Thursday, November 08, 2007

Where the time goes

I put this in the comments for Other, but decided to repeat and expound upon it in a separate post.

A decade ago, when we bought in this neighborhood, our local public school used to get very respectable math scores and above average language scores. It is a very mixed neighborhood in both racial and economic terms. You can see section 8 apartments and million dollar + townhouses existing on the same block. Back then, about 1/4 of the children in the school qualified for subsidized school lunches. About the same number were English learners and the children spoke 30 different languages at home. (These statistics were gleaned from a variety of school websites when we were home shopping.)

Our neighbors said that the principal had been there forever and she was beloved by kids, parents and teachers. She supported multi-age classrooms and clustering. The earlier test scores showed that the school was reasonably effective, given the diverse backgrounds of the families here. It certainly wasn't failing. We thought that would be a fine place to send our future children.

Just as Iris was about to start school, the principal retired. Her replacement did not last a year. The district also went through 3 superintendents in 2 years. The newest superintendent's first hire was the new principal of Iris' school. He was to be the model of the new vision for the district. Gone were the combined first and second grade classrooms (where we had hoped Iris would spend just one year before advancing to third grade). Gone were 'elitist' programs such as gifted programs.

In answer to Mardel's question about how they fill the day, here's a synopsis. (This schedule is my recollection of the schedule they handed out at the beginning of the year and may be off slightly. But you get the gist.)

They have PE from 8:15 to 8:30. Since test scores show a 'weakness' in language arts, the first ~3 hours of the day, when the children are freshest, are devoted to language arts. (There is a 15 minute recess in the middle of that.) Lunch is 11:15 to noon.

After lunch, the children get 45 minutes of math 3 times a week. Never mind the research that shows people are more receptive to learning math in the early morning. The other two days, they go to the computer lab and play some kind of math computer game. Then they get 15 minutes of silent reading time. After another recess, the kids get 45 minutes of other.

Wednesdays are early dismissal so the kids go home or to daycare after silent reading. Fridays, they have library period. Another of those days, they get 30 minutes of music. Once a month, they get art. Birthdays are also celebrated in the other time slot. So they get history, social science or plain old science for 45 minutes about twice a week.

Science is tested only in the later grades so they start devoting more time to it in 5th grade.

This is how science becomes an optional after school activity, dependent on a volunteer parent and funded by the PTA. Other parent volunteers run a chess club one afternoon a week. Chess and an after school dance class (fee charged) conflict and Iris chose dance.

I have written about this earlier in The metrics are running the insane asylum and Who is keeping score and why? We really need to pay attention to the shortcomings of the metrics. I saw nothing wrong with the earlier test scores. According to the other parents, the test scores rose, not because the kids are learning so much more, but because the kids are drilled on them so much. In fact, they are learning less than before.

But the language arts scores did increase slightly under the new methods. The math scores have been stagnant. In other schools in our district, the math scores have already started to go down. Parents are complaining about the obsession with language arts and the disappearance of everything else. Parents are pulling their kids out of the public schools, especially the gifted kids.

In the mean time, gentrification continues. The newcomers are wealthier and presumably better educated than the ones driven out. The number of students receiving subsidized lunches has been halved. It should surprise no one if average language arts test scores increase when kids that aren't fluent in English are replaced with kids who are. The only meaningful statistic would be a 'growth model' of progress for the individual children.

I read that, in some wealthier districts, test scores are starting to decline because parents are pulling high-performing kids out of public schools. Many kids aren't learning anything and the parents can afford to leave. This leaves the neediest kids even more isolated and worse off. Is this what they mean by school reform? If the intent of NCLB is to disgust parents to the point that it erodes support for public schools, then it has succeeded.

1 comment:

  1. So they get 3 recesses? Wow!

    Our school only does 1 recess for all kids (even 1st). I've pointed out that studies show physical activity between learning activities will help the learning activities "stick". Sigh. And then they complain that kids are too fat.

    The schedule is similar. They apparently do a short saxon science page every day, but you couldn't prove it by my kids. We're definitely supplementing their science education at home.

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