I listened to my girlfriends as they lamented about science projects. Its requirement is a noose; a struggle of wills for the parents of children who do not enjoy the sciences. I, too, felt the pressure as I stared at empty display boards; anxious for them to be complete. The projects were built, the data recorded. Both the hubs and I have science backgrounds (you would never know it based on my retention of knowledge) and he brings his enthusiasm to all scientific endeavors. His role is to assist with the building and recording. My role is to proofread and assist with the report and presentation.
On Thursday night I tiredly sat next to my son as he typed data and printed graphs. I tried to inject cheerful enthusiasm as I read Amanda Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World; modeling my love of science and data. I worried how he would graph his results. I was happy to discover that his sixth grade science teacher had given her students the links to a graphing website; and I soon found myself over his shoulder making suggestions. He batted me away. This son enjoys math and played with his graph; excited to visualize his data in a meaningful way. Whilst working in a neurogerontology research lab I had also found what interested me most; data and probabilities. Statistics. I repeated this same process with the youngest child as his nimble fingers flew across my keyboard. I was surprised. He had learned how to type!
In past years I have been a huge proponent for technology in the schools. Each annual survey I lament the lack of it. Why couldn’t our kids learn to type? My eldest learned PowerPoint, Excel and Word in third grade at another school. Our current school’s computer lab was used for AR (Accelerated Reader) testing. The computers did not have a typing program. Nor did I notice any Microsoft Office applications.
Much as I enjoy reading I feel that the cost of various assessments really have no application to the real world. I mean, seriously? Does anyone know how AR relates to the real world? It is assumed that AR teaches kids to love to read. But really, it teaches kids how to test. But in the real world people have to know how to type, to make sense out of data and organize it into tables and graphs in Excel. And to present information, PowerPoint is the industry standard. It is no wonder that the US results on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) were below average in math and science. We were doing above average in reading but we were below average in all other categories. And the US spends more money, per student, than most countries.
I continued to read my book as my youngest typed his report and came upon how parents can influence their children. The author questioned how parent involvement affected children’s performance in school. To her surprise, parent involvement in the school aka PTA parenting, did not mean better performance. Instead she discovered the following.
“…one high-impact form of parental involvement did not actually involve kids or schools at all: If parents simply read for pleasure at home on their own, their children were more likely to enjoy reading, too.”
~ The Smartest Kids in the World: and How They Got That Way, pg. 111.
I can easily model that behavior. It is rare to find me without my e-reader and my kids have followed suit. They do not need AR to learn and discover the joys of reading. I do not need to volunteer countless hours in the classroom. Education dollars are spent on smart boards and iPads (LAUSD is a complete mess). These innovative and technological items do not prove our students perform better or improve the quality of their classroom experience. Amanda Ripley discovered this as she followed the experiences of three foreign exchange students living abroad in three countries who have surpassed ours on the PISA test: Finland, South Korea and Poland.
The recent 2012 results were in math and the US continues to be below average. The Common Core Standards were formulated in 2010 in answer to students’ performance on this international benchmark. These standards will fully be implemented in fall 2014. Forty-five of our states have adopted this curriculum but there is a lot of political debate and rhetoric over its implementation. The federal government takes control away from local jurisdictions and money is being allocated towards tests and assessments to quantify the implementation of these standards.
The mission of Common Core was to create common educational benchmarks so that children would emerge from high school with consistent educational backgrounds; student readiness for two or four year accredited programs nationwide. A high school diploma did not mean that a twelfth grader had the same education from state-to-state; even district-to-district. These Common Core standards focused on depth of information; critical thinking. The PISA tests worldwide indicated this is where our students lacked. How could they enter the twenty first century’s burgeoning global economy and compete worldwide?
I had just blogged about finding character and motivation when this book appeared on my newsfeed. Curious, I browsed it, purchased it and ravenously read it; barely putting it down. Anyone who has had contact with me in the past three days has heard me talk about it. I’ve been digging deep to find my core: my values and who I am. This has me considering what I want my kids to become. All kids need common core values and these educational common core standards are supposed to level the field and raise the bar. But will they? The author wondered what made kids in other countries value education above all else. How did these countries rise from the ashes to become educational super powers? And what are we doing wrong in the US?
I was meant to read this book at this time. For all the hours I have spent within my children’s schools I had no real understanding of what the Common Core curriculum was about. I knew it would teach kids to critically think and add depth to the content. The countries with the smartest kids did not have a lot of technology; nor did their parents involve themselves in their classrooms. Educational standards were set high. The teachers were the cream of the crop. Teachers were not the education majors in college with the “soft” curriculum. They had a longer period of student teaching and mentoring; up to a year. It was tough to be accepted into the prestigious university education programs. If you taught math in high school you took extensive math courses at university. The kids respected their teacher’s accomplishments and so, put in the work to perform to their higher levels of expectations. It is human interaction that drives this process; not technology or ineffective, frequent testing assessments. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t produce a better outcome.
I share this all with my girlfriend. We both ran late for our designated coffee date; set 45 days prior. Just like I, she also is on the hamster wheel of PTA parenting; a phrase describing the various parents who volunteer countless hours to improve the quality of the schools they serve. But those hours don’t translate to smarter kids and I share this with her; the girlfriend who spearheads most school drives. She is spent, as am I; realizing that we can better serve our goals by being engaged differently.
We’ve both come to realize that human relationships are most important and we are making the time to maintain and cultivate them. As parents we have guided our children, read countless hours of stories, proofread assignments and actively worked within our respective schools; sharing our talents for their needs. But we also have realized that we are in a different stage with our children now. We have to let them go, to make their mistakes. It is now our children’s turn to figure it out and to understand the consequences; to find their own inner core and discover who they are.
When I have computer issues I naturally turn to the hubs, the computer scientist, to fix it. I get annoyed when he doesn’t; when he pushes me to figure it out; to critically think. I will never learn if he always comes to rescue me. Do I really want to learn another digital graphic design program? Nope. But it is this process of patience and perseverance, that allows me to grow. Though my college transcript grades and test scores are higher than the hubs; it is his ability to problem solve, to think outside the box, that makes him more flexible to change. It is this innate ability that he has; that makes him invaluable. He is the innovator. I am the one who implements. He repeats this Chinese proverb (usually when I’m frustrated and close to giving up) as he patiently makes me problem solve.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
When I parent my sons and they claim I don’t understand, I say au contraire. I do. I empathize. It’s hard to think outside of the box. To persevere and find solutions. Things do not come easy and life takes a lot of work. You’ve got to dig deep into your inner core and have the grit to follow through. Education is a tool to cultivate but it is the implementation that matters. It is what you do with it that makes the difference.