Thanks and good-bye!

The semester is over, so it is time to say good-bye.  Thanks to everyone who read, commented on, linked to, or otherwise helped me create this blog about education, parenting, and culture in Houston.  The site will remain in its small corner of the Internet, but it will no longer be active.  Check out these similar (but much better) sites instead:

And of course, some of the best writing by college students can be found in my classmates’ blogs.  Their topics and links are posted under “See Also.”

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1910 is good enough

Testing madness can catch parents unawares and very early in their student’s school years.  Denise Pope, a Stanford University professor and co-founder of Challenge Success, advocates for helping students achieve success without the current pressures of long homework hours and our frenzied test-score focus.

1910 is good enough

Yesterday, Nala texted me the first SAT scores.  In a new initiative, all HISD juniors were encouraged to take the SAT in class on Wednesday, April 13, for free (HISD paid the fee).  From a parent’s point of view, taking the SAT for free in the spring of junior year is a great way to find out what a student needs to focus on over the summer, before they take the SATs that really count in their senior year.

Nala’s overall score was 1910 out of 2400 and I admit I was not leaping for joy.   Over the course of multiple texts, I was already planning our strategy for boosting SAT scores with summer study sessions.

Then I sat down in my seat for Race to Nowhere and realized I was caught in the throes of testing madnessMy name is Carlyn Chatfield and I am a test-aholic.   So I texted my child only five minutes into movie ,  “No need to take the SAT again.  Move on, enjoy your summer and senior year.” Whatever college Nala finds as a best match, it won’t be one where test scores drive evaluations.

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Race to Nowhere

Race to Nowhere, May 5 screening at River Oaks Elementary

The film “Race to Nowhere,” zooms in on a different perspective of our educational system. Instead of probing how low-income families and under-represented students can gain access to superior academic environments, this film examines the trade-offs for our national obsession with school success: student stress, teacher burnout and tired, uninspired college freshmen.

In our own house, Thing One developed a severe case of senior-itis in December. Within a few months, the student who had been at the top of every class and kept an almost-OCD neat room, was grounded for “being a slob” in a household that tolerates a wide margin of messiness, and sported the second of two B’s in an otherwise straight-A honors courses mid-term report card.*

This scenario could just as easily describe either of Thing One’s parents in their senior year of high school; it happens to most of us. But Race to Nowhere is suggesting that something much worse than senior-itis is afflicting more students than just those in their final throes of high school.  It is a fear of failure, of being less than stellar. “If I can’t fail, and make mistakes, then how can I be expected to learn?” one student in the film laments.

The Houston screening for the film will be held in two weeks. See for yourself what chasing after academic recognition looks and feels like on the inside.

Race to Nowhere – Houston screening
Thursday, May 5, 2011 – 7:00pm
River Oaks Elementary School
2008 Kirby Drive

*To be fair to Thing One, this National Merit Finalist was admitted via early decision to Rice University in mid-December, so perhaps a little slacking off was warranted.

Posted in Comm300, Education, Parenting | 4 Comments

Square peg students

students in a grade school photo
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of parenting a student is watching your child struggle to fit in. A bad social fit is painful for both students and parents, but a bad educational fit is excruciating.

Square pegs don’t always reveal themselves before their education is underway. First grade in American-style schools may provide the first filtering of students into gifted, standard or remedial groups or labels. In Japan, square pegs may just stop going to school. Here in the United States, some square pegs find their niche in different educational environments, including private, charter, and Montessori schools.

more students in a grade school photoFor Nala, first grade was the first time we realized she had her own way of learning. She remained in public schools and after six years of struggling to fit within the confines of her round hole, Nala begin finding ways to “square off” her environment, from the way she wore and wears the prescribed school uniform to walking out of class when a teacher ridiculed her answer (a learning experience for all of us).

Surprisingly, there are many flexible teachers in each grade in every public school Nala has attended and she often found herself in two or three of these courses each semester. more students in a grade school photoThese teachers find ways for square pegs to successfully participate in their classes and grade completed projects as a whole, even if the square pegs approach the project crab-wise (sideways) or by circling around it instead of tackling the project in the recommended linear fashion.

Ten years later, we are still trying to find her best educational fit. Instead of elementary classes, we’re searching for the right college environment: challenging but fluid, demanding accurate answers but encouraging different ways of arriving at those answers. more students in a grade school photo Our square peg student scorns round holes, homogeneous environments, and the status quo. To tell the truth, I couldn’t be happier.

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Rainy days ahead for education

Rain down on window image courtesy of pennacook through the Creative Commons

Larger class sizes, fewer students prepared for or attending college, salary reductions, and teacher layoffs are all aspects of the 2011-2012 educational budget deficit. The forecast for education is particularly gloomy these days. The final chapter in a Video podcast series, this 4.5-minute podcast features three parents describing the repercussions of budget cuts, should the Texas House and Senate not find a way to fund education at its current levels.

  • 0-1:44 Kay talks about lost planning opportunities for teachers, who – like her – want their class to be their students’ best class
  • 1:50-2:49 Vincent encourages use of the rainy day fund for our children, who are our future
  • 2:56-4:39 Donna points out that lost educational opportunities affect far more than the future economy
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How bad are our scores, really?

Success or Failure image by cobrasoft on Stock.xchange

Tracking is one way of determining which students are assigned to college preparatory courses and which ones are zoned to less academically challenging classes. No Child Left Behind essentially eliminated tracking in the United States, for better or for worse. As part of the Video podcast series, a Houston teacher talks about tests, tracking, and compulsory attendance in this 1.5-minute video.

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The sound of budget cuts

Budget Cuts image by linusb4 on stock.xchang

This third chapter in the five-day Video podcast series features a Houston father and physician expressing his concerns about Texas’ proposed education budget cuts. The background noise for this 2-minute video mimics an elementary school, complete with closing doors, playground sounds, children’s voices, an adult voice, and even the purposeful steps of a principal in the hallway. As the father’s voice and image fade away, so too fades the sound of children until a single, silent school building remains.

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