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2014 April 27

Ridiculous excuses for canceling show

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:09
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One of the most ridiculous excuses from a school official I’ve ever seen was published this week in the Washington Post:

April 25, 2014

Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians,

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools, and, more specifically, to clarify, misperceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is [sic] that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.

via Kindergarten show canceled so kids can keep studying to become ‘college and career ready.’ Really..

It seems that the kindergarten teachers at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y. did not want to do yet another kindergarten school play.  I can’t say I blame them—herding kindergartners and getting them to perform is a lot of work, and even kindergarten teachers can get burned out on it.  But the excuse they use, “preparing children for college and career,” is so ridiculous that it would be regarded as absurd if presented in a play or novel.

Kindergarteners are supposed to be being prepared for elementary school, not for college, and theater is excellent preparation for many careers (any that involve public presentations, for example), anyway.

My son started enjoying acting in preschool and has been on stage (or on film) in about 70 productions since then. The school plays were not as good, generally, as the ones he did in summer or after-school productions, but they were still highly valued parts of his education.  His senior year of high school alone has seen 10 different performances, and he still has another improv show and playing Don John in Much Ado to come—and that’s just during the school year, not summer theater.

Theater has gotten him through high-school English classes that he would otherwise had difficulty tolerating—about half his high school English has been dramatic literature classes.  Conventional literary analysis irritates him, triggering writer’s block, but he can work on fairly deep analysis to do character development for performance.

2011 March 1

Prepping for kindergarten?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 07:44
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The Santa Cruz Sentinel yesterday had an article about California’s new law that keeps 4 year olds out of kindergarten: Simitian stresses importance of prepping for kindergarten.  That’s the sort of headline I’d expect in New York City (where people get pretty crazy about school placement), not Santa Cruz.

While I can see some sense to keeping kids who are not ready for school out of kindergarten for a year, the notion that one must “prep” for kindergarten is ludicrous. The point of kindergarten is to prep for school by learning social skills (like sharing and sitting quietly to listen) and fine motor skills (using scissors and pencils).  Any academic learning (letters, numbers, phonics, … ) is purely secondary.  If there are “rigorous academic standards expected in the first year of formal education,”  then they should apply to first grade, not kindergarten.

It is silly how schools are ratcheting up the academic expectations of kindergarteners, while lowering the expectations of middle school students.  I’m a bit embarrassed that Sen. Simitian (who I voted for) was the sponsor for this legislation to enforce red-shirting.

There is, luckily, an escape hatch for bright kids: “Parents of four-year-olds who believe their child is ready to start school can get a waiver from their local district. Such waivers will be granted on a case-by-case basis.”  I wonder how good the schools are going to be about allowing those waivers, though, as many schools seem to be of the impression that age is the most important characteristic of a child, and that children of the same age must be kept together, no matter what the discrepancies in mental, physical, or emotional ability.

Early entry to kindergarten, for those kids for whom it is appropriate, is one of the easiest accommodations that schools can make for gifted students.  There are none of the”gaps” that teachers fear (usually without cause) from later grade skipping.  Of course, even early entry to kindergarten is no guarantee of sufficient challenge: I was 4 entering kindergarten, had to skip a grade in elementary school, and still was bored with the low level and slow pace of classes through my undergraduate education.

Of course, early entry and grade skipping are not always the right solution for gifted kids (though usually the cheapest adequate education).  Our son (who is easily as bright as me) has not had early entry nor whole-grade acceleration, though he has had subject acceleration in math and science.  Like both his parents and at least one grandparent, he suffers from severe writer’s block at times, and grade-level English and history classes have been more than sufficiently challenging—not for the content, but for the emotional demands of struggling with the writer’s block.


2010 August 28

Test prep for kindergarten?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:51
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Every year at the beginning of the school year, there are a round of stories about the cut-throat preparation of kids for entry tests for kindergarten (like this one, a few weeks ago).

Test prep for kindergarten seems to be limited mostly to New York City, thanks to a dysfunctional way of assigning kids to schools and the sincere but misguided belief by many New York parents that where a child goes to kindergarten determines their entire scholastic career through graduate school.  Those of us in the rest of the country are rather bemused by the media frenzy over what is really a very local phenomenon. The teacher matters much more than the school does, especially in the early grades, so the scramble to get into a “good school” is a bit silly even if understandable.

I’ve always been rather bothered by the “test preparation” industry.  Mostly they are selling snake oil, so they don’t do too much harm other than taking people’s money.  Occasionally they are selling ways to cheat (like access to the questions that are asked on particular IQ or school entrance exams, which are not supposed to be available to test-takers ahead of time), and then they really are harmful.

Test preparation for kindergarteners is particularly ridiculous, as testing kindergarteners is ridiculous.  There are very few psychometric tests that are reliable for kids under the age of 6.  The things a child needs to be ready for kindergarten are fairly simple and do not need testing to determine.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that a heavily academic kindergarten really offers much advantage to a bright student.

When my son was entering kindergarten (very bright and already reading), I looked for the best teachers I could find.  Although we looked a private school for gifted kids, we ended up with a bilingual program at a public school, because they had some superb teachers, lots of books in the classroom, plenty of library time, and the extra instruction in Spanish would provide something novel for him to learn.  That year I took a sabbatical in the spring in a different city, so we had to do another search for kindergartens.  We looked at several, including both public and private schools, and ended up with a public school that served a very poor neighborhood (though it was temporarily located in another building halfway across the city, due to renovation work at the school).  The reason again was an awesome teacher, a very rich environment in the classroom, and lots of books for him to read.  The range of books to read was important, as he was reading at a high 2nd-grade level by the middle of kindergarten.

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