One in three children in the US can’t read at grade level.
For many people, that means that schools aren’t doing their jobs and we need more accountability and more testing.
What if we redefined “at grade level”?
I got into this a bit the other day, but we have completely redefined “at grade level” since I was a kid.
My experience was different (I went to Catholic school for kindergarten), but my sister, two years younger, went to the public school where I went beginning in first grade.
She went to kindergarten for half days. In kindergarten, they learned the alphabet. I remember the rhyme for A. (I don’t know why I know that one at all, or why I don’t also know any others…)
A, A for Alligator Al
Apples, ants, and Africa
Acrobats and animals
A, A for Alligator Al
(I looked for it online but couldn’t find it. Is there something the internet can’t provide?!)
Reading was something we started in first grade. Kindergarten was for basics. (Kindergarten was also not for four-year-olds.)
There’s quite a bit of research that informs us that learning to read young isn’t useful. We can wait until 7 or 8 years old before starting, and the long-term result is better, because brains are more developed and are ready.
(This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions. Occasionally, kids read at 3 or 4 years old because they just pick it up or otherwise show readiness. But we shouldn’t base national standards on the outliers.)
It seems that we need to feel like we’re doing something instead of actually doing what’s best. Small kids need to play. They learn through play. Gross and fine motor skills are important.
What good is research if we’re going to ignore the results anyway?
Speaking of research…
Homework in elementary school isn’t useful.
Part of the homework problem right now ties right back in to the standards. Teachers are teaching content that isn’t appropriate for their kids (because they’re required to), so the kids need homework for reinforcement. Because it’s too hard. And because there’s too much of it.
Let’s dial back the standards to something developmentally-appropriate.
Before we even do that, let’s have a conversation about what school is for. What’s the goal? What do we want kids to be able to do when they leave the system? Then: what are ways we can achieve that? (Separate post on that another day.)
We haven’t overhauled the system in a long time, and the system is in need of an overhaul.
Let’s dial back the standards to be developmentally appropriate.
In that upheaval, kids are more likely to learn to read when they’re ready. Which means more kids will be literate. And also that reading won’t have such negative emotions connected to it for so many people. Which means overall literacy will be higher. More people will read for fun and will be able to read and understand contracts and the like. And the tide rises.
I can’t tell you how many people have mentioned in casual conversation that they’re not good at [reading/writing/math]. That’s because of how it’s structured in school. And because they have negative emotions connected to learning it.
It’s not the schools’ fault. Legislation dictates what be taught at what level. In Arizona (and probably many or most other states), we have mandates on how many minutes per week be spent on the core subject areas, and the state standards outline all of the content knowledge and skills that need to be taught in that time.
(It’s a lot. It’s too much.)
We need people to stand up against the testing movement (which is lining some folks’ pockets while stressing our kids and teachers and stealing time and money from schools). We need people to look at the research and say, “Hey! I want our schools to do what’s best for kids. And this isn’t it!”
Teachers have been saying it for a long time, but our voices have been discounted. It needs to come from parents, from community members, from businesses.
We can do better.