Friday, January 27, 2012

Cutting sports for science

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a story called "Friday Night Lights (Out)." A small school district in Texas, on the verge of bankruptcy and in trouble with the state for low academic performance, has decided to cut its high school sports program to free up cash. Among the things the cash has to go for? A better science lab, as required by state standards.

High school sports are obviously a big deal in Texas (especially football). So the idea of cutting sports to support academics is novel, to say the least. In the case of this little town (Premont, about 150 miles south of San Antonio), the sports teams hadn't exactly been powerhouses. It's not like the town of Allen, near Dallas, which is opening a new $60 million stadium. (One wonders how many science labs in small districts could be created for the price of that monument to those Friday Night Lights). Still, win or lose, as the article notes, high school sports competitions are often the glue that holds a community together.

But, of course, one could come up with many things to hold a community together. Volunteer projects. Variety shows. I read multiple times the scene in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when, as a high school student, she recites a long historical oratory on a night in which the whole town has gathered in the school house. The article quotes someone from the PTA lamenting that education should be about the whole child (including physical fitness). Which is true. But with athletics, I've been pondering, lately, if our high school emphasis on team sports is part of our problem with an out-of-shape populace. To be athletic as a child is to be into team sports. That is the kind of athleticism that is valued. So I figured I was never athletic. But in my 20s, I started running -- an individual sport you can do your whole life, with little equipment. I'm not fast, but I turn out to have a fair bit of endurance. I finished the Big Sur Marathon in April 2010 and was in good enough shape afterwards to deal with an ER trip for my kid the next morning (long story) and to go hiking the next afternoon. I now run 5 days a week, and lift weights most days, something I'm guessing the vast majority of former high school athletes no longer do. If the goal is the whole child, emphasizing sports that the vast majority of people will no longer do after school -- like football -- doesn't seem to be the way to go.

That said, I wish this town didn't have to cut anything. I do wish, though, that all districts would go through the hard process of figuring out whether their budgets match up with what their priorities should be. The top priority should be producing students who can be good citizens and support themselves in the modern economy. Most likely, a good science program is a better bet than a formal sports program. Especially when you can send the kids outside to run for 30 minutes a day instead.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Too Many Gifted Kids?

Houston, we have a problem... too many gifted kids in the Houston Independent School District.

At least that's the gist of an article from Watchdog.org, pointing out that the HISD gifted rate of about 15% is double that of the state at large (closer to 7%).

This is, of course, one of the perils of giftedness being a concept without a clear definition. It is unlikely that there are twice as many students per capita in Houston who require the educational intervention that gifted education should entail vs. elsewhere. What we have is varying standards, likely looser in Houston than the rest of Texas. But what happens when a child who is gifted in one district isn't considered gifted in another?

This is yet another reason to keep one's eye on the ultimate goal of matching the education to the child. Because then the particular definition doesn't matter quite as much -- and those of us who care about this issue don't have to keep seeing the word gifted in quote marks, as Watchdog.org puts it, indicating how flimsy a concept they seem to think it is.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scouting badges, challenges and rewards

Over at my other blog (the newly tricked out lauravanderkam.com) I posted the other day about the "Merit Badge Mindset." As a junior Girl Scout years ago, I used to love looking through the badge book and choosing projects that I could do without a huge field trip. There was something so neatly satisfying about undertaking a challenge, checking off different components of it, and then having some concrete proof of mastery.

Wouldn't it be nice if more of life was like that?

I've been thinking about the topic in the context of parenting. It's easy to have a neutral or sour attitude toward many of the challenges we face in family life. As parents and as kids. But when you've got a merit badge mindset, it's very different. You want to do a good job, and to proudly display your achievement (even if, to be honest, most other people don't notice. It's not like anyone was counting the badges on my Girl Scout vest!)

I've thought of a few merit badges I, personally, would like to display:

* The getting all three kids into the car by 8:45 a.m. without raising my voice badge
* The balanced meal on the table even though I didn't feel like it badge
* The still using a dramatic voice upon the tenth reading of Madeline badge
* The willingness to answer 15 "but why?" questions in a row badge

What about you? What kinds of merit badges would you want to display? What kinds of merit badges do you think your kids would want to earn?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Supporting homeschoolers

Districts and states take an incredible diversity of approaches to homeschooling - a practice that has grown considerably over the past 20 years. Some are actively antagonistic. Others figure that if you're opting out of the public school system, it's best if all parties don't have a lot to do with each other. But others have decided to offer support services to people who choose to homeschool, particularly on the enrichment front.

That's what seems to be going on in the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Colorado. According to this article, the district will be opening an enrichment academy that, one day a week, offers the "fun stuff" -- art, music, P.E.

I think this is a cool idea. Obviously, some people who are homeschooling for political reasons may want nothing whatsoever to do with a public school system, but many families homeschool for other reasons. I know many Gifted Exchange readers do simply because it's the best way to deal with their child's particular learning style and needs. Need college math, 6th grade English, and your kid wants to learn 3 different languages because he's really into that? Yeah, good luck with that in most institutional settings. But that kid might still like to do normal art class and PE. So why not serve all the children in one's community the best that you can?

If you're homeschooling, does your district offer any support services?

Monday, January 09, 2012

A 'Life with Little Ones' Journal

A while ago, I started a new project: keeping a journal specific to my kids. I keep a journal about my life in general (something I started doing when I was 13) but I figure my kids won't want to wade through that to find the fun parts about them when they haul these books out of my attic after I'm gone. And there are parts I don't want my kids reading -- even if I won't be around to deal with the aftermath!

Every week or two, when my kids do something cute or memorable, I write it down in my "Life with Little Ones" journal. I had forgotten when I'd started it -- I'd thought a few months ago -- so imagine my great surprise (and happiness) when I realized I'd actually started in August 2010. 16 months is a lifetime when you have a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a baby. I got to read about Sam's first words, his first steps, and Jasper's various stunners. Like when we talked about moving to our new house, one night he called me into his room and said "I'm sad." I sat next to him and said, sympathetically, "yes, it's sad to leave your friends." And then he said, "No, I'm sad because I want you to bring me water." Ah.

Anyway, it's been a small investment of time to keep the diary, but hopefully a big payoff in memories. It also helps me remember how and when my kids have learned various skills -- Jasper in particular with writing letters and numbers and then his current interest in math. Children take up a lot of energy, and so often it's hard to remember specific things, but writing them down has the memories flooding back.

How do you preserve memories of parenthood?

Friday, January 06, 2012

"Not a one shot event"

I was reading Scott Barry Kaufman's post on gifted education over at the Huffington Post, where he mentioned a report that will be soon published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology. The report surveys gifted policies in the various states, and makes recommendations.

One? The very sensible idea that gifted identification should "be a recurring phenomena, not a one-shot event." The old idea that you test once at third grade has a lot of holes in it. For starters, the "third grade" idea seems quite late to me. Apparently people were concerned that some kids learned more at home or went to pre-school, but by third grade, this would all come out in the wash. How arbitrary. Why not 2nd grade, or 4th grade? If gifted identification is about school accommodation (as it should be) then kids should be tested as they're starting school. That is, around kindergarten. If people really think everything will come out in the wash by third grade, then keep testing. And why not after that too? There's nothing magical about third grade.

Personally, I like the idea of individually-matched curriculum and pacing, as is becoming more possible through digital learning. In this case, you're constantly testing and figuring out what a child needs. You can also move at different paces for different subjects. Much of our approach to education is stuck in old mindsets, but here's hoping this is the year this starts changing.

As we start another year with Gifted Exchange, I'd love to hear what people would like to see covered. My oldest child will be starting kindergarten in the fall so, after years of shooting off my mouth about schools and curricula and testing and the like, I'll finally have some personal experience with it. Digital learning will be a big topic this year, and possibly education policy too, with it being an election year. Ideas are welcome!