Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reversing home and school, II

SwitchedOnMom from TheMoreChild just alerted me to the following Principal's Letter (Montgomery County Public Schools, 4/09):

The Homework policy, which is sent home at the beginning of the school year, calls for nightly practice of basic facts in addition to the homework that is a review of concepts taught in school. The school doesn’t “teach” math facts daily… what it really is memorization. My staff spends some time on supporting students with the facts, but it would be impossible to teach the curriculum and carve out time daily for students to memorize. Although memorization of facts is considered a lower-level skill, it is so important in students being able to successfully master the more complex mathematical concepts we teach. We know time is a barrier; however, the review really is important

And which sorts of households are most likely to be able and willing to provide this "important" review?

This letter reminds me of one the observations I just encountered in Outliers, the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell. Apparently, the achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds tends to rise during school vacations. The reason, Gladwell proposes, is that vacations are when gaps in educational opportunities are greatest. In general, disadvantaged students have far fewer opportunities for extracurricular academic enrichment--both inside and outside their homes.

As more and more schools abdicate responsibility for teaching basic academic skills to mastery, and become more and more like summer vacations in their effects on students (at our local school, in addition to whatever it is that actually goes on during math class, we've got movies during "library" and computer games during "technology") the more we can expect this achievement gap to widen.

And, equally perversely, the more we can expect schools to deny enrichment opportunities to the most academically advanced students--because, after all, this would only further widen the gap.


SwitchedOnMom said...

Thanks for citing my post! One solution: year-round school. Sounds horrible, I know, but check out this op-ed piece from yesterday's Washington Post: "Year Round School? My Kids Love It and So Will Yours"

Personally, I have always liked this European schedule.

Mrs. C said...

Can I ask for the opposite? NO SCHOOL. Every man for himself. Just watch the creative ideas pop up when we don't have to do a blessed thing... schools would have to make people *want* to go. Imagine that. :]

Anonymous said...

Year-round school is so 1980s. Lots of big districts, like LA Unified, used it to alleviate overcrowding. It didn't do a thing for student achievement.