Who ruined childhood?

Schools Are Ruining Our Kids, writes A.A. Gill in Vanity Fair. Gill has raised one set of children and has a second set just starting school.

In the 100 years since we really got serious about education as a universally good idea, we’ve managed to take the 15 years of children’s lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure. Education is a dress-up box of good intentions, swivel-eyed utopianism, cruel competition, guilt, snobbery, wish fulfillment, special pleading, government intervention, bu­reauc­racy, and social engineering.

Gill blames “the byzantine demands of the education-industrial complex,” but it’s really competitive parents who demand preschool put their kiddies on track for the Ivy League.

Over-achieving Hillary Clinton smugly told us that it took a village to bring up a child. Oh my God. If only. If all it took were some happy, thatched, smocked village, we’d all have bought villages, have bought 10 villages—we’d have adopted a village. But no dusty, higgledy-piggledy, clucking, mooing, sleepy-town hamlet is going to get you into the only pre-school that is the feeder for that other school that is the fast track to the only school that is going to give your child half a chance of getting into that university that will lead to a life worth living.

Oh no, we need far more than the village. We need au pairs who speak three languages and musical nannies and special tutors and counselors and professional athletes with knee problems to coach hand-eye coordination.

Outside of the wealthier parts of Manhattan, how many parents can afford to buy villages worth of nannies, tutors, coaches and counselors? Are parents really so obsessed with their children’s “success” that they forget about happiness?

We need more helicopter parents

It’s fun to make fun of helicopter parents, but we need more of them, writes Brink Lindsey in The Atlantic.

Today’s hyperventilating “helicopter parents” are comic fish in a barrel. Playing Mozart to their babies in utero and dangling Baby Einstein gewgaws over their bassinets. Obsessing over peanut allergies, turning school science fairs into arms races of one-upmanship, and hiring batteries of private tutors to eke out another 10 points on the SAT.

But better too much parental attention than too little, Lindsey writes.

College-educated parents are spending significantly more time with their children then they did before 1995. Less-educated parents spend more time too, but the “parental attention gap” is growing.

There’s also a class divide in parenting styles, according to sociologist Annette Lareau.

 Among the poor and working-class families she studied, the focus of parenting was on what she calls “the accomplishment of natural growth.” In these families, “parents viewed children’s development as unfolding spontaneously, as long as they were provided with comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

College-educated parents have taken on a much more ambitious role – one that Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” “In these families, parents actively fostered and assessed their children’s talents, opinions, and skills,” Lareau writes. “They made a deliberate and sustained effort to stimulate children’s development and to cultivate their cognitive and social skills.”

In addition, college-educated parents are much more likely to marry before having children and much less likely to divorce.

As of 2011, 87 percent of children who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher degree were living with two married parents. The corresponding figures for high school grads and high school dropouts were 53 and 47 percent, respectively.

. . . since the ’70s, divorce rates among the highly educated have fallen significantly; among non-college grads, by contrast, they have stayed high. Specifically, only 16.7 percent of women with at least a college degree experienced a marital dissolution within 10 years of a first marriage between 1990 and 1994 – a 31 percent drop from 20 years earlier. For other women, though, the marriage breakup rate in the latter period was now 35.7 percent – 6 percent higher than 20 years before.

So most children of the college-educated — about a third of the population — grow up in stable, child-centered families with two parents determined to cultivate “the skills they will need to thrive in today’s highly complex knowledge economy.” It’s not really the violin, karate or Kumon classes that give them an edge. It’s Mom and Dad.

Computer lab replaces math class

A giant math lab staffed by tutors has replaced entry-level math classes taught by professors at Virginia Tech. More students are passing math at a lower cost to the university.

The U.S. needs to invest more in higher education to increase the number of graduates, argues The Credential Differential.

Houston schools try charter ideas

Houston’s Apollo 20 experiment is trying to improve low-performing schools by  using successful charter schools’ tactics, reports the New York Times.

Five policies are common to successful charters, says Roland Fryer, an economist and head of Harvard’s EdLabs, who advised Houston.

. . . longer days and years; more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers; frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught; what he calls “high-dosage tutoring”; and a “no excuses” culture.

The Apollo schools have a longer school day and year, though not as long as KIPP schools.

Lee High School hired 50 full-time math tutors, who are paid $20,000 a year — under $14 an hour — plus benefits and possible bonuses if their students do well.

Lee High’s new principal, Xochitl Rodríguez-Dávila, described a torrent of challenges, including the exhaustive review of transcripts and test results to organize class schedules and tutoring for 1,600 students; persuading parents to sign KIPP-style contracts pledging that they will help raise achievement; and replacing about a third of Lee’s 100 teachers.

“Teachers by far have been the biggest struggle,” said Ms. Rodriguez-Davila, 39, who previously had been a middle school principal.

In faculty meetings, she said, some people insisted that Lee’s immigrant students would never master biology or physics. Other veterans, though, told the complainers to stop belly-aching and get on with the turnaround.

Lee High’s gains pushed the school into the “acceptable” category after years in “unacceptable.”  Overall, five of the nine Apollo schools moved up.

 

Why math tutors prosper

Many elementary students never learn basic math facts,  writes Lynne Diligent on Dilemmas of an ExPat Tutor.  They end up in remedial math classes in college. She advocates drill on math facts, more homework and no calculators till 11th grade.

I no longer teach Grade 3; I am now a private tutor. Unfortunately, I am now running across a number of 14-year-olds who are using calculators to add 5 + 3, or 7 + 6, or 9 + 2.

 Diligent also calls for requiring students to learn concepts before moving on, instead of  “spiraling” through the same things year after year.   

And she believes teachers should “instruct and explain, and then follow up with practice to master the skills,” rather than putting students in groups and telling them to figure out problems on their own. But group work is great for math tutors, she writes.

 

Training teachers like ice skaters

Teachers should be trained like ice skaters, argues Mike Goldstein, founder of the very successful MATCH school in Boston. That means lots of “deliberate practice.” From Jay Mathews:

“A kid who practices 10 hours playing sloppy pick up basketball with his friends might develop less than a kid who has a focused two hours of practice with measurable, highly specific, small chunk feedback,” Goldstein told me in a long email. “Similarly, a rookie teacher who simply student teaches or acts as an assistant teacher might simply be repeating the WRONG moves.

“Deliberate practice means (1) specific & technique-oriented, (2) high-repetition, and (3) paired with immediate feedback which includes telling the novice what to do.

“That’s what we do: ‘Do X. Now you say it, right in front of me. Tone needs to be firm: do it again.’ High dosage feedback, after every day of student teaching. And feedback that is directive. Don’t say ‘Here’s 5 different ways you could try.’ Cut through that.”

Goldstein’s school recruits bright college graduates for its MATCH Corps. Most live in a dorm on the school’s top floor and serve as tutors for students who need more help.  Teacher training is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and the summer.  In interviews on the MATCH site here and here, two Corps members, graduates of Brown and Princeton, describe a typical 12-hour day of tutoring, grading, prep, parent phone calls and support duties. Teaching FTW (for the win) is a Match Corps’ veteran’s blog.

. . . “to develop an intuitive sense for how kids learn, we think 1,000 hours of sitting next to kids and tutoring, 1-on-1 or 1-on-2, is the way to go. This frees you from classroom management issues, and gets right to the heart of actual learning and learning breakdowns.”

The MATCH teacher trainees also practice classroom management using The Gateway, “simulated classroom environments with real kids executing coordinated small potatoes misbehaviors.”

Most MATCH Corps members go on to teach at “no excuses” charter schools.

Volunteer tutors help poor readers

Older volunteers trained as Experience Corps tutors significantly improved the reading skills of children in the early grades, concludes a study by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis.

. . . struggling readers made 40 percent to 60 percent more progress in essential reading skills during the school year than did similar students who did not take part in the tutoring program.

Volunteers are 55 years old and up, which means I qualify as “older.”