90% of parents: My kid’s at grade level

Ninety percent of parents think their kids are performing at or above grade level in reading and math, according to a Learning Heroes survey. Welcome to Lake Wobegon.

Reading results broken out by student subset. Source: The Nation's Report Card

Parents held fast to this sunny belief no matter their own income, education level, race or ethnicity, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR. But most are wrong, according to the Nation’s Report Card, or NAEP.  Less than half of white students and less than a quarter of black and Latino students are on grade level by fourth grade.

“Build deeper relationships and ask tougher questions of your student’s teachers,” Learning Heroes founder Bibb Hubbard advises. “Instead of the teacher just saying, ‘He’s a great kid,’ ask, ‘Is he reading on grade level?’ ”

According to Parents 2016: Hearts and Minds of Public School Parents in an Uncertain World, 75 percent of K-8 parents surveyed also said a college education is “very important” or “absolutely essential” for their children.

Morgan Polikoff, who researches K-12 education policy at the University of Southern California, says the “Lake Wobegon effect” is actually no surprise.

“Kids are getting passed on from grade to grade, a large percentage of kids graduate high school on time,” he explains. “So certainly parents have been getting the message for a long time that their kids are doing just fine.”

Fewer than 2 percent of students are held back a grade, so perhaps parents can’t be blamed for thinking their own kids are at least on par with their peers,” writes Kamenetz.

Learning Heroes aims to inform parents about the Common Core, which it describes as ” a set of clear, consistent learning goals in mathematics and English language arts” and “new state tests that measure critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning skills that students need to be prepared for the next grade level.”

School-based pre-K doesn’t work

School-based pre-K doesn’t improve the lives of disadvantaged children in a “significant, sustained” way, write researchers Katharine B. Stevens and Elizabeth English on the American Enterprise Institute blog.

Some early childhood programs do make a lasting difference, they write. “Intensive, carefully designed, well-implemented programs” such as Abecedar­ian, Nurse-Family Partnership and the Perry Preschool Project, “target very young children, engage parents, and teach a broad range of skills.”

Pre_k_web

Closing the ‘word gap’ — is it enough?

Home visitor reads a book with a mother and her 18-month-son in Providence, Rhode Island.

By the age of three, the children of educated, middle-class parents have heard millions more words — often encouraging, informative, vocabulary-building words — than the children of poorly educated, low-income parents, according to the Hart-Risley study.

Closing the “word gap” is the goal of various campaigns, including the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative,  writes Amy Rothschild, a preschool teacher, in The Atlantic.

Providence, Rhode Island is trying to prepare every child for school by sending Providence Talks educators into homes to encourage parents to talk, sing and play with their children. 

But some — “social justice” folks — think focusing on closing the word gap ignores larger issues, such as poverty.

Pediatricians encourage reading and provide free children's books through Reach Out and Read.

Pediatricians encourage reading and provide free children’s books through Reach Out and Read.

“If the problem facing low-income children of color is simply a question of parents saying more words and longer words, it would be much easier to fix than poverty and access to education for adults,” said Oscar Barbarin, a child psychologist who chairs the African American Studies department at the University of Maryland. “It’d be much easier to fix than the sense of alienation that poor and ethnic minority groups feel from mainstream society.”

He thinks the “number one thing” that would help children is to “give parents a stable job with a livable wage.”

Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician who works with low-income families, is a big fan of Reach Out and Read, which gives children’s books to low-income parents and encourages family reading. However, “there’s so much a book and a pep talk from me can’t do,” she writes in the Huffington Post. “They can’t teach a parent to read. They can’t make it so that a parent is home at bedtime, instead of working the evening cleaning shift while an older sibling or neighbor watches the child. They can’t get rid of the toxic stress that pervades every family interaction.”

Helping stressed, low-income parents do a better job of parenting will not solve every problem. But I think it’s more effective than ignoring parents — or assuming they’re too stressed, ignorant and “toxic” to do any better — and trying to maximize small children’s time early childhood education programs. The stable, middle-class job for every parent is . . . not going to happen.

Science fairs aren’t open to everyone

President Obama reacts as Joey Hudy of Phoenix, Arizona, launches a marshmallow during the 2012 White House Science Fair. Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

At this week’s White House Science Fair, President Obama showcased young scientists and inventors and urged girls to pursue STEM fields. “We’re not going to succeed when we’ve got half the team on the bench,” he said. “Especially when it’s the smarter half.”

“Diversity is important,” said Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “We need more STEM workers, and we need to recruit the best talent of the world, and some of the talent will come from people who have not been traditionally involved in STEM.”

Science fairs have “became an exercise in privilege,”writes Carl Zimmer, a science writer, in STAT. Girls aren’t excluded. But children who don’t have educated parents and access to high-quality labs won’t go very far.

Veronica was able to carry out her science fair experiment in a Yale lab.

Told her seventh-grade science fair experiment required expert supervision, the author’s daughter was able to use a Yale lab. Photo: Carl Zimmer

His daughter decided to compare different ways to clean a toothbrush for her seventh-grade science fair.  She planned to brush with a new toothbrush,  clean it with water, lemon juice or vinegar, then see how much bacteria grew on a Petri dish.

Her proposal required filling out “an avalanche of confusing paperwork,” Zimmer writes. It was considered “so potentially dangerous that Veronica would have to carry it out under the supervision of a trained expert, who would first have to submit a detailed risk assessment.”

Most kids would have quit there. But Zimmer knew a Yale microbiologist who agreed to let the seventh-grader work in his lab. She ended up winning an honorable mention at the stair fair.

“When you look over the projects that win the Google Science Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search these days, it’s clear that they’re mostly the products of very bright, motivated students lucky enough to work in university labs where they can take advantage of expertise and equipment,” Zimmer writes. Kids without those connections are out of luck.

Stresssssss

. During the lunch period, Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, both San Ramon Valley High students from Danville, visit with Max, a Shih Tzu mix therapy dog, in the school quad in Danville, Calif., on Monday, March 14, 2015. San Ramon Valley High\'s PTSA is hosting a \"Low Stress Week\" March 14-18 with therapy dogs and a hot breakfast served to students. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)
Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, meet Max, a therapy dog, in the San Ramon Valley High quad during the lunch period. Photo: Susan Tripp Pollard, Bay Area News Group

Student stress is worrying educators at top-performing Silicon Valley schools, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. “They’re pushing back school start times, re-examining homework loads, coordinating tests and warning parents about buying into college myths.”

Two suicide clusters in Palo Alto have raised fears. Around the Bay Area, there are more reports of panic attacks and eating disorders, students cutting themselves, suicide attempts and other mental-health issues.

In a recent two-week period at Irvington High in Fremont, mental health authorities or parents were summoned because nine students were suffering so much distress they needed to be involuntarily confined for protection, assistant principal Jay Jackson said.

A (St. Louis University) survey last spring found 54 percent of Irvington students suffering from depression and 80 percent showing moderate to severe anxiety levels.

Students think their life is over if they don’t get into a “great college,” say counselors.

“The better you are, the better the college you get into, and the better your life will be,” said Ella Milliken, a sophomore at Los Altos High.

Palo Alto schools have “added counselors and trained staff to spot troubled students,” reports Noguchi.

Dr. Grace Liu, a psychiatry resident, plays the part of an embarrassed teen with Dr. Rona Hu, psychiatry, playing the role of Liu's mother, during a skit at Jane Lathrop Middle School in Palo Alto. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group

Psychiatrists Grace Liu and Rona Hu play a teen and her mother in a skit at a parenting forum at a Palo Alto middle school. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group

San Ramon Valley High “staged a low-stress week” with hot breakfasts of quiche and oatmeal, supplied by parent volunteers, and therapy dogs at lunchtime. “Relaxing music wafted over the quad, where students did yoga” and “email was banned for a day.”

Four of the last nine Palo Alto teens to kill themselves were Asian and Asian youths have killed themselves in San Jose, Fremont and Contra Costa County in recent years. Palo Alto school and community leaders have started conversations on “parenting, expectations and a traditionally taboo topic — mental illness,” with Asian parents, Noguchi writes.

However, plans to ease pressure are controversial. Saratoga High considered limiting AP classes, but students and parents rejected the idea.

. . . a proposal to push back Saratoga High’s start time by nearly an hour, to 8:40 a.m., ran into furious opposition, especially from Asian parents. The idea was to coordinate times with the district’s other school, Los Gatos High, and to give students a chance to get more sleep — a benefit that some researchers tout as the single most effective tool to improve student health.

The plan, the product of monthslong research by a 28-member committee, was enthusiastically backed by many teachers and counselors, alarmed at rising stress disorders they see among students.

But the proposals were never publicly debated. And the committee itself, while intended to be broad-based, lacked Asian-American parents — even though Saratoga High is about three-fifths Asian. Criticism spread by social media saw the plan as an attack on academic rigor, in part by shaving five minutes from each class period.

Test scores are higher at Saratoga than Los Gatos, said parent Becky Wu. “Why ask Saratoga to match Los Gatos’ and not the other way around?”

Saratoga will compromise on a 8:15 a.m. start time.

The all-powerful U.S. News rankings reward colleges for selectivity, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. Mid-level colleges recruit students — including those they have no intention of admitting — to push up their rejection stats.

Latino, black parents: Expect more of our kids

Latino and black parents think educators expect too little of their children, according to a survey, by The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Both groups — but especially black parents — set a very high value on school safety, with school resources and high-quality teachers coming next in priority.

Both said family support made the most difference in students’ success in school, following by individual effort.

Ninety percent of Latinos and black parents said schools should hold low-income students to the same or higher standard as other students, reports Natalie Gross on Latino Ed Beat. “Some teachers have low expectations for low-income students of color – and parents know it.”

As in many school surveys, most parents liked their children’s schools, reports Education Week. However, 53 percent of African-American participants said schools nationally were doing a poor job preparing African-American children for the future.  Only 28 percent of Latino respondents agreed.

Also, about one-third of African-American and one-quarter of Latino participants responded that schools “are not really trying” to educate African American and Latino students.

“Children of color” are the “new majority” in public schools, the Leadership Conference observes.

Adventure playgrounds pop up in cities


New York City children play at a “pop-up” adventure playground on Governor’s Island.

Urban adventure playgrounds — with adult monitors, but no hovering parents — are giving city children a chance to explore, writes Katherine Martinelli in The Atlantic.

The idea started in Europe after World War II, when children turned bomb sites into do-it-yourself playgrounds.

The primary components of an adventure playground are moveable parts (which can include items like boxes, pipes, paint, hammers, and even saws) and trained, paid grown-up “playworkers,” who oversee and facilitate the play without interfering. Children are free to build their own structures, tear them down, climb, graffiti, create. They are encouraged to take calculated risks in order to learn resilience, grit, and problem-solving skills.

Eve Mosher was frustrated by New York City’s rule-bound parks and playgrounds, writes Martinelli. Her children, ages 4 and 6, “were chastised for digging in the dirt or climbing trees.” She and fellow parent Alexander Khost created play:groundNYC.

“Using an organization called Pop Up Adventure Play as a model and source for playworker training, Mosher, Khost, and their six fellow board members started hosting pop-up adventure playgrounds around the city,” writes Martinelli. They’ll open a seasonal adventure playground on Governor’s Island for kids ages 6-13 in May.

In Europe, many adventure playgrounds are in lower-income neighborhoods, says Robin Meyers, a playground designer and board member. “They become a place where young people can go and have a space that’s safe and has adult supervision. The playworkers become almost like a big brother or big sister or social-worker-type role.”

In New York City, parents will have to take the ferry to Governors Island, making adventure play a “destination” event.

Will play monitors be able to keep parents from hovering? How wild and crazy can an American playground be these days?

Let kids do ‘impossible’ assignment

Let your child tackle that “impossible” homework assignment, writes K.J. Dell’Antonia in the New York Times‘ Well blog.

Theodor Geisel

Theodor Geisel

Her two fourth graders were told to “prepare a five-minute speech from a biography, to be delivered, not read, from notes on index cards, in costume and in character and with at least one prop.”
Dell’Antonia assumed she’d have to drag them through it, but she and her husband were too busy to do more than “a little redirection to one child early on, a little last-minute glue-gun assistance to the other.”

Her son spoke about Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), while her daughter talked about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

“Had I helped, the report would have been more about Dr. Blackwell and less about Ginger and Blackie, the horses she had during her childhood,” writes Dell’Antonia.

“It didn’t seem to matter. Their teacher didn’t want the best oral book reports. She wanted their best oral book reports.”

Her kids didn’t get the top grade, but they had the satisfaction of doing it themselves.

I’m tired of doing my kids’ homework

I’m always stuck doing my kids’ homework, writes Karol Markowicz in the New York Post.

For her daughter’s “100th day of school project,” she cut out 100 pictures of American Girls from the catalog, so her daughter could glue them on a board.

“I have a smart, independent, motivated daughter, but it would take her three days to cut out 100 pictures of something for her project,” she writes. Her daughter is in kindergarten. Cutting is hard work.

Even for Mom, it took over an hour and her child spent another hour glueing them on. (Doesn’t this sound like a way to make kids — and moms — hate the number 100?)

Homework should be tailored for the child’s abilities, not the mother’s, Markowicz believes.

As kids get older, their parents face ever more complex science fair projects, writes Hana Schank in The Atlantic.

Last year my son, who was in third grade at the time, came home with a sheet of paper from his school that listed three categories for appropriate projects: developing a hypothesis and conducting an experiment to test that theory, inventing something new, or researching “something specific.” The guidelines listed “whales” as an example of something specific.

Given that my son was 8 years old, the idea that he could, on his own, do any single one of these things seemed ludicrous.

It’s not fair to kids who don’t have a parent who can help and it’s not very educational for those who do.

Home visits build teacher-parent links


Stanton Elementary School teacher Sheryl Garner (right) on a home visit with the Colbert family in Washington D.C.

At both charter and district schools, home visits are helping teachers engage with parents, writes June Kronholz in Education Next.

Washington D.C.’s Flamboyan Foundation “trains — and pays — teachers to visit their students’ homes” in hopes of improving achievement, she writes.

“I had expectations of what the parents were supposed to do,” says Melissa Bryant, a math teacher and dean of students at D.C. Scholars Stanton Elementary, a novel partnership between the Washington, D.C., public schools and Scholar Academies, a charter operator. “I never heard what they wanted me to do.”

“No one ever asked me my goals,” adds Katrina Branch, who is raising six children in D.C., including the four children of her murdered sister.

Flamboyan is a partner of the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, which has 432 participating schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Sacramento boys welcome their teachers for a home visit.

Sacramento boys welcome teachers.

It started in the late 1990s in Sacramento when a church-based community action group that launched a pilot home-visit program, writes Kronholz.

Last year, Jessica Ghalambor, a 7th-grade teacher at Sacramento’s Fern Bacon Middle School, visited the home of a shy, silent girl with reading problems named Yoveli Rosas. “The very next day,” the teacher saw an “incredible” change, she recalled. “I could tell she knew I cared.”

Ghalambor visited Yoveli again this year, along with her 8th-grade teacher and a school counselor, who acted as translator with the girl’s Spanish-speaking mother.

Josefina Rosas, Yoveli’s mother, offered to bring tamales to the school’s Heritage Festival, and promised that her husband, a landscaper, would attend a meeting about the upcoming class trip to D.C.

Finally, Ghalambor asked about Rosas’s hopes and dreams for Yoveli. To go further in school than she and her husband had so Yoveli will “have more chances,” Rosas quickly answered. Yoveli, whose reading has improved but still lags, had a more immediate goal: to read a 300-page book. “You remember last year when you came, the bookshelf was half full?” she reminded Ghalambor gaily. “This year it’s overflowing.”

“There’s not much research” on home visits’ affect on learning, writes Kronholz. However, a study for the Flamboyan Foundation found better attendance, which is linked to better reading scores, for children who received home visits in 2012-13.