Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Other stands for everything that isn't on the standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Because there is so little time for science in Iris' elementary school, a concerned mother volunteered her time to run an after school science program once a week. The PTA gave her $800 for materials. There are so many things she would like to do with the children, but she doesn't have enough time or money. (BTW, this is the last year she can do this. Next year, she has to go back to the paid labor market to support her family.)

Interest was so high; last year, she had to divide the kids up into two groups, each attending on alternate weeks. Even then, the groups were too large for her to handle. This year, she limited the kids further by dividing them up by grade. Different grades attend in rotation. So kids get science in 45 minute sessions, every other week, for 1-2 months. If I do the math right, that is about 2-3 hours a year per child that signs up. About 2/3 of the children at the school sign up.

Art is also a monthly activity, run by volunteers. One parent per classroom, usually a mother, attends a one hour training class led by an art teacher. That parent volunteer than goes into the classroom and repeats the lesson with the children. It is done during the regular school day, unlike science.

Apparently, our local school is not the only one that has relegated science to an optional, volunteer led activity. I recently received an email from about their after school science kits. They have a whole page dedicated to helping parents find funding sources for after school science classes!

Do we sound like a nation that is serious about tackling the complex scientific and technological challenges that face us? Bake sales for science?



  1. Oh.My.God. You guys seriously need to emigrate. I don't know how good our science curriculum is (actually it seems pretty good, but I'm not a scientist) but at least we actually have one, during the school day, in all public schools. And performing and visual arts.

    My niece is starting school next year, at a public school. They have a gifted program (she'll be able to start maths at the third-grade level straight away). There will be 16 kids in her class. The stuff you've been writing about Iris and her schools (both public and private) just blows me away - how does a society let stuff like that happen? It just seems so... mad.

  2. Not that Australia's not mad in other ways.

  3. Anonymous03:26

    What do they fill the day with, that they don't have time for science?? On the other hand, I am not sure I really want to know. And why are we surprised that fewer young people go pursue careers in science and engineering? I always thought the way to change things is to start in the earliest years of education and this only confirms it.

    I always thought good science class, early on, was one of the most fascinating things.

  4. Anonymous07:53

    I would think that there would be some way to integrate the math and reading that's required to actually do science into the rest of the curriculum. What a shame...

  5. Anonymous10:40

    This is so depressing. I'm going to have to check what our local schools do. I'm very committed to having my son go to public school when he hits 5 (if nothing else, I want him to be comfortable with racially- and class-diverse situations) but I don't want him just drilled for stnadardized tests all day.

  6. Grace, please tell me you're kidding. Seriously, please tell me this is an early april's fool post. Science, an optional subject? That's really incredible. As it was, science was being given short shrift in the US. In grad school, I found that the foreign students are so much ahead of us. Part of it is drilling. In the former eastern bloc, they did a lot of drilling and memorization - so my friend who's from Bulgaria got nearly perfect scores on his Physics GREs. But I don't think we can rely on the old - but the US encourages free thinking standby any longer. Free thinking, creative thinking can only be accomplished with a *solid* background in the fundamentals.

    Hope you're starting to feel a bit better.

  7. 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 were on free or reduced school lunches. About the same number were English learners and the children spoke 30 different languages at home.

    The principal had been there forever and the parents and teachers raved about her. She supported multi-age classrooms and clustering. The test scores showed that the school was reasonably effective, given the diverse backgrounds of the families here. We thought that would be a fine place to send Iris.

    Then the principal retired two years before Iris was to start at the school. Her replacement did not last a year. The district went through 3 superintendents in 2 years. The new superintendent brought in a new principal with the mandate to turn around the test scores.

    Since this school was 'weak' in language arts, the entire morning is devoted to language arts. It takes up the first 3 hours of the day, when the children are freshest. (There is a 15 minute recess each morning and 15 minutes of PE some mornings.)

    After lunch, the children get 45 minutes of math 3 times a week. The other two days, they go to the computer lab and do something related to math on the computer. After another recess, the kids get 45 minutes of other. Wednesdays are early dismissal so the kids go home or to daycare. Fridays, they have library period. Another of those days, they get 30 minutes of music. So they get history, social science or plain old science for 45 minutes twice a week.

  8. I can't believe this. My school is in the sticks, and 90% of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. Yet our kids have a 45 minute art lesson and a 45 minute music lesson every week. And I teach science half the days and social studies the other half, with reinforcements in the other subject areas.


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