22 November 2011

Are Science and Social Studies Unimportant?

What's important is the TAKS test if you live in Texas.  That means only reading and math are important when teaching third graders. 

The school systems take the TAKS seriously.  One Dallas school was able to pull off some "stellar" reading and math scores on the third grade test because reading and math was ALL they really taught.  Teachers just gave fake grades for the other classes that the students never really received.  I suppose the attitude there was that schools teach to the test anyway, so reading and math it is.

No-one sounds particularly shocked or upset, really.  As one homeschooling forum poster noted recently, "social studies in our public school contains almost no real history, geography, government, civics, or economics, but it is primarily the vehicle they use to promote the PC agenda, including teaching about things like Kwanzaa and their definition of a 'family.'" 

To a point, the poster is correct.  The social studies text Elf had for his fifth grade year (all 23 days of it) was a HUGE hardback full of cute anecdote-y stories ("Your mom is going to work and you hope her new boss is fair" - type story introducing ERA, for example). But he WAS at least reading and learning.  And for about a week, he might have recognized the acronym ERA.

Emperor is testing through a local public school to see if he qualifies for special help, so happen to I know one elementary has what I'll just call "COOKIE" time every day for half an hour.  During "COOKIE" time, children who did poorly on the MAP test are drilled, drilled, drilled, drilled, drilled.  Children who did well on the MAP test get "enrichment activities."

I don't know about you, but if I did badly on the MAP test, it would just burn me up that no one felt my enrichment was worth half an hour a day.  Don't kids get enough reading and mathematics during the regular school day?  The poor kids need COOKIE time and homework, too?  For better test scores?  And what about special-needs children who will NEVER do well on the test?  Guess they are never worth it.  They are always behind.  They always need to focus on those weak areas.  Drill, baby, drill.

This makes me sad to think on too deeply.  What kills me is that I have never heard of anyone complain about it. I would.  I don't think it would do any good, though. 

I think that however wrong these teachers were who never taught science or social studies, that maybe they thought they were helping the children by boosting the school scores and giving themselves something to be proud of.  Sometimes I think maybe we get what we ask for when we rely on fill-in the bubble tests instead of a more expensive year-by-year tracking process for each child.  Woodjie has a dandy one, you know, and I support its use for him in the public school setting because it is objective and measureable, so we know when progress is being made/ regression is happening.  It's pretty detailed.  Here is a small subset of the things Woodjie can now do, under the heading of "Reading Skills:"

Receptive letters
Labels letters
Receptive sounds of letters
Labels sounds of letters
Match words to words
Names letters in words reading left to right
Match individual letters to letters on word card

Actually, it's very complicated and each item listed is noted in a graph as a small square and then coloured in bar-graph style (This would all be in his Q graph, and yes, it goes from A to Z, but there are some graphs he is not doing yet).  Different colours are used for different years, so one could literally see Woodjie's academic and social/toileting development from age 3, building upwards.  I'm NOT suggesting every child needs anything nearly so detailed, but it does schools and children a dis-service to let gifted children languish and NOT do a year's worth of academic growth.  Just show some proof of growth.  Same with special-needs kids.  Are the schools doing a good job helping people like Woodjie grow another year academically?  So what if he's still not "proficient."  Maybe he'll never be proficient. Reality sucks.

Dang it, but that preschool has helped make communication books and diapers non-essential parts of this child's life and I wish they got a bonus for that.  I'm a severe critic of schools when they do stupid busy work but this?  Kids learning practical skills so they can talk and use the potty?  There should be bonuses for that.

7 comments:

  1. I've read this twice now and something seems wrong here but I'm not sure what exactly.
    Fake grades for classes never given? Third graders learning only math and reading?
    These kids are in school for hours each day and learning nothing of value beyond reading and math?
    What is the MAP test?

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  2. [sigh] And people continue to worry about homeschoolers... I'll say it again: When your system works, only then can you think about chatting with me about mine.

    I'm glad Woodjie has been making progress at school. That is fantastic! So it's not all bad news.

    ~Luke

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  3. No Child Left Untested, sigh.

    I think it is awesome Woodjie is learning to talk, use the potty, etc. But, I'm not sold on teaching children to read in the preschool years. I think that time is better spent reading books together so they have the desire to learn to read when it's time, spending time learning about real things they will read about in their books (things outdoors and things indoors) through play and exploration, doing all sorts of things that kids do to build strong bodies and capable hands, etc. If a child wants to learn to read or is already teaching themselves, then a few lessons here and there help. Here is a sobering article that encourages you to think twice about overtly teaching preschoolers how to read: http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/sites/allianceforchildhood.org/files/file/crisis_in_early_ed.pdf

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  4. River, I was being sarcastic. You bet something is wrong when kids learn almost ONLY math and reading. TAKS is the Texas state test of achievement and MAP is Missouri's.

    Think of each state as being its own little country within our nation, if it makes it easier. There is a federal tax system and there are federal roads and federal laws, but that's about it. Each state ALSO has its own tax system, its own educational standards, and that sort of thing. It just can't conflict with - and operates under - the overall federal system. (That explains why, say, when an immigration law passes in Arizona it is challenged in federal court because some think the state is overstepping its bounds.)

    Well, that was clear as mud.

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  5. Luke, I am worried about homeschoolers and about everyone else because even they can be influenced to teach to the test. I have read some stuff from Sonlight that suggests it is a tougher sell in areas where state testing is more strict. :(

    Tammy, they are not teaching Woodjie to read yet, but matching letters and recognizing them. I just picked that you as it is pretty much the only purely academic goal (in the conventional sense) they are working with.

    I just meant that if we're measuring progress, it should be that child's progress. Otherwise we leave gifted children to languish and overpush our barely underachievers. Might as well just give up on kids like Woodjie if the MAP test is all there is to educational life. :)

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  6. Oh man, in school I learned way more than just history. So much garbage was thrown at me. Because I didn't agree like the average kid with all the political stuff, kids would throw stuff at me. My dad said the government uses schools to train up our kids minds in the direction they want. I completely agree because less times was focused on actual history facts (which is why I stink at knowing much of it) and more time focused on political and even religious stuff. Now, I am getting history books so I can learn this stuff on my own.

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  7. >>>I just meant that if we're measuring progress, it should be that child's progress.<<<

    Accountability is a good thing, but there has to be a better way than being obsessed with testing.

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)