NY law would mandate parenting classes

New York parents would have to attend four parenting classes, including one on child abuse, under a bill introduced by State Sen. Ruben Diaz Jr. If parents don’t go, their sixth graders wouldn’t be promoted to seventh grade. (Would they stay in sixth grade forever?)

Coddled kids vs. high standards

Common Core’s critics — “right-wing alarmists” and “left-wing paranoiacs” — have been joined by parents who think higher standards are too stressful, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Are Kids Too Coddled? he asks.

Stress is “an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper,” writes Bruni. And school isn’t going to be fun all the time.

Higher standards are traumatizing children, according to New Yorkers at the state’s Common Core hearings.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A social worker testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause.

If children really are falling apart, writes Bruno, maybe it’s because they’ve been protected from blows to their egos. They’ve won trophies for participation. They’ve made “bloated honor rolls.”

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.” Our global competitors are tougher.  “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

It’s those white suburban moms.

Obama’s universal pre-k isn’t universal

President Obama’s pledged “to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America” in the State of the Union speech. His “early learning” plan doesn’t do that, which is a good thing. Obama is focusing on disadvantaged children who may not be learning enough at home to be ready for school.

In short, universal pre-k isn’t universal, writes Garance Franke-Ruta in The Atlantic. Sharing costs with the states, the president would try to improve preschool quality and expand access for four-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. (That tops out at $46,100 for a family of four.) He’d also expand Early Head Start for low-income children from birth through age 3.

Forty-two percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in taxpayer-funded, center-based preschool.

Obama also proposes expanding home visits to high-risk families — young, single mothers — by nurses and social workers. Visits by public health nurses appear to lower the risk of child abuse and neglect — and increase the use of birth control.

Early education helps disadvantaged children — for awhile, writes Emily Richmond, noting the president’s call for states to add full-day kindergarten. She researched that issue in 2007.

The greatest benefits to full-day kindergarten seemed to be for minority children and those growing up in poverty, who were more likely to otherwise arrive unprepared for first grade. But the gains trickled off unless those full-day kindergarten students continued to receive the tailored instructional programs and services they needed as they advanced into the higher grades.

Here’s how I summed the data at the time: “Full-day kindergarten may be a springboard to academic success, but it’s apparently of little use if students are diving into an empty pool.”

Except for a few boutique programs, preschool gains don’t last.  By third grade, Head Start graduates do no better  in school or in social and emotional skills than similar kids who weren’t in the program, according to a federal study that was not released for four years.

Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst asks if we can be “hard-headed” about funding preschool.

Head Start spends about twice as much per child per year as states ($8K per child per year for Head Start vs. $4K for state pre-K). And Head Start includes many program components that are advocated by early childhood experts such as health, nutrition, and parental involvement that are much less prevalent in state pre-K. If a year of Head Start does not improve achievement in elementary school, should we assume that a year of state pre-K does?

Universal pre-k in Georgia produced very slight gains (for the neediest children) at high cost, Whitehurst writes. A Texas pre-k program produced slightly better gains for low-income children.

LA union contract hinders abuse investigation

Investigating misconduct charges against Los Angeles teachers is complicated by a teachers’ union contract rule that purges allegations that don’t result in discipline from personnel files after four years, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The most explosive allegations involved former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct for allegedly photographing students blindfolded, gagged and being spoon-fed his semen. Several earlier investigations and complaints about his conduct — none of which ever resulted in criminal charges or discipline — were not in his record.

The contract states that after four years, “pre-disciplinary” documents filed about teachers are either destroyed or placed in an “expired file” at the campus. These can include an unproven allegation of serious misconduct, a warning or reprimand, a principal’s private notes about a potential problem or a memo that resulted from a meeting with a teacher over an issue.

Superintendent John Deasy has ordered school district staff to go back four years to look for teacher misconduct that should be reported to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Deasy also wants principals to review all employee files — even the expired ones — going back decades, if necessary, to flag potential issues. Administrators are to alert law enforcement authorities of any past case that wasn’t reported. And if the response to a past allegation now appears questionable, principals are supposed to note that as well

However, much of the documentation has vanished. “If there are separate, expired files at a school, as leadership changes, the knowledge of those files is going to disappear,” Randy Delling, the principal at North Hollywood High, told the Times.

Kids report less bullying

Bullying is down, according to a national survey published this week,  reports AP.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that the percentage of children who reported being physically bullied over the past year had declined from nearly 22 percent in 2003 to under 15 percent in 2008. The percentage reporting they’d been assaulted by other youths, including their siblings, dropped from 45 percent to 38.4 percent.

Anti-bullying programs are working, says University of New Hampshire Professor David Finkelhor, the lead author. Bullying is down most for low-income children who are most likely to attend schools with anti-bullying programs.

Sexual assaults and emotional abuse by caregivers also declined, the study found.  That jibes with a report by the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, which found that serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse dropped by 26 percent from 1993 to 2005-06.