Why suburban moms fear the Core

Hysteria about Common Core teaching and testing has gripped suburban moms, writes Laura McKenna in The Atlantic. She likens it to anti-vaccination fears.

Millions of children will take new Core-aligned tests this spring.  “Conspiracy theories . .  .have grown out of parents’ natural instinct to protect their children from bureaucracies and self-styled experts,” writes McKenna, who’s a suburban mom herself.

White, middle-class parents, often very involved in their kids’ education “worry that they won’t be able to help kids with homework, because the new learning materials rely on teaching methods foreign to them,” she writes. They feel powerless to stop the juggernaut.

Social media fans the fears.

There are those Facebook posts promoting articles with click-bait titles like “Parents Opting Kids Out of Common Core Face Threats From Schools,” or “Common Core Test Fail Kids In New York Again. Here’s How,” or “5 Reasons the Common Core Is Ruining Childhood.”

 I can picture it in my head: articles with stock photos of children sitting miserably at a desk or ominous images of broken pencils.

Teachers across the country, including those in her suburban New Jersey district, are turning against the Core, especially if scores are tied to teacher evaluations, writes McKenna.  That’s influenced parents.

Some states have pulled out of the Common Core.  “More than half of the 26 states that initially signed onto the PARCC exam in 2010 have dropped out,” notes McKenna. A dozen states will use the test this spring, while 17 states will take the rival SBAC. The rest will use their own tests.

First grader’s report card has 40 grades

Forty grades on a first-grader’s report card is overwhelming, writes Dave Powell, a high school teacher turned education professor — and father — in Ed Week.

Students get “effort” grades of “excellent” (E), “good” (G), “satisfactory” (S), or “needs improvement” (NI) for art, library, music, and physical education.

They also get grades showing how they compare to “grade-level” students in these subjects plus math, science, reading and social studies: “above level,” “on level,” “developing,” “below level,” “met,” and “not evaluated.”

His son earned an “E” for effort in art, library and PE and a “G” in music. He’s “advanced” in art and PE, but only “proficient” in library and music.

In the academic subjects, effort doesn’t count.

These grades are a hodge-podge of all the other grades I already mentioned. Now, in addition to E, G, S, NI, ABV, ON, DEV, BLO, MET, and two others I forgot to mention—”medical” (M) and “not evaluated” (X)—we’ve got “advanced” (ADV), “proficient” (PRO), “basic” (BAS), and “below basic” (BEL) as choices.

. . . We’ve got 11 subjects being assessed in first grade, including “first grade work habits,” which are assessed in a class called homeroom. We’ve got 15 different grade options that can be assigned, in some combination, in these subjects. We’ve got two separate domains in some subjects (a course grade and an effort grade), and then we’ve got 17 different sub-skills that are being assessed in reading, writing, and listening alone. There are also 12 grades given in homeroom assessing those work habits.

According to the report card, his son is an advanced reader, yet lacks proficiency in reading strategies and oral retelling of stories. His writing skills are “basic,” yet he does well in the sub-categories such as “Spells Word Wall words correctly” and “Spells phonetically if correct spelling is not known.”

While the overall writing grade is on the “ADV-PRO-BAS-BEL” scale, sub-grades for writing are on the “E-G-S-NI” scale used for “effort grades” in the “non-academic” classes.

This is confusing, concludes Powell. And not terribly useful for parents.

Reading aloud linked to frequent reading

Only 31 percent of school-age children read for fun on most days, according to a new Scholastic report. That’s down from 37 percent four years ago. 

Frequent readers aged six to 11 are more likely to say their parents read aloud with them, even after they could read to themselves, notes the New York Times. Restrictions on online time also correlated with frequent reading for pleasure.

For children ages 12 to 17, “one of the largest predictors was whether they had time to read on their own during the school day.”

Children say reading aloud is a special bonding time with parents, said Kristen Harmeling, who worked on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ report urging parent to read to their children from birth.

Of course, children who love to read are generally immersed in households with lots of books and parents who like to read. So while parents who read to their children later in elementary school may encourage those children to become frequent readers on their own, such behavior can also result from “a whole constellation of other things that goes on in those families,” said Timothy Shanahan, professor emeritus of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a past president of the International Reading Association.

There is not yet strong research that connects reading aloud at older ages to improved reading comprehension. But some literacy experts said that when parents or teachers read aloud to children even after they can read themselves, the children can hear more complex words or stories than they might tackle themselves.

Other literacy experts say reading to children — or talking with them — helps develop background knowledge. “A two-minute conversation about something on television or something in a magazine or something that you’re reading yourself can also have some of the same positive effects as reading aloud,” said Catherine Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

I disliked reading aloud — it’s so slow — and was pleased when my daughter learned to read books on her own. (She could read at the age of three and read fluently at four.)  However, we spent a lot of time discussing what she was reading, doing and thinking about, as well as talking about the larger world.

Here’s more on the Scholastic survey and kids picking the books they want to read, which may not be very challenging.

Can charters require parents to volunteer?

Thirty percent of California charters require parents to provide unpaid labor, according to a Public Advocates report. “Forced work” is an “illegal school fee” that restricts access, charges the group.

Requirements range from one hour per year to 96 hours, according to Charging for Access.  Some schools charge parents $10 to $25 per hour or the equivalent in school supplies for unworked hours.

A parent helps a student with vocabulary at a KIPP school in Los Angeles.

A parent helps a student with vocabulary at a KIPP school in Los Angeles.

A charter school “may lawfully include reasonable admission criteria, including a requirement that parents agree to do work for the charter school,” according to a 2006 memo by a state Education Department attorney.

The report calls on the department to end the practice or face a lawsuit.

Charters should not make service hours an enrollment requirement, says the California Charter Schools Association. However, CCSA is unaware of any school that’s excluded a student “as the result of the parent’s failure to volunteer.”

I checked out the local charters on the report’s list.

ACE charters in San Jose require one hour a month: Parents may volunteer from home, such as phoning other parents with information.

Rocketship schools require 30 hours a year. Again, there are opportunities to meet service hours after school, on weekends and from home.

“Parent participation” schools ask the most.

Village School, a “district dependent” charter in Campbell, asks parents to volunteer three hours a week. It’s not clear whether parents have alternatives

Discovery, which also uses the parent participation model,  promises to “work with you individually to find a mode of involvement that works for you.” No child will be turned away because parents can’t volunteer, the web site states.

Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle Ma Elena Villagas (center in pink) a teacher at Adelante Academy in San Jose gets help from parents.

Ma Elena Villagas (center in pink) a teacher at Adelante Academy in San Jose gets help from parents.

Some district-run schools also require parents to support their schools. In Alum Rock, a heavily immigrant district in East San Jose, Adelante Dual Language Academy, a district school of choice, requires 30 hours. 

Alum Rock considered requiring all parents to volunteer 30 hours a year, not just those at schools choice. That idea didn’t fly.

Two district-run choice schools in Sacramento require parent hours, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Leonardo da Vinci sets forth an annual parent contract requiring at least 40 hours a year for a family with one child enrolled, according to the school’s website. “Parents who fail to meet the obligations of the contract will lose sibling preference and may be given voluntary school transfer opportunities,” according to the school’s website.

The Phoebe Hearst website specifies that families “are required to donate 40 hours of volunteer time per year” and can do so by helping in the office, ensuring safety on the playground or in the school parking lot or helping in the classrooms. Parents can also donate $5 an hour in lieu of volunteering to cover up to 20 hours, according to a parent participation form that families are asked to submit each month.

Asked about the requirement, a district spokesman said “the language would be removed from both schools’ websites,” reports the Bee.

I suspect most California schools will drop the requirements. But is it wrong for a school of choice to require parent participation?

School stops $100 ‘homework buyout’

A California school canceled a “homework buyout” fundraiser — $100 for a week without homework — after parents complained. The money would have helped pay for classroom supplies.

Libros for los ninos

In the San Jose neighborhood where Cesar Chavez got his start, immigrants’ children struggle with reading, reports National Journal.

A group called Somos Mayfair has organized parents — poorly educated, Spanish-speaking gardeners, cleaners and restaurant workers — to share children’s books. This month the En Nuestras Manos (In Our Hands) campaign organized reading circles at a local park and in someone’s driveway.

“Cesar Chavez Elementary School is among the lowest-performing schools in California,” according to National Journal. This is untrue. On the state’s most recent Academic Performance Index, the school’s scores are slightly above average — way above average compared to schools with similar demographics.

Mayfair is in the Alum Rock elementary district, which has a number of high-performing charter and district schools. It’s the most-improved district in Silicon Valley.

Parents lie to avoid English Learner label

Eager to keep their children in mainstream classes, parents are lying on surveys designed to identify “English Learners,” reports AP.

If anyone in the family speaks a language other than English, the child will be given an English proficiency test. Some four- and five-year-olds are too shy to speak to a strange interviewer, even if English is their only language. Only 9 percent of new kindergarteners pass.

Once classified as an English Learner, it’s hard to shed the label. Some students remain ELs from kindergarten through high school.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nieves Garcia came from Mexico at age 6 and spent most of her elementary school years in California classified as an “English learner” even after she had picked up the language. Now a 32-year-old mother, she didn’t want her daughter labeled the same way and subjected to additional testing.

And so she lied.

When Garcia signed up her daughter for kindergarten, she answered a standard four-question survey by saying her family spoke only English at home, even though her husband doesn’t speak the language.

“I just said we spoke English, English, English and English,” Garcia said.

Parents like Garcia fear that by acknowledging the truth, their kids will be siphoned off from native English speakers or stigmatized, and could miss out on learning opportunities.

In elementary school, English Learners typically are pulled out of mainstream classes for English as a Second Language instruction.

Parents fear their children will be placed in less-demanding courses in middle and high school if they’re considered English Learners.

Earlier this year, Tesha Sengupta-Irving, an education professor in Orange County, registered her son for kindergarten. At the time, her parents were visiting and she was speaking to them in their native tongue, Bengali, so she wrote on her survey that the language was spoken at home.

Her son, who knew but a few words in Bengali, was tested and classified as an English learner. She said the results were ironic since she had tirelessly tried to pass the language on to him and still he spoke only English.

The survey “is catching too many kids,” said the professor.

Sex Ed in the age of Rihanna

Schools are struggling to teach sex ed in the Internet Age, writes Alexandra Sifferlin in Time. Students are exposed to just about everything online.

In “the normally progressive Bay Area city of Fremont, California,” parents campaigned to remove the ninth-grade sex ed book, Your Health Today, she writes. Originally written for college students, the book includes “a how-to for asking partners if they’ve been tested for STDs, a debate on legalizing prostitution” and advice on bondage games.

 “[One] kind of sex game is bondage and discipline, in which restriction of movement (e.g. using handcuffs or ropes) or sensory deprivation (using blindfolds or masks) is employed for sexual enjoyment. Most sex games are safe and harmless, but partners need to openly discuss and agree beforehand on what they are comfortable doing.”

Teri Topham doesn’t want her daughter “debating with other 13-year-olds how well the adult film industry is practicing safe sex.”

Asfia Ahmed, who has eight and ninth grade boys, complains the book “assumes the audience is already drinking alcohol, already doing drugs, already have multiple sexual partners.”

Fremont has many immigrant families from a variety of conservative cultures.

But school board members believe ninth graders should discuss in school what they’re seeing online.

The singer Rihanna, for example, has legions of young fans. Her music video for the song “S&M”—viewed more than 57 million times on YouTube so far—shows the artist, pig-tied and writhing, cooing “chains and whips excite me.” It then cuts to her using a whip on men and women with mouths covered in duct tape.

Sex is part of our culture, says Lara Calvert-York, president of the Fremont school board. “Highly qualified, credentialed teachers . . . know how to have those conversations. Because a lot of parents don’t know how to have that conversation when they’re sitting next to their kids and it comes up in a TV show.”

The board shelved the book — for a year — to consider the parents’ complaints.

A national sample study of 1,500 10 to 17-year-olds showed that about half of those that use the Internet had been exposed to online porn in the last year, writes Sifferlin.

How do you learn appropriateness and consent in a culture where Beyoncé’s song about pleasuring a guy in a car is championed by some as feminist and others as lewd? Or where Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” can refer to violent sexual acts in a music video viewed on the web at least 36 million times? . . . Or where primetime TV shows—the kind you often watch with your family—not infrequently make reference to anal sex?

A significant minority of teens are sexting suggestive photos to each other.

Yet actual sexual intercourse waits for the late teens, for most young people. The average boy is 16.9 years old when he has his first sexual experience, say researchers. The average for girls is 17.4 years old.

Some want to move sex ed online, writes Sifferlin. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has developed Bedsider.org to discuss contraception. Teens can check out a variety of sites — StayTeen.org, GoAskAlice!, Scarleteen.com — or view YouTube videos such as Laci Green’s Sex Object BS.


Obama: (Great) preschool for all

“Sometimes, someone, usually Mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result,” said President Obama in an Oct. 31 speech. “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

Obama called for subsidizing high-quality preschool, so working mothers don’t have to choose between affordable, not-so-great programs or leaving the workforce temporarily. It was taken as a hit at stay-at-home mothers.

In another push for preschool, Education Secretary Arne Duncan added to the perception that the administration wants every parent to choose preschool.

With Hispanic parents, “sometimes you have a cultural piece where people are scared to put their kids in more formal care and they prefer, you know, to do the grandmother, the neighbor, whatever,” he said at a Washington, D.C. event. Work is needed on “how we challenge some of the cultural hesitation” of Hispanic parents, Duncan said.

Obama’s remarks were “a rare allusion to the fact that the intersex pay gap — women earn approximately 77 cents on a man’s dollar — reflects different lifestyle choices the sexes make, responded Selwyn Duke in The New American.

Stay-at-home mothers understand the trade-offs, writes Mollie Hemingway on The Federalist. “When I had my first child, I traded the money of my newspaper job for the far-greater value (for me) of time spent with my totally awesome daughter.” It was a choice.

Men tend to work more and earn more when they become fathers, she adds. Intact families often see a “marriage premium —  more money brought home,” even though mothers tend to prioritize child-raising.

I worked part-time — about 25 hours a week — till my daughter was eight years old. It was great for both of us and my career didn’t suffer, though I knew I was taking a risk that it would.


Homework: Report on your medicine cabinet

What’s in the family’s medicine cabinet? At a Utah junior high, students were told to report the contents — including prescription drugs — as a homework assignment in health class.

Students were told were to list when the medications expire and if the medications are FDA approved.

One parent — and only one — complained. “Although it may be a good idea for parents to do an inventory of their medicine cabinet, I believe it is inappropriate for students to counsel their parents or report to the school what that inventory is,” said Onika Nugent, mother of a student.

The district issued an apology.