- School started today – August 16! – in Iowa City. Luckily for the kids, the temperatures were mercifully mild. Our kids’ school, like many older schools, has no air conditioning. At this week’s school board meeting, one parent suggested that the central administrators (who work in an air-conditioned building) should try spending an hour at our school in late August. More coverage of that meeting here.
- That same parent also complained about the district’s chronic inability to keep an accurate count of how many students are in each school. The school board is now considering hiring an outside consultant to determine school capacity and enrollment numbers. Nick Johnson, in response, wonders what we’re paying our central administrators to do.
- The district’s Director of Special Services, Rozy Warder, who was hired for that position only a year ago, unexpectedly resigned last week, just as the school year was about to begin. This is likely to affect any family with a child in special education. I have no idea why she resigned – partly because I’ve seen absolutely no mention of it in the local media.
- My kids’ school, Hoover Elementary, is now a School in Need of Assistance (SINA) under No Child Left Behind. This is no big surprise; under NCLB’s patently unrealistic requirements, every school will eventually be a SINA school. But it will have effects, and I’m not exactly sure what they are. (Can Hoover families now transfer out on demand? Can the families who transferred from SINA schools to Hoover in past years continue to attend Hoover, now that it is also a SINA school?) The article makes it depressingly clear why school is now all about test prep, period.
- Grade-mixing is now a thing of the past at our elementary school. In previous years, the school grouped third-graders with fourth-graders, and fifth-graders with sixth-graders. (They stopped mixing first-graders with second-graders a year or two ago.) Now the grades are all in separate classrooms.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad change. The grade-mixing always struck me as an empty gesture toward progressive educational ideals; in reality I think it mostly served to enable the school to increase class size. (For example, if there were forty third-graders and forty fourth-graders, you’d need four classrooms if the grades were separate, but could get away with three if you combined the grades.) But if it’s a good decision, it seems like one made for a bad reason: to accommodate the increasingly regimented curriculum now demanded under the Common Core standards. An email from the school explained:
These new materials are aligned with the statewide adoption of Common Core State Standards; these standards are written for single grades. In schools that previously taught students in multiage groups, it requires a shift to single grades so that the standards are taught by grade level. The standards expect students to be engaged with grade level texts therefore teaching the Common Core State Standards are most effectively accomplished in a single-grade setting.The principal later explained that single-grade classrooms are necessary to “provide the correct amount of instructional minutes in every subject area” and to “plan a schedule that allows students and teachers to plan these minutes effectively.” Does anyone really believe that there is a “correct amount of instructional minutes,” or that there is a simplistic direct relationship between “instructional minutes” and meaningful learning? That kind of myopic thinking is why our district has cut lunch and recess to such minimal levels. Yet somehow kids elsewhere manage to learn quite well in total disregard of the “correct amount of instructional minutes.”
Strangely, the decision to end grade-mixing was made just two days ago, after the kids had all already received letters from their new teachers. The school thus had to send out an email saying, in effect, “If you received a letter from Teacher A, you will now have Teacher B,” etc. The email concluded, “it is better we make this change now than in 3 weeks.” True enough -- but two weeks ago might have better still! How long has the district known about the new standards?
- Some good links mailed in by readers: Some second thoughts about first-day-of-school traditions, Greg Forster makes a plea to bring “non-scientific sources of wisdom” to bear on educational policy debates, and a post on how every value – even kids’ physical health – is now discussed in terms of its effect on test scores.
- Nicholas J. left a comment here a few weeks ago, which led me to discover his blog. He’s an Iowa high school sophomore who blogs about educational issues; I can’t wait to read more of his posts. More blogs like this, please!
Feel free to comment on any of the above or to chime in with something new. .