Time to catch up on some of the the education news that's arisen since my last post. From a December 26th article in the Times:
This fall, David Aderhold, the superintendent of a high-achieving school district near Princeton, N.J., sent parents an alarming 16-page letter.
The school district, he said, was facing a crisis. Its students were overburdened and stressed out, juggling too much work and too many demands.
In the previous school year, 120 middle and high school students were recommended for mental health assessments; 40 were hospitalized. And on a survey administered by the district, students wrote things like, “I hate going to school,” and “Coming out of 12 years in this district, I have learned one thing: that a grade, a percentage or even a point is to be valued over anything else.”Aderhold's solution?
1. Elimination of busywork assignments and sprawling interdisciplinary projects?
2. Elimination of mandatory group activities and toxic social pressures?
3. Tailoring class placements to academic readiness and assigning each student appropriately challenging work?
4. Increasing recess?
None of the above. Instead, Aderhold
urged parents to join him in advocating a holistic, “whole child” approach to schooling that respects “social-emotional development” and “deep and meaningful learning” over academics alone.Surely such an approach wouldn't actually increase student stress!
In a curious reversal of one set of cultural stereotypes, not all parents are pleased:
instead of bringing families together, Dr. Aderhold’s letter revealed a fissure in the district, which has 9,700 students, and one that broke down roughly along racial lines. On one side are white parents like Catherine Foley, a former president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at her daughter’s middle school, who has come to see the district’s increasingly pressured atmosphere as antithetical to learning.
On the other side are parents like Mike Jia, one of the thousands of Asian-American professionals who have moved to the district in the past decade, who said Dr. Aderhold’s reforms would amount to a “dumbing down” of his children’s education.This second contingent has recently become a majority in the school district:
The district has become increasingly popular with immigrant families from China, India and Korea. This year, 65 percent of its students are Asian-American, compared with 44 percent in 2007. Many of them are the first in their families born in the United States.
They have had a growing influence on the district. Asian-American parents are enthusiastic supporters of the competitive instrumental music program. They have been huge supporters of the district’s advanced mathematics program…But an American-born backlash, led by the principal, has been erasing some of the Asian influence. There's the: “right to squeak” initiative "that makes it easier to participate in the music program." And the competitive math program, which once began in the fourth grade, and "in which 90 percent of the participating students are Asian-American," will now start only in sixth grade. In addition, Dr. Aderhold is limiting participation in a state program in which "Asian-American students have been avid participants" that "permits [students] to take summer classes off campus for high school credit, allowing them to maximize the number of honors and Advanced Placement classes they can take."
Some "white parents" have worried that
With many Asian-American children attending supplemental instructional programs... the elementary school curriculum is being sped up to accommodate them.They also worry about
rampant cheating, grade fixation and days so stressful that some students could not wait for them to end.Other parents, "primarily Asian-American ones"
described a different picture, one in which their values were being ignored.Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at UC Irvine and an author of “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” points out that Asian-born parents “don’t have the same chances to get their children internships or jobs at law firms." For them, the best chances come from excelling academically.
As should be the case for everyone. If I had a choice between a school led by David Aderhold and one led by some of the Asian-American activists featured in this article, I'm pretty sure which one I'd pick.