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Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
“School’s out for summer.” I used to play that Alice Cooper song for my son on the last day of classes (the Muppets version) as a celebration of his 10-week break from homework (and pencils, books, and teacher’s dirty looks). But as it turns out, I probably shouldn’t have been hailing his educational break. The National Summer Learning Association says that students lose about two months worth of skills in mathematics during the lazy days of summer. And as we reported, kids of all ages score lower on the same standardized reading, spelling, and math tests in September than they do at the end of the previous year in school.
The reason for this “summer slide,” a.k.a. “brain drain” or “summer slump,” is obvious: Kids—and, to an extent, parents—tend to view July and August as a break from learning, a time to enjoy the beach and the pool and recharge. R&R is all fine and good. The real problem is that many children wile away the days watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web. Kids spend three hours in front of a screen for every hour they crack a book during the summer—and more time than they spend outdoors. According to a new survey from the nonprofit kid’s literacy group Reading is Fundamental, only 17 percent of parents say reading is a top summer priority for their kids, and 60 percent don’t worry about their child losing reading skills during this time.
Actually, you really shouldn’t worry, because it’s easy to do something about it. A nonprofit organization called TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) offers lots of screen-free ideas to inspire your family to play and learn together. Try incorporating some of these fun, mind-building activities into your kids’ break. Also consider downloading these educational apps, which at least turn screen time into learning time. And check out ideas here and here, along with a video chat with Soleil Moon Frye (the former star of “Blossom”) about how to stop summer slide.
I don’t pretend to have any magical suggestions for preventing this phenomenon. I worry about my kids and their tendency to gravitate toward watching sports events and Disney shows. To minimize this, we encourage reading and writing for pleasure, try to get them out of the house as much as possible, and look for teachable moments in leisure-time settings, such as digging for hermit crabs at the beach and calculating batting averages and ERAs at baseball games. Granted, these are no substitute for cracking the books, but at least they should leave our children be better prepared when their teachers see them in September.
Two little girls with magnifying glass outdoors in the daytime via ShutterStock
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back-to-school, brain drain, educational apps, math, mind-building activities, reading, screen time, summer learning, summer learning loss, summer slide | Categories:
Big Kids, Child Development, Education, Health, Must Read, News, The Parents Perspective
Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
A few months ago Parents addressed the growing rebellion against standardized tests, which are taking over curriculums at elementary schools due to both No Child Left Behind and the new nationalized standards known as the Common Core. If your child isn’t in grade 3 or higher, you may be wondering what the fuss is all about. Well, I have a fourth-grader, so I know. And it isn’t pretty. Recently, my daughter was given a division problem that, at the same age, I could have done in my head. Instead, she was instructed to guesstimate using multiplication and add up the numbers again and again in a column until she came up with the right total. It took me a while to even figure out what she was doing and a good five minutes plus for her to solve it. Then I realized: She was being forced to make simple math more complicated. Why? Because it’s essential practice for the Common Core exam in the spring. Unless she used the prescribed method and showed her work, she wouldn’t get credit—even if she got the answer right. Sheesh! I love math, but I’m pretty sure if I had to do it the way she’s being taught, I’d hate it.
I’m far from the only one. Objections to the Common Core—which isn’t a curriculum, per se, but rather a set of standards our kids are expected to meet, grade by grade—are widespread. Four states have opted out, Minnesota chose not to adopt the math standards, and 20 states have experienced strong opposition, including public forums and legislative bills that attempt to reject the standards. Parent protests have become, well, a common occurrence. The emphasis on the results of a single uniform exam forces schools to teach to the test (and crowds out other subjects not measured by it). Plus, a number of observers who’ve seen the exams (or practice ones) say many of the questions are worded in a way that seems obtuse to adults, much less the kids they are targeted for. So a child who knows how to do the math can still easily get the wrong answer.
We all want our kids to achieve more in school and to be able to compete with their international peers. But whether the Common Core will truly help them do so (or even whether it will survive in its current form) is very much up for discussion. Meanwhile, if you want to hear (actually see) more arguments against its implementation, watch this video of an impassioned Arkansas mom or this one of a Tennessee high school student who believes the Core is rotten.
Young boy showing stress with schoolwork via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Last week the Washington Post reported that charter schools in Washington D.C. will start giving standardized tests to very young kids. How young? Try 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds in preschool. The purpose is to measure their academic progress and rank the schools according to the results so as to make them accountable. Fair enough. But are reading and math scores at this age really relevant and truly the best way to measure whether kids this age are learning. I think not.
To me this seems yet one more example of the testing mania that has swept across the nation in recent years and is now trickling down to our youngest students. In Standing Up to Testing, we discuss the proliferation of standardized testing (one elementary school in Texas requires kids to take 14 exams and assessments every year) and the rising backlash among parents, some of whom are having their kids “opt out” of tests by keeping them home on exam days. We also address the parent protests, including those in New York City, aimed at the excessive pressure being put on grade-schoolers to pass them. It turns out the angst that led to such demonstrations was legitimate. Earlier this month The New York Times reported that only 26 percent of kids in grades 3 through 8 passed the tests in English and just 30 percent passed in math—roughly half the number that did so last year. Is education declining? No, the tests are getting a lot harder.
New York is one of the first states to align its exam with the more rigorous Common Core, which is in the process of being implemented in 46 states and D.C.. It’s designed to help students become better prepared to face the global marketplace. But according to widespread reports, teachers weren’t given the updated curriculum in time to prepare properly, and flustered students as young as age 8 stressed out about these big exams with big consequences all year. I know, because my child was one of those students, and the six weeks in school devoted exclusively to cramming for and teaching to the test took a toll on our household and many others. And for what end? Yes, our kids need to catch up with those of other industrialized countries to ensure that they remain competitive and can get good jobs that will help us remain a world power. But pressurized testing at this age will doubtless also turn some kids off to school. More to the point, simply making tests more difficult won’t solve the problem as effectively as improving teacher training, reducing class size, and, in general, making public education a greater priority in this country than it is now.
What can you do? Let teachers, administrators, and representatives know how you feel about these tests. Even more important: Advocate for your own child. Help him deal with test stress. Make sure she’s as prepared as possible to succeed on exams. If necessary, consider hiring a tutor to build his confidence.
Also, please weigh in on this question: Should preschoolers really be taking standardized tests?
Image: Small girl working on her school project via Shutterstock
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