Friday, September 08, 2006

You've got to measure up

Sometimes is never quite enough
If you're flawless, then you'll win my love
Don't forget to win first place
Don't forget to keep that smile on your face

Be a good boy
Try a little harder
You've got to measure up
And make me prouder

How long before you screw it up
How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up
With everything I do for you
The least you can do is keep quiet

Be a good girl
You've gotta try a little harder
That simply wasn't good enough
To make us proud

I'll live through you
I'll make you what I never was
If you're the best, then maybe so am I
Compared to him, compared to her
I'm doing this for your own damn good
You'll make up for what I blew
What's the problem...why are you crying

Be a good boy
Push a little farther now
That wasn't fast enough
To make us happy
We'll love you just the way you are if you're perfect

--"Perfect," Alanis

This article in Newsweek frightens me a little. OK, more than a little. It's basically yet another story about how, especially since No Child Left Behind, our schools are turning into drill-running, rote-memorization-requiring, art-less, music-less, gym-less, recess-less factories. (Scrivener wrote about this a little while back here.) As someone who loved school, this really saddens me.

Of course, not all of the blame can be placed at the feet of NCLB.* There are parents making unfortunate choices, too:

Like many of his friends, Robert Cloud, a president of an engineering company in suburban Chicago, had the Ivy League in mind when he enrolled his sons, ages 5 and 8, in a weekly after-school tutoring program. "To get into a good school, you need to have good grades," he says.

If a 5-year-old needs tutoring to keep up in kindergarten, that's one thing. But to send a 5-year-old to a tutor to increase his odds of getting into an Ivy League school?! KLee, my favorite kindergarten teacher, tell me how damned crazy that is.

Principal Ron Montaquila says kids of all ages are affected. Last year, says Montaquila, one dad wanted to know how his son stacked up against his classmates. "I told him we didn't do class ranking in kindergarten," recalls Montaquila. But the father persisted. If they did do rankings, the dad asked, would the boy be in the top 10th?

Wish I'd been the principal. I would've turned coldly to the father, smiled and said, "No."

In wealthier communities, where parents can afford an extra year of day care or preschool, they are holding their kids out of kindergarten a year—a practice known in sports circles as red-shirting—so their kids can get a jump on the competition. Clemmons parent Mary DeLucia did it. When her son, Austin, was 5, he was mature, capable, social and ready for school. But the word around the local Starbucks was that kindergarten was a killer. "Other parents said, 'Send him. He'll do just fine'," says DeLucia. "But we didn't want him to do fine, we wanted him to do great!"

This is just horrific, I think. I have no problem with parents delaying kindergarten because their kids aren't socially or academically ready for it. But holding back a perfectly ready child for purely competitive reasons is sickening.

I know that in my upper middle-class community, I'm going to come into contact with parents like this. I am not looking forward to it.

* This summer, in speaking with my mother the teacher, I discovered for the first time that NCLB does not test grammar. Hence, most schools have stopped teaching it. This disturbs me, a lover of language, profoundly. No wonder freshmen nationwide are packed into the remedial composition courses on college campuses. They never learned to write well because they never learned elementary grammar.


Blogger Gina said...

APL, I just expressed my own frustration about this a couple days ago as my search for a preschool began for Mr. P.

If parents knew how crazily the NCLB was structured, how if some students in some weird sub-category don't do well enough, then it is considered a failing score for the entire school.


12:00 AM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Neel Mehta said...

What's a diorama?

4:24 AM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger kenju said...


I love what you said about holding a child back if he is not ready, but not because the parents are too competitive.

I cannot beliee th schools don't tach grammar anymore. No wonder that no one can speak or write well anymore.

10:01 AM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Phantom Scribbler said...

I think it's going to be fascinating to study this population in 20 years -- the children who were red-shirted and tutored for the Ivy League from the time they were preschoolers. How many of them are actually going to get to the Ivy League? And how many of them will thrive in college and beyond? And how many of them will become heroin junkies from the pressure they've been under their entire lives?

There is a profound message in what it's like to live in this cultural moment in all this, though. Clearly upper-middle class parents are overwhelmed by anxiety about whether they'll be able to transmit their class privileges to their kids.

10:41 AM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Lisa V said...

This is the thing, kids need art and music and PE to make them succesful in areas like literacy and math. We all operate under multiple intelligences. We need all those areas fed to give us the full picture. And all of us are stronger in some areas than others. So a kid that isn't doing well in math may finally get it when exposed to math through music (think School House Rock and multiplication tables). Sometimes just the process enhances learning- working with shapes in art helps with literacy.

Every state uses a different test to qualify for NCLB. The one our state uses tests for language usage- grammar. And we teach it, beginning in kindergarten.

I basically hate that the test is an all or nothing deal, there are numerous ways to track progress of individual students and schools in general. I don't mind a standardized test here or there. Maybe once every two years it could be used as one of the measures of student achievement. Then add other measures the oppposite year. The reason they don't do this? Money. Standardized tests are cheap to administer instead of say "monitors" who visit individual schools or a portfolio system. NCLB is an unfunded mandate so states use the cheapest method possible to fit it's requirements. My other primary bitch about this- students who have developmental or intelligence delays never meet the grade level standard. They may have come really far and achieved a lot, but if they aren't with everyone else, they are failures in NCLB's eyes.

I feel sorry for the kids of these parents. Getting in the best schools and being at the top of your class doesn't necessarily lead to lifetime happiness or success. Their childhoods are being casually tossed aside to meet this whole consumer market driven society.

Sorry for the blog stealing. Had too much coffee.

12:09 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Scrivener said...

We were at the open house for our kids' Montessori school last week, and I talked to one of the dads there. His youngest child is just starting in the primary class, but his older son was there the last two years with my kids. This year, he's six and has just started kindergarten at one of the major prep schools in town. The dad was saying his son gets about an hour of homework every day, and the dad was happy about it! And as soon as the open house was over he had to rush home to help his son study for his first exam. He was worried that his son wouldn't do well on the exam and seemed genuinely concerned about what this would mean for his son's chances of success later.

I expressed some reservation about the usefulness of lots of homework and exams for a six-year-old and the guy looked at me like I was nuts, so I just moved along to talk to someone else.

12:49 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Lisa, when I take over your blog comments, it's always for stupid shit like ER or Grey's Anatomy. At least your comments have purpose and weight to them! So no apologies necesary.

Phantom, I think the fear of the next generation (i.e., our kids) losing upper-middle-class status is a big part of parents' school anxieties. Me, I just don't think about it. I want my kids to be able to afford to put a roof over their heads and live on their own when they are old enough. I want them to enjoy their lives (and if they enjoy their work, more power to them!). And, while they must graduate from college, I don't care where. Ivy Schmivy, I say. And I'd guess NSAH agrees with me (even though, funnily enough, he went to private schools from high school through his post-graduate work, and I was in public schools from elementary through J.D.).

2:10 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

Lisa V, you GO! I have long lamented the diminshing art, music, and PE programs in our schools, while rolling my eyes and laughing under my breath at my parental cohorts who push, push, push for test-based knowledge. Where are these poor kids headed?

2:37 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Songbird said...

We didn't do anything with #1 Son but send him to school, encourage him to do his work, provide him with books and support his extra-curricular interests. No tutor got him an 800 on the Verbal portion of the SAT. It was four years of Latin, a lifetime of reading and an innate facility for remembering things. We live in an absolutely crazy society. Abso-frickin'-lutely crazy. Resist it! No one is going to have that status when the oil runs out, right Phantom? What we will need are strong, resourceful, compassionate people. That's going to matter more than where you went to college.

4:28 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Lex said...

Agreed, agreed, agreed. This is just nuts. And you know what else you lose when you don't learn grammar? Logic. Sounds illogical, I know, but think about it.

And because I am a paranoid SOB, I have to wonder whether that wasn't at least part of the point ....

4:32 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Bridget said...

no wonder there are all those misplaced apostrophies in its!

4:39 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous NSAH said...

The funny thing is that no parent of a kindergartner knows anything about the college landscape of 2018.

My prediction: We'll have many more good schools.

When I started elementary school, my eventual college was considered a somewhat sleepy liberal arts school. It is now consistently ranked in the U.S. News Top 10. And I'd bet the schools ranked 10-20 are a lot better than they were when I was in college.

Take George Mason. For its relatively brief existence, it's been a commuter school. Now it's a legitimate destination school. By the time our little ones are grown up, it may be as well regarded as UVa today.

I don't mind reasonable approaches to get kids to learn things sooner -- I regret that I waited until 8th grade to start speaking a foreign language, and I'm therefore doomed to speak high school French and nothing else. But that rising tide will lift more kids -- so the colleges will get better by necessity as the kids get smarter.

5:09 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Kristen said...

I read that article. My daughter is in first grade this year and I didn't really find much of it to ring true. We are in the Midwest....and at a public elementary maybe we are just not the target demographic?

I suppose if we were hanging out with the private school - country club set, I'd see a different picture.

For me the hard part is allowing her to acheive without becoming pushy. She was reading at a 3rd grade level in Kindergarten. (Yes, they test already) - So, how do I encourage her to have a love of reading....without becoming "that parent."

But so far, she still loves school - and has plenty of art, music, PE and recess. Her school isn't perfect - it is 64% low income so that brings many different advantages/disadvantages with it.

I have to admit that when I read one of those articles, I am VERY glad we are no longer out on the east coast. Things just seem much more low-key out here in the middle of nowhere!

5:40 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous suzanh said...

Those kind of parents make me mental.

G goes to a public magnet program that the kids have to test into, and they have an amazing approach - no homework until 3rd grade, and then only a bit if they don't finish in class or have a longterm project (i.e. science fair).

Most parents I've talked to are satisfied with this; there are few, particularly during curriculum night, who mention that they have their child read the encyclopedia/dictionary or do homework over the summer. WTF? How does that possibly help your child learn to LEARN?

Yeesh. Sorry for the rant. It makes me mental.

7:06 PM, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Susan said...

I know, this is a crazy time in American education: we waste so much time--so much of our children's time--with activities that seem to suck the joy out of the present.

I'm with you on all of this except the part about teaching grammar (pardon me for stepping on a soapbox): college freshmen have been flowing into remedial classes ever since Harvard established the first ones (in response to widening admissions standards); in some respects, remedial (or developmental) programs are another place in which class tensions have played out historically. And there's no research to support the fact that teaching grammar does anything but improves scores on grammar tests. We don't do a very good job of institutionalizing curricula that promote the acquisition of fluent and flexible writing and speaking styles...more grammar instruction isn't going to get better communication. (off soapbox)

9:08 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger BernieRA said...

Our schools are not what they need to be, and parents are not doing what they used to in the area of supporting the schools.

Teachers are not certain of how to teach the children of the 21st century. They learn differently, have access to different resources, and have different interests than we did as children. We are trying to apply the research and experience of the 19th and 20th century to these students, and failing miserably.

I will try not to blog-steal as well, but I will say that accelerating children early in their education is not helping. To quote my mom, "There's no point in trying to teach the pigs to sing. They're not very good at it, and it just pisses off the pig."

Kindergarteners should still be kindergarteners. What hasn't changed is the fact that children need to have fun and love learning. Lecturing kindergarteners is teaching the pigs to sing.

10:14 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Rev Dr Mom said...

The noted developmental psychologist Jean Piaget always wondered why American parents were so interested in pushing their kids instead of letting them develop at their own pace. That was a generation ago; it's exponentially worse now.

I so agree that grammar needs to be taught. The Kid has had some, not enough, but more than some of the college students I taught.

All of this raises the question of how we change the comeptitive nature of our society. I think we are swimming upstream on this one.

10:35 PM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger Scrivener said...

I'm in agreement with Susan about teaching grammar. I mean, grammar needs to be taught some, but it's only ancillary. We need to teach children to be interested and engaged in communication, and hence to be interested in language, and then instruction in grammar is a useful thing, because it is providing useful tools to achieve an end. If there's no interest in true communication, you can lecture and drill and test on grammar until the cows come home and it won't do jack.

4:03 PM, September 10, 2006  
Blogger Mommygoth said...

My god. I am not sure what I can say here that hasn't already been said, but I am horrified. My own child is at least 3 years away from school age, probably 4 because of her birthday, but I cannot imagine subjecting her to this kind of pressure. WTF?

11:19 AM, September 11, 2006  
Blogger Jessica said...

I know this sounds extreme but I literally get nauseous when I read this type of stuff...

12:26 PM, September 11, 2006  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

Oh geez. Josh and I were just talking about this because he ended up being a year older than his grade and thinks that his success in sports is partly attributed to his age.

One of my neighbors is doing this also, and I don't doubt that it is common in our neck of the woods.

12:45 PM, September 11, 2006  
Anonymous KLee said...

Sorry I'm a little late to the discussion, but I have several things to say, so I'll try (like everyone else!) to not hog up too much of your comments.

First of all, as a parent, I know that I want my child to succeed in school. I do push her to challenge herself, but not at the detriment of everything else. I help her with her homework. We spent quite a long time just tonight, trying to get her to grasp a mathematical concept. And I'm willing to do that. I ask her everyday what happened in school, and I make a point to keep in touch with her teachers, and keep informed. Parents these days are not, on the whole, as helpful as the parents of our generation were. Sadly, a lot of the parents aren't *able* to help the children out with the work. I had one parent last year that had the most atrocious spelling and grammar I've ever seen in an adult. It was like trying to decipher a foreign language to get notes from her!

As an educator, I do agree with Lisa V. that NCLB has a lot of flaws and is not structured for "every child." It's structured for "the kids we think we can reach the easiest." Most disabled (or differently abled) children fall WAY off the map. I know in my area there's such a push to have every. single. child. in the regular ed classroom. While that paints a nice, sunny picture, it's not what's best for the child in some cases. A friend had an autistic child last year that just got SO overstimulated in the mainstream classroom that everyday was just basically a watch for the inevitable meltdown. That's certainly not what was best for that child! But, let that same child go into a smaller classroom with fewer children, and he functioned MUCH better. He was not as triggered by the noise, and so many people moving about -- he could concentrate, and was able to stay on task and move forward. It was much better for that child to have an option. NCLB wants to take that option away from him.

Another hackle that NCLB has raised with me lately (and I can't blog about this at my place) was that my next-door-classroom neighbor had a student that came to her the other day SO infested with lice that they were falling out of her head and onto the desk. The child was taken to the nurse (as per our plan for this sort of thing) and the parent was to be called to pick the child up and take her home. Well, the parent said that she had no way to come and get her, so the nurse sent her back to class. When the teacher asked what would happen to the rest of the children, to keep them safe from being infected as well, she was told that the child could not be "forced" to be removed from the classroom because of NCLB. That NCLB mandates that the child maximize every possible second in the classroom, and to remove her from that environment would be detrimental. Never mind that it's at the risk of the X-number many other children that inhabit that classroom. NCLB makes me grit my teeth so hard I'm surprised that you aren't hearing them all the way up in your neck of the woods.

As for the "red-shirting", sadly -- it's not a new phenomenon. I have two students this year whose parents had them in the state-funded PreK programs (which are highly prized and doled out by lottery, by the way)last year, and *pulled them out because it was too hard.* And, translated, that means: "We didn't feel like doing all the crap necessary to get my child ready for school, much less actually *stick* with school, so hell with it!" So now, I have a child who learned by her mother's example that you just "give up" when something is too hard. I asked her to write her name today, and she threw a temper tantrum because it was "too hard" and threw a pencil at me. That was a really good lesson that she learned at Mama's knee.

By parents keeping their kids back a year, it is the hallmark (to bastardize a quote from Lisa Simpson) of the "dumbening" of our children.

People give me flap about assigning homework to kindergarteners. Do you know what their homework is? Tonight, they had to color a large number 9 and circle the sets of nine objects. The other sheet they had to do (which we provide, of course) was tracing their names (which are dotted out for them) 5 times and write it within the lines on their own once. Real hard work. Takes all of about five minutes. And that's the ones that actually DO the homework. I have one child that's turned in two of the fourteen assignments that I've sent hom this year so far.

I do teach grammar, even though it's no longer stressed so heavily. I tell them that it's fine to talk that way to their friends, but they need to know how to talk the right way for the future when they go on job interviews. I correct spoken errors all the time. One of my main pet peeves is "That's mines!" I always tell them "Mines are where people dig rocks. When you want to tell him that that item belongs to you, you say, "It's mine." Not 'mines.'" I also hate "I'm is!" I correct this sort of thing a lot.

Thank you for being an informed, involved parent. Most of the people that I have encountered on the blogosphere are that way. I wish that all parents were as supportive.

10:46 PM, September 11, 2006  
Anonymous lawmummy said...

I hear you and I agree. But I will say that the pressure out there is fierce - and yeah, I mean from other parents. Chris and I have talked about trying to stay grounded, to not push the girls. But then I sat in an Open House for a school and heard the parents talk about flashcard drills - for preschoolers!

And you want to take the high ground, and you want to not push your kid, and you think that it's not a big deal... until you realize that when you're the only one NOT doing it, it means your kid is last. I say this as a relatively noncompetitive parent who really, at the end of the day, just wants my kids to be happy. But the "system" in place right now is extremely scary. It is one of the reasons that we chose to put our daughter in a Friends school; we felt it was more tolerant, a good school but not "competitive." There are, as I've noted before, entrance tests for many of the private schools in our area - for 3 and 4 year olds! I am not kidding.

8:22 AM, September 12, 2006  
Anonymous Moi said...

I read the article and agree, it's crazy. It reminds me of the system in Japan where 5 year olds commit suicide after scoring low on the entrance testing and getting placed in one of the slower tracks.

Makes me wonder if the predicted backlash/pendulum swinging will come in time for my kids or not....

11:44 PM, September 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you might find this article from Slate interesting
Pass it along to those neurotic "must get into the right preschool" parents you know.

4:30 PM, September 14, 2006  

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