Friday, April 07, 2006

Declining Field Trips and NCLB?

To the list of things people are blaming on No Child Left Behind, add field trips. Reporter Michael Winerip had an interesting article in Wednesday's New York Times called "No Child Left Behind? Ask the Gifted." It's a somewhat disjointed piece that seems mostly about this cool trip one gifted class got to take to Ellis Island, coupled with a few paragraphs on the decline of gifted education, coupled with another on the decline of field trips. I'm happy the class got to take their field trip and we talk about declining gifted education a lot, so I'll concentrate on the stats on the field trip's decline.

According to Winerip, "Peter O'Connell, who runs the educational program at the national park in Lowell, Mass., just completed a survey of school visits to 10 history museums in New England, including Old Sturbridge Village and Plimoth Plantation. He found a 20 percent decline in student visits in the last few years. 'Schools aren't devoting as much time to history, especially urban districts,' Dr. O'Connell said."

Now there's plenty not to like about NCLB, but after a while it gets a little tedious to have everything blamed on it. I suspect that with field trips, schools are using NCLB as an excuse, not an actual reason. The teacher profiled in Winerip's piece is an excellent, high-energy teacher. She looks forward to taking her class to Ellis Island every year. Many teachers are not so excited about these things. I had plenty of social studies and history teachers who managed to never leave the school building, long before NCLB. Organizing kids and sack lunches and parental chaperones and permission slips is work. Why take on more work if there's a ready excuse not to?

Actually, the more I think about it, I suspect some local districts that have cut funding for gifted education and have blamed NCLB are following the same line of reasoning. Among a certain set of educators trained in false notions of equality, gifted education is a constant thorn in the side. If there's an available reason to get rid of it -- a big, unpopular reason decreed by far-away lawmakers you can do nothing about -- why not seize it?


Anonymous said...

I would agree that limited time and funds make field trips less common. However, I do think that there are other factors adding to the situation.We live not too far from Old Sturbridge Village and have had a membership for years. After 9/11, it suffered great losses.I had grown up in NY and EVERY local school took the kids there in 5th or 6th grade.After 9/11, a year of no out-of-state trips!Also add the newer CORI requirements for school volunteers. Although they are not difficult,they do limit the number of parents who volunteer,because some do not think of completing the paperwork in time to chaperone.Finally,we must remember that field trips take volunteers,and farther field trips take volunteers with the time (a full day or two) and the patience to deal with a bus full of kids.Parent obligations have changed in the past few decades.They are probably more likely to take time off to coach a sport than to accompany them on a glimpse at history.

I don't see this as specific to NCLB,although that may have been the last straw!

Laura Vanderkam said...

Hi Anonymous: That's what I'm getting at -- NCLB may push on this matter, but there are many other factors at play. Energetic teachers will make fieldtrips happen whether NCLB exists or not. Those that don't want to bother will use this as an excuse. There are a lot of cheesy field trips, but unfortunately, school doesn't give you any sense of the real world (well, unless you sit in the same cubicle 8 hours a day at work... then it does).

Anonymous said...

Cheesy field trips.Yes, I would say so. I was looking at the website of a private school in our area, one that costs about 19K for middle school...not pocket change.Anyway, it is a very good school. But they rave on the website about their field trips to the grocery store and to Borders Books.Now I am neither against grocery stores or Borders (and I frequent the latter), but this is middle school!The only decent one was the Lowell Historic Site.No trips up local mountains,no MInuteman visitor center to get a multimedia FREE show on April 15th. No state house.A grocery store field trip for 19K!

LorraineBouchard said...

I am so very grateful to work in a private school for gifted learners (Rainard in Houston, Texas), where our hands are not tied by NCLB and tons of red tape for our field trips. Just this spring, in addition to a traditional trip to the state capital, we have taken a nifty variety of trips, including a visit with researchers at the University of Houston in order to learn more about the issues related to the hot topic of immigration. Another class took the tour in New Orleans of the area devastated by Katrina; they also visited the Civil Rights Museum in Alabama to complement their American history unit. In past years, unique trips included one to Mexico City to speak with Esperantists from around the hemisphere, and another trip toured an oil exploration vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. We love non-cheesy trips!

Anonymous said...

My kids are lucky enough to go to an Expeditionary Learning School.

Field trips are frequent and relevant. One child is studying birds. Her crew has been on hikes, to bird banding at a state park, to the nature and science museum, the local creek, and camping twice a year.

My oldest just left for a week long camping trip with side trips to Mesa verde, living history musuem and lots of hiking. She is studying Mining in our state and the impact on native americans. They have toured several mines and caves. Must not forget the local library!

It is a lot of work for teachers and parent volunteers but it is very important for the kids to see outside the classroom's 4 walls.

Expeditionary Learning has some down sides but not when it comes to this part of learning.

Quiltsrwarm said...

Finding this post last week made me laugh (it's been awhile since I've been here)! On the very same day you visited the NCLB issue pertaining to field trips, I pondered the relationship of NCLB to gifted ed, homeschool, and whether NCLB has simply been made the scapegoat for problems that existed pre-NCLB.

My thoughts have become so involved that last night I actually downloaded the enitire legislative text for NCLB, which is, in actuality, a huge revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (nope, I didn't know that before last night -- I thought NCLB was a new thing). Now, I get to peruse 700 pages of text; lucky me...

Thanks for re-enforcing my view that the frustrations of educators, parents, and the children we teach are certainly not rooted in NCLB, but these problems can find their sources in the style of education that has been used for more than 100 years.

Field trips are only a drop in the bucket of problems our public education system faces now and has faced for years before NCLB...