Naturally child number 2 was another story entirely. She was quite the perfectionist and often the teacher’s pet as well. By third grade she went into the GATE magnet program, and my only regret was that I did not allow her to go in second grade, thinking she was too young. This was yet another educational perspective for me, since magnet programs are generally in so called “minority” areas, though in our district hispanics are a clear majority in virtually all the schools. What that meant was that we moved from a non-Title I school, with an active booster club, to a Title I school where the GATE parents pretty much were the only ones who helped at all. And under No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, they are subject to enforcement/disciplinary actions if any subset of the school fails to score high enough on standardized tests.
So I got to learn all about program improvement. Now mind you, my kid is in a special class designed to keep the smart kids motivated. But program improvement affects the entire school, not just the subset of children who are underperforming. So my kid is supposed to cover all the subjects and have enrichment on top of that. But program improvement requires them to spend extra time on math and english and use the exact same curriculum as the rest of the school. These kids don’t need that and are getting bored while the teachers are tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to cover the social studies curriculum because there is now not enough time, but they are not allowed to borrow time from the math and english double time mandate. But they know we parents expect our kids to get everything. Honestly, it would be better for these kids if they were in their own separate school. The magnet brought them in, and they are much more diverse than the rest of the kids but the government mandates are hindering the very program they came to participate in.
Meanwhile, at the middle school where my son attends, they boast of being the top one in the district. But there is a catch 22 in that, because higher scores lead to higher goals in NCLB. By the time my daughter is ready to go there, they are also on program improvement. In fact, I had a friend who wanted to transfer her younger kids there, but when I ask about it, she can no longer do it because they would have to be sent to a non-PI school and there are none in the district! And the GATE teachers are up in arms because PI expects them to teach the exact same curriculum in the same way as everyone else and that does not work with these kids. The best they can do is teach it quickly and get on with enrichment. As for the kids, they are wise to this whole fiasco as well, often complaining that they never seem to actually learn anything, just take tests.
NCLB is not all that is wrong with education of course. It was a well intentioned attempt to add some accountability to a system that had lots of problems already. I have plenty of family and friends who are teachers. They talk about things like the way that kindergarten was co-opted into first grade while the entry requirements were not changed in any way. So you have 4 and 5 year olds forced to do reading, writing and arithmetic when what they need is pre-reading skills and pre-math skills and social skills and even naps! No time for that, but if you read child development studies, they might actually do better if we could go back to that. Our state is finally moving the eligibility age back after decades of teacher complaints that they should be at least 5.
Then there is curriculum at all levels. First they shoved much of it down two years. Then they added a lot of stuff so there are many more requirements than there used to be. On the high school level, this means that you only get 2 years of PE instead of the 4 that we had. Most vocational training and life skills classes have been cut. And heaven help you if you want to participate in the arts, because unless you do summer school, your music, drama or art class may be bumped by the foreign language requirement. You will also be forced to study math so advanced that in my time, no one would take it unless they were a math or science major, and then it was in college. Never mind that it seems to be unrelated to what you really want to study, you get algebra II, math analysis and calculus or statistics. It’s as if they really think, if you push all the math/science hard enough, then all the right brained kids will transform into left brained ones. Of course, they have a hard time staffing the teaching positions for all these new requirements, so your kid may have to try to figure it out, despite having a teacher who thinks they can do no wrong, but actually hasn’t a clue how to make the stuff comprehensible to those not mathematically inclined.
I’m sorry, I can’t help wondering, if we shouldn’t be looking really hard at why we have so many requirements. If our strengths are in innovation and creativity, which the number of right brain dominant or preferred kids would seem to indicate, maybe we should give them more opportunities to develop the skills they are made for, instead of lamenting that they are not as mathematically skilled as the Japanese or Indians. A friend and I were talking recently. Her youngest is now in college. She said, as far as she can tell, we were well prepared for life with a bit of this and that and quite a few choices in how we approached things. Neither of us can fathom needing calculus, for instance, and we have been reasonably successful in life. Maybe someone should apply all the statistics and figure out what really is essential and what is not.