Most teens aren’t challenged

The overstressed, overscheduled American student is a “myth,” argues Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News in response to Frank Bruni’s New York Times column on “exhausted superkids.” Or, at the very least, it’s a problem for a small percentage of teens.

Most U.S. high school students aren’t racing from one activity to another, Pondiscio argues. He cites a 2006 study based on a nationally representative longitudinal database of 5,000 families and their children.

The average teen spent five hours a week at sports games and practices, faith-based activities, doing volunteer work, and meeting the demands of afterschool programs and other obligations. Forty percent of teens spent no time at all in organized activities during the school week.

Only 6 percent of U.S. teens averaged 20+ hours of organized activities per week. The overactive do better “across a broad array of outcomes, from childhood to young adulthood, than youth who are uninvolved,” observes Joseph Mahoney, a co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at Elizabethtown College.

Bruni worries about students taking too many AP classes. Two-thirds of U.S. high school graduates take do not take a single AP class, writes Pondiscio.

 From 2011-2014, despite enormous growth in the program, fewer than 8 percent of high school students took more than five AP classes before graduation. Raise that to seven or more APs in high school, presumably the sweet spot of “exhausted superkid” status, and the number drops to less than 5 percent of the 3 million 2014 high school graduates.

Meanwhile the College Board estimates there are at least twice as many, some 300,000 academically prepared students, who either did not take an AP course in which they had potential, or attended a school that did not offer an AP course in that subject.

Pressure to achieve is a problem for the privileged few, Pondiscio concludes. (They happen to have parents who buy books.) “The far greater concern is almost certainly the undertaxed American child, who lacks access to rigorous academic coursework, the incentive and opportunities to participate in organized activities, or both.”

‘Superkids’ are stressed, tired

Today’s “superkids” are competing so hard to get into elite colleges they have no time to sleep, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.

Overloaded and Underprepared, by a Stanford-affiliated group called Challenge Success, cites a Silicon Valley high school that brought in sleep consultants, trained students as “sleep ambassadors” and held a sleep slogan contest. The winner: “Life is lousy when you’re drowsy.”

“Childhood has been transformed — at least among an ambitious, privileged subset of Americans — into an insanely programmed, status-obsessed and sometimes spirit-sapping race,” writes Bruni.

How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean, and The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey also deal with affluent parents’ zeal for perfect children — and the toll it takes.

“At some point, you have to say, ‘Whoa! This is too crazy,’ ” Denise Pope, a Stanford lecturer  and co-author of Overloaded, told Bruni. “I’ve got kids on a regular basis telling me that they’re getting five hours.”

. . . in communities where academic expectations run highest, the real culprit is panic: about acing the exam, burnishing the transcript, keeping up with high-achieving peers.

Teens need “the wiggle room to find genuine passions, the freedom to discover true independence, the space to screw up and bounce back,” concludes Bruni.

I keep thinking about the girl who won the sleep-slogan contest at Menlo-Atherton High. She’s going to put that on her college applications.

Beaker’s Ode to Joy

The grandkids love singing Ode to Joy, thanks to Beaker.

Do poor kids need less learning, more play?

Direct instruction denies low-income children a carefree childhood and harms their emotional development, argues Steve Nelson, headmaster of an elite private school in Manhattan, in the Huffington Post.

Low-income children in “direct instruction” pre-schools do less well in life than those in traditional nursery schools, according to The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40, he writes. (The study followed 68 children, only one third of whom were in a direct-instruction preschool.)

Early childhood education must be “play-based and focused on social development,” writes Calhoun. “Children should explore at their own pace, negotiate relationships with other children and with adults, daydream, be silly, try things out, and try things on.”

Education reformers have created no-excuses schools that turn children into little adults forced to meet ever-higher expectations, Calhoun writes.

Are there “no-excuses” preschools, joyless academic factories that parents nonetheless choose for their children?

Nelson, the half-million-dollar mouthpiece of a $45,000-per-year private school, has descended “from Olympus to admonish teachers of impoverished students against actually trying to teach them anything,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio.

“Play-based,” content-free learning might be fine for the children of hedge fund managers, who will have lots of opportunities to screw up before easing into careers as progressive school principals. But it’s not cutting it for kids from low-income families, who often arrive at school with huge skills deficits and consequently have to, you know, learn something.

Calhoun should “stick to finger painting in the Imagination Station, and quit lecturing those who are actually trying to help the poor,” concludes Pondiscio.

A few months ago, I visited pre-k and elementary classes at a local public school that’s focused on helping children from immigrant families catch up academically by third grade. Classes were loaded with academic content. Teachers mixed directed instruction, discussion, writing, singing, dance, exploration, etc.

I was amazed at how much science these kids were learning as they developed English proficiency. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. And they were learning the normal set of social skills.

California teacher challenges agency shop

“We’re asking that teachers be able to decide for ourselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union,” says Rebecca Friedrichs in a Reason interview. A California public school teacher for more than 25 years, she’s the lead plaintiff in a challenge to the state’s “agency shop” law requiring her to pay union dues.

The Supreme Court will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in the fall session. If agency shop is held to be unconstitutional, it will affect 26 states that require all public school teachers to pay union dues, even if they’re not union members.

New APUSH framework is ‘flat-out good’

College Board has released a new Advancement Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework in response to critics. The rewritten framework isn’t just better, writes Rick Hess and Max Eden in National Review. It’s “flat-out good.”

World War II wasn't just about interning Japanese-Americans.

World War II wasn’t just about interning Japanese-Americans.

The 2014 APUSH framework was “an unqualified mess,” they write.

“Larry Krieger, a retired high-school history teacher, was the first to flag the single-minded focus on American wrongdoing, racial division, and left-wing heroics,” write Hess and Eden. Stanley Kurtz attacked the framework’s politicization of history.

After first dismissing the criticism, College Board “reached out to critics, solicited feedback from the public, promised that the framework would be reworked for 2015 — and asked to be judged on the result,” write Hess and Eden. The new framework is completely rewritten in a “more measured, historically responsible manner.”

In the section on World War II, the 2014 framework highlighted:

Wartime mobilization provided economic opportunities for women and minorities; American values were compromised by the atomic bomb and the internment of Japanese Americans; and the Allies won owing to our combined industrial strength.

. . . In the 2015 version, the first bullet now reads: “Americans viewed the war as a fight for the survival of freedom and democracy against fascist and militarist ideologies. This perspective was later reinforced by revelations about Japanese wartime atrocities, Nazi concentration camps, and the Holocaust.” The framework still notes the internment of Japanese Americans and the moral complexities of dropping the atomic bomb, but these are now situated in a broader, more textured tale.

In 2014, the first of seven organizing themes was “Identity” — with an “emphasis on race and gender grievances,” they write. Now the theme is “American and National Identity.” It deals with “our shared history — with racial divides and gender politics presented as one part of that larger story.”

The framework now addresses economic growth and American entrepreneurialism where before the only economics to speak of consisted of allusions to inequality and exploitation.

Astonishingly, discussion of religion and its import was largely absent in 2014. That is no longer the case.

Whereas in the 2014 framework one could be forgiven for thinking that the Declaration of Independence was consequential only insofar as it inspired rebellion in Haiti, the new framework makes clear that the Declaration “resonated throughout American history, shaping Americans’ understanding of the ideals on which the nation was based.”

A half-million students take APUSH every year. Their teachers now have an “honest, fair-minded framework for teaching the grand sweep of American history,” conclude Hess and Eden. “There is no effort to paper over the darker chapters of America’s past or its continuing struggle to live up to our founding ideals (nor should there be!) — but these are now presented alongside our nation’s ideals and staggering accomplishments.”

The new framework is better, but still flawed, writes Kurtz, who thinks College Board needs competition. The new AP European History framework has all the anti-West bias of the 2014 APUSH, he adds.

Mom billed $77K for disabled son’s records

Though diagnosed with an intellectual disability, Mitchell Smith passed mainstream classes in K-12, earned a high school diploma and planned to enroll at a local college with special-ed support guaranteed by Michigan law till the age of 26.

Mitchell Smith

Mitchell Smith

When Goodrich Area Schools denied his request and recommended a segregated program for disabled adults, his mother, Sherry Smith, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all e-mails related to Mitchell. The school system claimed it would cost $77,718.75 and require 2 1/4 years of full-time clerical labor to provide the records, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run.

The college “would continue special services, life skills, employment skills, all the services that he needed and that he was receiving throughout his entire K–12 school career,” says Sherry Smith, “and it includes the academic component, which Mitchell strongly desires.”

Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone wrote:

Goodrich Area Schools believes the total cost to fulfill this FOIA will be $77,718.75…It will be necessary to hire someone to assist us with sorting through the email content you have requested. The current estimate is that it may require up to 4,687.5 hours at the current clerical hourly employee rate of $16.58 per hour.

On July 1, Michigan’s amended FOIA law went into effect allowing requesters to sue if they believe they’re being overcharged. The court must assign punitive damages if it finds a public body has “arbitrarily and capriciously charged an unreasonable fee,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

The Smiths hired an attorney who refiled the FOIA request on July 1 and added a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) request. It took four weeks for the district to turn over hundreds of pages of emails. There was no charge.

If teaching was a sport

From Key & Peele: If teaching was covered like sports . . .

No Child’s lesson: We don’t know how to fix schools


Achievement gaps are closing at a glacial rate.

No Child Left Behind “forced states to identify schools that were failing according to scores on standardized tests,” writes Libby Nelson on Vox. But we don’t know how to fix low-performing schools.

NCLB set in place restructuring options for schools that failed to show progress year after year.

Research in North Carolina by Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor found that the most effective interventions were at opposite ends of the spectrum: Schools that had missed the progress goal for only one year and weren’t yet facing consequences improved. So did schools that faced the biggest consequence, a total restructuring.

But everything in between — transfers, tutoring, a new curriculum or hiring consultants, threatening to restructure — didn’t help much.

The next steps — the various “corrective actions” ranging from firing staff to hiring consultants — were equally ineffective, Ahn and Vigdor found. It wasn’t until schools had to hire new leadership that schools made meaningful change.

Research shows that “No Child Left Behind improved fourth-grade and eighth-grade math test scores, but didn’t do as much for reading abilities,” writes Nelson. Black and low-income students gained the most.

But achievement gaps remain large, according to Sean Reardon at Stanford. “Comparing the magnitude of these effects is akin to comparing the speed of different glaciers,” he wrote. “Some are retreating, some advancing, but none so fast that one would notice a meaningful difference except over a span of decades (or centuries).”

67% back school testing

Two-thirds of the public — and two-thirds of parents — support federally required testing, concludes the annual Education Next survey. Teachers split evenly on the question, which asked, “Do you support or oppose the federal government continuing to require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school?”

Another question asked:

“Some people say that ALL students should take state tests in math and reading.  Others say that parents should decide whether or not their children take these tests. Do you support or oppose letting parents decide whether to have their children take state math and reading tests?”

Only 25% of the public like the idea, while 59% oppose it, the remainder taking a neutral position.  Among parents themselves, just 32% favored the opt-out approach, while 52% opposed it.  Fifty-seven percent of the teachers also reacted negatively to the idea, with only 32% lending it support.

Asked “what level of government should play the biggest role in deciding whether or not a school is failing?,” 18 percent chose the federal government, 50 percent the state and 32 percent local government.