What teachers want: bathroom breaks

Why Don’t Schools Give Teachers Enough Time to Use the Restroom? asks Alia Wong in The Atlantic.

Only 15 percent of teachers are enthusiastic about their profession, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association. Yet 90 percent said they were enthusiastic when they started.

Three in four teachers surveyed said they “often” feel stressed on the job.

When teachers were asked about “everyday” stressors, “lack of opportunity to use restroom” came in third place behind time pressure and disciplinary issues, notes Wong.

Some teachers avoid drinking water so they won’t need to use the bathroom, she writes.

“Do not drink too much,” wrote the Reddit user schaud2013 about a year ago in the thread “How do teachers find time to use the bathroom in the school day?” The user continued: “I was lucky this year to have prep 2nd hour, then lunch 2 hours later and then 3 hours of classes until the end of the day. If I do have to go, I hold it by focusing on something else and walking around class. That seems to help me.”

This seems like an education problem with a simple solution, writes Wong. A teacher who’s dehydrated — or desperate — is not going to be at her best.

Too much homework? Or too little?

Kids have three times too much homework,” reported CNN, citing a study in Providence, Rhode Island. In kindergarten through third grade, children spend more than the recommended 10-minutes per grade level.

The story was misleading, responds Tom Loveless at Brookings.

First, the sample — parents visiting pediatrician’s offices — was not random, he writes. It appears to be skewed toward large, Spanish-speaking families.

Beyond that, the report ignores the apparent fact that fourth through 12th graders do too little homework, writes Loveless.

“High school students (grades 9-12) spend only about half the recommended time on homework,” according to the study, he points out. Twelfth graders, most of whom will go to college in a year, spend less an hour of homework per night. That could explain why so many never earn a college degree.

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.

Social skills lead to success

“Socially competent” kindergarteners — kids who cooperate and play well with others — are more likely to complete college and work full-time by their mid-20s, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Their less socially skilled classmates were more likely to have a criminal record and to report binge drinking.

In 1991 teachers evaluated kindergarteners on a scale of 1 to 5 on how well they interacted with others, including measures like: “cooperates with peers without prompting”; “is helpful to others”; “is very good at understanding feelings”; “can give suggestions and opinions without being bossy”; and “resolves problems on own.”

Childhood aggression measures did not predict criminal activity, notes Education Week.

For every one-point increase on a five-point scale, children were twice as likely to earn a college degree; 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma, and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job. On the down side, for every one-point decrease, a child was 67 percent more likely to have been arrested by adulthood, and 82 percent more likely to be in or on a waiting list for public housing.

Researchers believe young children can be taught social skills, possibly affecting their later success in life.

Wait-for-the-marshmallow children from low-income, black families experience less depression, substance abuse and aggression than their peers with less self-control, according to another new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  But disadvantaged blacks with high self-control age faster,

In earlier research, self-control was linked to high blood pressure, obesity and higher levels of stress hormones for blacks from low-income families, but not for middle-class blacks or for whites.

Performance-based parenting

The children of the meritocracy are bathed in conditional love, writes David Brooks in the New York Times.

 Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement.

. . . Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.

. . . These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.

Meritocratic parents “use love as a tool to exercise control.”

High expectations  are to blame for a wave of suicides at Palo Alto High School, suggests Motoko Rich, also in the New York Times. Paly is my daughter’s alma mater.

“Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal,” she writes. “To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.”

This is Palo Alto’s second suicide cluster. “Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.”

Students at Palo Alto's Gunn High School  mourn a classmate. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Mercury News

Students at Palo Alto’s Gunn High School mourn a classmate. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Mercury News

There are now guards posted at the railroad tracks, but they can’t be everywhere.

Parents say, “All I care about is that you’re happy,” said Madeline Levine, a local psychologist. “The kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ ”

I want you to be happy — at Stanford, Yale or MIT.

In high-achieving communities, children believe “that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college,” said Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford. “In everything.” It’s Stanford or flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

“It’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve” is the line that resonates the most with my daughter, she wrote on Facebook. “Yes, growing up in Palo Alto, I felt pressure to succeed. But I am also grateful that I learned, very early on, that it was ok not to be the best.”

 

Most California Latinos support testing

A majority of California’s Latino voters support school testing, while white voters do not, according to a USC/LA Times poll.

Fifty-five percent of Latinos “said mandatory exams improve public education in the state by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.”

Twenty-three percent of Latinos said students were tested too much, compared with 44 percents of whites polled.

“Once a family has achieved a certain level of financial success, they have the luxury of worrying about their children’s stress levels,” said Dan Schnur, head of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “For families who haven’t yet made it, they see the stress that comes with testing as an acceptable trade-off in order to more precisely measure progress.”

College prep in 1st grade

First graders wear hats with the name of their first-choice college. Credit: Travis Dove for The New York Times

Is Your First Grader College Ready? asks Laura Pappano in the New York Times.

At a rural North Carolina school, Kelli Rigo’s first graders choose colleges and careers, then write applications.

(A) future Harvard applicant wants to be a doctor. She can’t wait to get to Cambridge because “my mom never lets me go anywhere.”

. . . “The age-old question is: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ You always ask kids that,” Ms. Rigo said. “We need to ask them, ‘How will you get there?’ Even if I am teaching preschool, the word ‘college’ has to be in there.”

Rigo was the first — and only — person in her family to complete college.

It took eight years at three institutions in two states. “I was lost,” said Ms. Rigo, who dropped out first semester, aghast to discover textbooks cost $600. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to about that.”

. . . She wants students to know what she did not: the effort, cost and planning required to earn a degree. “They have to understand there are lots of steps, that you can’t all of a sudden be a teacher.”

Across the country, “college weeks” are as common as the winter band concert, writes Pappano. Campus tours have become popular field trips for middle and even elementary school kids.

College can help you achieve your dreams, Javier Scott, a University of Maryland student told visiting sixth graders. “When you work hard, more opportunities will open up to you.”

However, the story veers to anxious college-educated parents prepping their tweens for elite colleges. Pappano worries that our “competitive culture . . . has turned wide-open years of childhood into a checklist of readiness skills.”

That’s not an issue for Rigo’s first graders. Getting kids whose parents aren’t college educated to think about where they might go, what they might study and how they might use it to make a living is not the same as pressuring Muffy to build her “resume.”

Obsessed by ‘The Test’

Anya Kamenetz’s new book, The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have to Be, takes a simplistic view of testing, writes Robert Pondiscio on Education Gadfly.

jpeg“Tests are stunting children’s spirits, adding stress to family life, demoralizing teachers, undermining schools, paralyzing the education debate, and gutting our country’s future competitiveness,” writes Kamenetz, an education reporter for National Public Radio.

Other than that, they’re OK.

Believing that testing “penalizes diversity,” Kamenetz ignores strong support for testing by civil rights activists, “who have used test scores to . . . highlight achievement gaps, all in the name of equality,” writes Pondiscio.

For example, a civil rights coalition has called for annual testing to remain in the new ESEA. They want achievement gaps to remain visible.

Kamenetz advises parents on opting out of tests, writes Pondiscio.

Here’s the advice I wish she’d offered: March into the principal’s office with a simple demand. “Don’t waste a minute on test prep. Just teach our kids. The second you turn learning time into test prep, our kids are staying home!” Imagine if Kamenetz and her fellow progressive Brooklyn public school parents did exactly that—teachers and parents could have the hands-on, play-based, child-centered schools of their dreams, and test day would be just another day at school. Unless, of course, the test scores came back weak. Then Kamenetz might write another, more complicated book. And that’s the one I want to read.

Dana Goldstein’s New York Times review highlights the book’s discussion of alternatives to standardized testing.

 . . . She reports on artificial-­intelligence experts who would harness the addictive qualities of gaming to instruct and assess kids online; computer programmers who seek to perfect the flawed software currently used to grade essays and track student performance over time; and school administrators experimenting with new measures of social-emotional growth, like student surveys meant to evaluate a child’s happiness and ability to persevere in the face of adversity.

Kamenetz advocates using “long-term projects heavy with writing and public speaking” to assess students, writes Goldstein. That’s a return to an earlier era in American education.

It also allows everyone in Lake Wobegon to be above average.

Can schools build character?

“Performance character” strengths — qualities such as prudence and drive — lead to success in school and work, concludes a Brookings study, The Character Factor.

“Family income and maternal education are positively associated with higher levels of performance character strengths,” the study concludes. That is, the children of educated, middle-class mothers tend to be better at deferring gratification, working toward a long-term goal and persisting in the face of obstacles.

Brookings has posted essays on character and opportunity, such as Ross Thompson on how chronic adversity leads to self-regulatory problems.

Brookings researchers want policymakers to pay attention to the “cultivation” of character skills, notes Robert Pondiscio. What does that mean? “Character value-added measures?”

A figure in the report is headlined “Drive and Prudence Matter as Much as Book Smarts for HS Graduation” (“Book Smarts?” Seriously, Brookings?), but the bar graph clearly shows “high reading skills” matter a lot more.

“Schools need no additional reasons to short-shrift academics,” Pondiscio writes. Telling “fad-prone” educators that grit trumps academics “wouldn’t be prudent.”