do not assume that all schools are as broken as these. That doesn't mean that we still don't have a moral imperative to intervene.

 

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