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December 14, 2011

5 worst education trends of 2011

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor


It hasn’t been a banner year for academic honesty. Teachers and principals were breaking out their number two pencils, erasing kids’ test errors, and filling in the accurate bubbles themselves in cases of out-and-out cheating by educators in Atlanta and DC. Then, at an “exemplary” school in Dallas, the principal tried a different tack. Dubbed “second-degree cheating” (um, what is that?), the principal ordered all hands on deck to boost math and reading scores, giving the shaft to every other subject – the students learned no music, no art, no science, no social studies, no foreign language, no PE. Just math and English.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that many kids aren’t quite sure what really constitutes cheating, either. According to a recent study, 71 percent of the students surveyed don’t think copying from a website is “serious cheating;” more than half don’t consider cheating a big deal; almost all had allowed another kid to copy their homework.

Did I miss the new sliding scale for cheating? Who’s proselytizing this movement, and may I suggest a catchy name: the New Honesty?

Beggars can’t be choosers

As homeowners, cities, states, and as a nation, we’re refusing to adequately fund education, and as a result, schools are accepting money from wherever it hails – this 5th grader’s allowance, this Superintendent’s salary and benefits, and even the white space that once graced the back of report cards (and is now lucratively populated with ad slots).

And for the “lucky” teachers who’ve kept their jobs amid all the cuts – without pay increases, and with decreases for some – more and more teachers are taking second jobs. This trend isn't new but it's on the rise: about 11 percent of teachers were moonlighting in the early 80s, it’s more like one in five now. Nothing like running into the math teacher tending bar at a local restaurant or the second grade teacher selling appliances on the weekend to inspire a child to put a lot of value on education.

Obesity runaround – with no actual running, of course

It’s an epidemic – and it’s not funny. But how we’re trying to combat obesity in schools – and epically failing – is, kind of. We’re banning soda (but not sugar-filled juice drinks), sanctifying chocolate milk, having national debates about whether pizza sauce 'counts' as a vegetable, measuring BMI once every couple of years. And where, might you ask, is the exercise component? Oh, yeah, we’re cutting PE and recess.

Sure, this takes us back to the issue of education funding, but it really doesn’t cost much to run laps. And all those food policy debates and program changes aren’t free. This year I visited a school where recess and PE were replaced with a strategic games program. While I mourned the loss of free play for those kids, at least I got to see them running around. At other schools, the kids aren’t so lucky. According to the Right to Recess campaign, 50 percent of kids don’t get recess. The CDC’s Childhood Obesity Facts page lists three bullet points for prevention – the third calls out schools as a place for kids to learn healthy physical activity behaviors. How’s that working out?

Online idiocy

The internet is wonderful, but our online behavior isn’t. In fact, it’s atrocious – and it’s coming back to haunt us (or worse). Sadly, students aren't learning this lesson quickly enough – and neither are their teachers. Should we bring back etiquette classes? Kids are sexting racy messages and pictures back and forth – with consequences ranging from public humiliation to charges filed for sexual misconduct. Teachers are posting diatribes and making sarcastic cracks about their students on Facebook – and losing their jobs for it.

Personally, I hold the adults’ bad judgment against them, but I have more sympathy for the teens. Maybe they should realize their actions are visible to all; maybe they should have more reverence for their futures – but maybe we’re not guiding them well enough. In fact, I know we’re not – because text messaging lingo is seeping into school essays (even college app essays!) and colleges are checking out online profiles (yes, that means Facebook!) as part of their admissions process. Sorry, Charlie, your dream of attending Great Future University is out the window due to a series of disgusting posts. Plus, “btw” has no place in an admissions essay. L8r.

Animal parenting

Why oh why must you be a certain character from the animal kingdom? Tiger mom started it all, of course, and she offers an interesting approach. But do we need Panda dad (which sounds pretty close to middle-class American dad to me), Lion dad, Pussycat mom, Eagle mom … the list goes on and on? Frankly, no.

These aren’t even really about parenting or a child’s success – no matter what your definition of success is – anymore. They’ve spiraled out of control, into a realm that’s self-serving and fame-seeking. Please make it stop.


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Apologies for the multiple posts. My responses keep getting deleted, excpet for the YouTube link. The point I was attempting to make, per the school that is only teaching reading and math is that reading comprehension is not a skill like throwing a ball of riding a bike that can be taught, practiced and mastered. It is a function of vocabulary an background knowledge, which means narrowing a school's curriculum to only ELA and math is not only a bad idea, but a counterproductive one. The YouTube link aboove is to a video by the University of Virgina's Dan Willingham that explains why this is so.

Cheating by teachers is deplorable; but with pressures from budget cuts and the like, we can empathize with the pressure our kids feel.
Because we, in turn, are trying to raise the bar, our students are guilty of cheating too; and not just copying off the internet. I've caught kids looking at pictures of their notes on their phones and ipods, looking at their notes hidden below the "fashionably loose" excuse for wearing multiple layers of clothing, etc.
The solution is to raise morality standards. With all the profanity going around, it's no wonder kids will also stoop to the "cheating" level. Many teachers accept "heads on the desk" from failing or chronically tardy students - not me. Teachers need to make multiple tests to avoid encouraging cheating; and encourage kids to cover their answer sheets,with a penalty of F with no retake if even a hint of helping a neighbor shows up. The higher standards we hold - not the tougher we are - can turn things around.

A boy in my class (8th grade) has no regard for the rules. Our school allows no cellphone use between 7:50 and 3 pm - school hours. When I caught him checking his texts on his cell at 8:25 he said he was checking for a text from his Mom who was in the hospital. (Parents ... texting their child against the rules? They'd never ....) I took his cell and required his mother to pick it up. After school that day when she came to get the phone, I referenced the hospital she was clueless about about any hospital time. Weeks later I get official notice from the nurse that this boy must now sit in the front of class. (He's been there for months. It's the only place I'd trust him) I stop class. I record the official documentation for for when some bureaucrat audits my system. I make a mental note that the nurse has not filled-in the condition that warrants this. Later I check with the nurse ... so I know if its a hearing problem or something else. Nurse says the mother came in and said her doctor said her son must sit in front of the class. No doctor's note was brought. "It's coming." Later I ask the son when he was at the doctor's. He responds: "I haven't been to the doctor." I'M NOT SURPRISED. But I do know from where my students learn to lie. Do you? Your child notices every lie you tell. Every time you lie (and cheat) you teach your child to lie and cheat.

I continue to be distressed over how willing, even eager, we are to aimlessly plunge our children into the digital abyss with little or no real thought about the intended outcome or the consequences.

It just amazes me that the mindset of "technology has to be good for kids, so let's shovel it at them" has become a societal norm without even so much as a shred of solid evidence that technology does in fact boost academic achievement or enhance overall quality of life.

On the positive side, I think in 2011 families became more aware of the downside of too much homework. "Race to Nowhere" is a powerful documentary that influenced many parents and even some administrators.

Emily Glickman

Hi Emily, nice to hear from you! I couldn’t agree more. You’ve probably read Carol’s blog (http://blogs.greatschools.org/greatschoolsblog/2011/12/is-homework-harming-our-kids-our-readers-say-yes.html) about the many disturbing comments we’ve received from kids about getting too much homework. I believe this dialogue has begun, but we really do need to figure out how to reduce kids’ stress in many areas – and homework would be an excellent start, I think. Any ideas on how we can help further this progress? I’m all ears! Best, Jessica

loyola magnet center, my grandchild was given excessive homework over the winter break??? Needless to say this was no break. Instead from page after page of homework and stress from both the child and myself trying to justify the nonsense to complete by the end of the break and enjoy some festive gatherings, holiday shopping etc. She didn't finish all the assigned work, much over a hundred pages of math,language arts and science.She later reported that 2 classmates actually finished, bravo I think. I can imagine their break.

Some parents are opting to give their children a leg up by keeping them out of kindergarten a year beyond when they reach the entry age. But not everyone believes that redshirting is a good idea.

Cheating is a perennial disease in a classroom. But it's a teacher discretion on how to manage this. I believe this will be stop.

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