Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Education Standards vs. Grades

Been pondering on this:

Is it better to be:

in a low standards school where high grades are easily doled out and the learning is questionable

in an alternative education school where the student does not thrive and the structure is too low for that student so it appears not a lot is being learned (very much like unschooling for those who are not internally driven)

in a rigorous school where the structure is tight and the fit is right where learing is a struggle and Cs and Bs are the grades achieved (even after tutoring)

If learning is the true goal it seems to me a rigorous right fit school with lower grades would result in more learning. If the grades are lower than ideal then so be it.

Through conversations with some parents I have learned their main goal is high grades not true learning. They prefer the look of the grade on paper and take it even if it's from grade inflation. It is one thing to be a bad speller and use bad grammar and struggle to get it right and another thing to be that and be entered into the Honor Society, have a high self-esteem and a bit of arrogance thinking they are "all that" and have no clue that you are making gross errors with fourth grade level spelling words and very basic grammar use such as my generation learned in elementary school.

About a decade ago John Stossel did a 20/20 episode called "Stupid in America" which showed that  American kids have the highest self-esteem and perception about their intelligence when they are indeed stupid and America's rating in education level is dropping lower and lower in the world rankings. I bet on any given day YouTube would have clips or the entire episode for you to watch online for free. Go watch it.

Which of the three options above do you think is best for school choices?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Initiative, Learning, Grading, and Rubrics

Today I had a conversation with my younger son about initiative in school. It was stated in his report card that he did not use the rubric in the school handbook for writing "The Big Essay". It is a philosophical question such as, "What responsibility does an individual have to society?"

I said when the school gives a rubric it is the key to knowing the expectation to the assignment that makes it clear how to earn an A grade or lower grades. By using the rubric as a guideline the work has to expand and to change and in doing that process the student cannot help but learn and grow. So to follow a rubric is not grade striving, it is a way to receive guidance that helps shape the actual learning and working process. In the end the goal is to have learned and to have honed a skill such as writing clearly and effectively to pursuade and if that also means an A grade was achieved then that's great too. The A is not the main thing to think about, but the A reflects that learning has taken place. So in the student's mind the learning happened and on paper the grade gives a good impression to all who are in positions to evaluate them in the future.

To use the rubric at this school is an independent procedure and project. So to use the rubic a student has to have initiative. I tried to explain that some classes do not give a rubric leaving the grading subjective. When the rubric is used in a class it is a way to be objective about the grade and that's a good thing.

I told my son it is up to him to take the bull by the horns and decide that it means enough to him to want to learn and do well in school. Parents and teachers cannot force this upon kids, they have to want to do well then do what it takes, listen in class, do the homework, use the rubrics, and do all the school game rule things that the school does in order to be a good student as well as to learn.

P.S. Disengaged learners do not make effective unschoolers or homeschoolers either.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

More Talent Now or Just Nurtured and Educated More?

I have been thinking about the activities and education of this Milennial generation. It seems to me and others that these kids are learning more, doing more, and also learning about and perfecting skills and abilities through training with great success. I have come to the conclusion that the reason they are thriving is due to having access to more opportunity to learn and develop things that are completely trainable (a sport) or are partly inborn ability (voice). The access to money to pay for lessons and teams and tutors helps individual kids be more productive.

I have a friend who has a wonderful voice. She has used it to sing in church choir for years. She nurtured her daughter's singing by encouragement. It was not until children's choir (a tryout community club) and private lessons that the girl's voice developed to the next level. She is amazing. I see her singing on video via YouTube and Facebook and she seems to me to be headed for Broadway.

When I was in school the only way to be a cheeerleader was at the public school. The spots were limited. The Milennials have private leagues or whatever they are called. Basically the parents pay a fee and the girls learn to cheer. They travel around the country doing competitions. Once I was going on vacation to Florida and there was a winning cheer team on the flight. A week later when at home my acquaintence in the town next door announced her daughter won a cheer contest. Then the next week a mom in my town said her daughter (same age) won the cheer contest. I have not researched it but guessed that there are multiple leagues with events happening at the same time. So you can take your pick as to which to join and then there are a lot of winners.

Ice hockey is a private club sport that someone I know uses. So if your town public school does not have access to ice hockey you just use the community sport. This is the same for rowing and fencing, swimming and diving, and water polo; it seems driven sometimes by access to a facility or the school not wanting to pay to build that type of sport team's required venue. Some of these are nonprofit but it seems to me that more are for profit ventures. Sometimes sports are the same as done in school but kids do both. The school team such as soccer is seen as easy an has less hours. There are community teams which are intense. I have friends  and relatives who use these for soccer and baseball. The soccer kids here pay about $8K a year "all in" which includes travel expenses for competitions. I know some people who volunteer coach or helped create new community teams (other than me) and the notion is, "This org has these problems so I will go create my own org".

One of the problems in an org is some parents feel the program is too recreational and not competitive or highly skilled enough. They choose a private org for the sport for more intense and more skilled coaching, for more strict rules on attendance linked to ability to play and for longer hours of training in order to practice an learn.

Someone said today that the performance at my high school for the drama club play was many levels above what when on when we were in school. I know bunches of kids who have had professional training in acting as private lessons. There are even classes for improv and stand up comedy.

Music lessons are also something that some do from age two using Suzuki. If the kid is not interested in more classical instruments there are expensive private camps for rock band camp. It culminates with the kids doing a rock concert at the end. Some schools have rock bands now not just marching band. Almost every kid I know has had some level of private lessons for learning to play an instrument.

If you read local publications for parents you will see many for profit opportunities for kids to learn and do things for summer camp. Sometimes when I see these I feel like these companies are leeches. I recall a friend who used six different camps in order to keep her daughter busy and non-bored. By high school she had one area of focus for her extra-curricular activity but she is amazing at it.

Also there are more offerings today for intense niche things like the FIRST STEM oriented competitions. They literally did not exist when I was in school.

Another topic to ponder at another time is how do these experiences help develop kids and teens if they wind up not being the winners? The process and the doing of a thing is of equal value, learning and trying to get better at something is what is important.

So I have come to the conclusion that even parents in the lower middle class seem to be spending more on their kids for education and extra-curriculars. Where there is demand there is supply and there is no shortage of tutors, trainers, coaches, teams, and camps that will take a parent's money. It's not a rip-off if the services are of quality and the kids are doing good things. I have no problem with people spending money as they desire and others making money off of those kids and parents so long asthe programs are of quality and are safe. Public education is more costly now and the course offerings seems to have expanded and offer higher levels of learning (honors or AP classes). It should not come as a surprise that kids who access skilled teachers, kids who want to do a thing and take the tiem to practice, kids who have more chances to do a thing get better at it. Thus this generation sometimes develops skills and knowledge that seems to be more intense and of higher quality than their parents did.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Not Feeling Fantastic - Leaky Gut Still?

In the last few months something has shifted. I thought I was doing well eating healthy. I am gluten-free. Don't eat wheat. I did increase grain consumption to 2-4 servings a week. Alcohol is 0-2 most weeks with 4 as the max. Since alcohol is grain based I count that toward the grain. I honestly do not eat much that is baked. I don't eat gluten-free breads other than sometimes once a month if I havea gluten-free bun or half of the bun at a restaurant only because to be able to eat a GF Cuban sandwich was too tempting.

I am also struggling to eat after getting braces on my teeth. Just the presence of metal braces has its own list of banned foods. I have broken my wires a handful of times eating raw veggies, nuts, beef jerky, steak and chicken. These included getting my cheek ripped up, using brace wax and another trip to the orthodontist on the next day their office is open for business. Due to the new misalignment of my molars I have teeth banging and pain so they have made "build ups" of resin or glue or something or other which means when I chew none of my molars touch, just this little big of glue touches. All this to say I can barely eat salad or chew foods that really need chewing. Plus due to soreness I cannot bite into a food with my front teeth. It has been about 12 weeks now of living like this.

I have gained eight pounds since getting the braces on. I have been getting cystic acne, these giant zits that sometimes get infected and can last a month. My rosacea is in full flare mode on my nose which is brigher than it used to be and now prone to different acne. I have gotten knee and hand joint pain back. I wake up sometimes with evidence of a food reaction, puffy eyes and black circles. I feel bloated and my stomach has puffed up so I look pregnant.

It was time for my regular thyroid annual check and I asked for another IGG and IGE antibody test. This is an out of pocket expense for me. I feel like I am reacting to a food and don't know which it is. I also wonder and worry if my leaky gut has not repaired despite the hard work I did in the last year with the candida diet, the two anti-fungal meds the doctor prescribed, the rotation test diet and then living gluten-free and restricting some other foods (soy, corn). Attempting to live as close to grain free as possible and eating stuff made from scratch and organic when possible. I am exhausted from all the effort to change my diet in the last two years and I have completed two full years being gluten-free. I am annoyed and wish I felt and looked better. I wish I knew what the problem was.

Another issue with a leaky gut is it prevents proper absorption of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. It also puts a person at risk for developing new food allergies and developing seasonal allergies as pollen enters the body and is flagged as an invader. So living with the first and more minor symptoms of a leaky gut may be tolerable for some people but what it opens you up for to develop worse conditions is a big problem. For example I have been chronically Vitamin D deficient for five years now since my body cannot absorb it with oral supplements due to leaky gut. I am curious to see how my D level is now.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Mininvan Is Dying

I am about to enter a new era of my parenting journey. For the first time in fifteen years I will not have a minivan as my vehicle.

My current minivan is at 145K miles and is seven years old. Four years ago right after the move it had three major repairs totaling $3K within one month. We just had the oil changed and the oil pan fixed at $450. Now the electrical system is glitching and that estimate is $800. We knew a second go round of major repairs would arrive someday and the plan was when it started, it was time to let it go.

The other minivan lasted me eight years and we got rid of it at 135K miles when the transmission went. The dealer offered us $500 trade-in but my brother offered to buy it from us for that price.

I have been car shopping and have been considering the options. At first I thought maybe an SUV but after driving a friend's Ford Explorer around I realized that big thing was not for me. I have been driving my husband's car around and feel like it is too low. I have decided to buy a crossover. I want a certain one and my husband wants to wait a month to try a different manufacturer's brand new design when it's released. We drove the current model and it is awful, surprisingly awful for the brand. I want the one I want right now but we are going to wait I think. I think I should give my husband the benefit of the doubt and try all options so that we know which one is right after a side by side comparison.

So far I have done three test drives of the one I want (two with him) and we have gone to two other dealers for other options.

It is odd to think about choosing a vehicle when the main goal is not carting around a family of four or doing carpools and needing room for other people's kids. We seldom are all together since our seventeen year old drives himself and is so busy he is never around anymore. The question now is, "What do I want? What do I need? What would be nice for me? What functions do I need a vehicle to have? How much use will this one get and doing what type of driving?"

In less than two months my younger son turns 15 then he will get his driver's permit and will start to learn to drive. I think I will get even more gray hairs with him learning to drive in my brand new vehicle! We thought about keeping the old minivan around for him but it is not a cost savings if the thing keeps breaking and costs us thousands of dollars to keep functional.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ideal Schooling Doesn't Guaratee An Ideal Student

Two days ago I blogged and ended with a statement that I feel that I am giving up on seeking an ideal education for my younger son. I want to explain why I said that.

I have come around to see firsthand that sometimes a school, a teacher, a class can be great but if the student does not do their part to pay attention, to contribute, to learn that the student will not have an ideal experience. So an ideal situation that has opportunity for success may result in mediocre or poor performance. And there we have the situation where the teachers blame the student for lack of learning or lack of success. I used to hate hearing teachers blame the student but I understand more now. I also was helped to see this by my volunteer work with Cub Scouts and  Boy Scouts. I saw opportunity presented to all equally and some took advantage and excelled and others refused to pay attention or do the assignment and did not earn that merit badge or did not advance in their rank. Those who work hard achieve.

Yes there is the other situation which I have bee more aligned with when you envision the student as being all potential and not being challenged or not having a chance to learn due to what you think are poor teachers or poor classes or poor schools. I don't mean financially poor I mean low quality.

So I guess the classroom full of young humans is just like society. There are underachievers, there are scrappy ones who work hard to get mediocre results, there are the mediocre students who work extra hard and excel highly, and there are the really smart ones who either don't try and have average performance or do try and are the highest of high achievers and look the best and shiniest by our American measurement systems.

This circles back to some notions explored in the first readings I did on education reform by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto and others who like the word unschooling. They criticize schools on many levels and for many reasons but they acknowledge the learner, the student for being responsible for their own education. The old "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" applies here. But the unschoolers turn it around to say that schools by their very nature prevent some (or all) individuals from excelling on an individual level as they focus on certain things that prevent the exploration and learning in other areas as well as prohibiting time and energy to go do other really interesting and wonderfully enriching experiential activities in the real world. For example the story told by Gatto about his student who started a business buying fresh produce at four in the morning at wholesale at the port then selling it for profit at the school to the grateful teachers was able to learn important life lessons and business lessons that the regular classes at his school prohibited.

One of my criticisms with unschooling and with trusting the child/teen to do things that will be valuable to them in some way is that I don't feel that it always really does work out for the child. I once heard an unschooling mother lecture saying she does not care if her son winds up a garbage collector if that is what he wants. Well I just am not willing to let my gifted kids underperform and be left with only that option. I know they will not feel fulfilled or challenged in life if that were the only job they could do given what their homeschooling education prepared them for. It is a fact that a sense of fulfillment in the workplace and feeling respected and appreciated is the number on thing a worker cares about (more than the payscale). I know from my own experience what torture it is to be stuck working in a job that you feel makes you lose IQ points as each minute of your shift ticks on and I know the stress it gives to have to work alongside low intelligence low performing co-workers. That negative environment sets a person up for not just plain unhappiness but can set a person into a real depression. As a counselor told me the males are the ones who usually commit suicide in their teens and 20s when depression hits, while the females kill themselves at a much lower rate and just carry on.

Anyhow my point is that you can set up a wonderful homeschool but your student may not cooperate. You can give freedom to unschool and hope your student takes their life in a direction that works out well for them. You can choose a private school carefully but your child may not take advantage of the good situation at their disposal. You can use public school which is a real gamble and roll the dice and hope it all works out of the best. Really a lot of what happens in a kid's life is up to them and how much they engage or choose to not engage. I do still believe that a student can only excel to the expectations, so if the expectations are low they are limited in a way. I still believe in shooting for the stars and if you reach only the moon it's better than shooting for the moon and maybe never even getting there.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Grades, Educational Rigor, and Student Motivation

A few things are happening this week regarding my 9th grader in private IB school and I have been thinking about educational paths and choices.

I was recalling the parent-teacher conferences at the end of Term 1. Multiple teachers said it is better to be in a small school with teachers who know you and who can pull an unmotivated student up and encourage them to be drawn out than to go to a big public school (3500-4000 students) and be ignored. When ignored learning may not happen. However with grade inflation rampant in public schools here the non-learning student may still get a B or an A even.

So that brings me to grades. The IB program grades on a 1-7 scale. The headmaster says a 6 or 7 is almost impossible to achieve. A 4 or 5 is considered wonderful, on par with an A in public school. Also the IB Diploma they work on in grades 11 and 12 is college level work with a high stakes test at the end graded in Europe that is standardized. Do not pass and you do not get your diploma. This is known by colleges and IB students are desired and lauded for not having been in the grade inflated system. Regarding learning not grades, the IB students are supposed to be best prepared for college in that they are able to write better, present orally better in presentations, can communicate verbally better and have higher level thinking skills for analytical and logical thinking.

A teacher at the IB school told my son's class last week that George Bush is the dumbest president we have ever had. My son asked my husband and I about this. It is known that he was a C student at Yale. So the question then is: is it better to be a C student at Yale or an A student at a state university or some other college that is not a highly selective school? Do you learn more at Yale even if you get a C than you would learn elsewhere? This circles back to where is my son better off learning and are grades the true indicator of learning?

However grades are only one issue with judging a person's intelligence. I have not heard George Bush's IQ test score shared with the public. One way people judge intelligence is by their smoothness, clarity, and appearance while public speaking. With a president there are two ways that people judge: speech delivery and spontaneous question answering. Although we should not equate stuttering with low intelligence that is thought by some. Bush stutters sometimes. To compare to our current President Obama: Obama is very good at speech delivery, Bush is more rough around the edges. I explained to my son that for question answering it appears to me that President Obama has canned answers ready for questions and sometimes he answers with something else and ignores the question asked. By using a prepared answer that is practiced ahead of time he appears more polished and well spoken, even if the question is not answered or if he uses the answer period to move the topic over to something else. On the other hand Bush would answer the question and it seems to me that he was not as good as quickly putting together a suave reply plus would sometimes stutter. When he bumbled or stumbled it gave the appearance of low intelligence when that may not be the case at all. If you are a person aware of the fact that some people have different strengths and weaknesses (some call this multiple intelligences) or that the educational testing used now as standard has a verbal IQ score that is separate from the written questions scores. Plus the general issue of how well a person does at public speaking techniques is not an indicator of intelligence.

One more thing: the very same people such as teachers who have empathy for students with learning disabilities and other challenges who would defend a stutterer against criticism are sometimes the very same people who criticize a stuttering president accusing low intelligence. Is that not shameful?

This is the last week of classes for Term 2 and next week is f week. My son has made improvements but he is not making grades in the 90s except some in one class (math).

There are two major issues I have with this school. One is that the school is so small that the same teachers are used year to year. On the one hand I know in the Waldorf system this is lauded as a benefit as the students develop relationships with the teachers and there is a trust. However if the teacher is not good fit for the student pedagogically speaking or personality wise it's tough to take that every single year instead of just bearing with them for one year. This may not sound that terrible but the same teachers are recycled for different classes so one teacher of my son's does two courses and another does three. He has five teachers total for ten courses (and the PE teacher is one of the one teacher to one class selections, so it's four teacher for nine classes).  Also the limited teacher base means the course selection is smaller or there are no real choices. For example there is only French offered. The third issue which is less important is the social circle at school is smaller. They started the year at fifteen in the combined two grade class, thirteen of which are males.

What do you think about the idea of a more rigorous school with lower grades versus an easier school with higher grades? Learning is what I am concerned with so I'm thinking the better teachers with the more rigorous class that the student has to push themselves is best, but not push to the point of causing clinical anxiety or clinical depression or a miserable life. Balance is necessary in life so there needs to be room for living and not just filling it up with busywork that is a big complaint of public schools.

We received the request to commit for next year so we need to decide if our son will remain at this school or if we should look for another private school or just use the big public school. Decisions, decisions. Son says no way does he ever want to homeschool again. He is really enjoying the social atmosphere of being with other peers at school.