This heat can be a killer

This is a public safety issue, folks. I linked to Maureen Downey’s blog post about high school athletes in my previous post criticizing early August school schedules, but I’m highlighting it here. (It’s the lead story in ajc.com’s news alert this morning.)

Maureen writes:

Every high school sports program in the state is probably discussing its summer practice routines now that heat stroke is being cited as a possible reason why two Georgia players died yesterday.

While former high school players contend that they used to practice in the sweltering summer heat, experts counter that temperatures today are higher, air quality is worse and sports are more competitive.

Take the time to look through the comments section. It’s rowdy, as usual.

 

Welcome to the cutthroat world of first-grade testing

I suppose any standardized exam can be gamed, and I’ll add IQ tests to the list. This is not a plug for this service–quite the opposite. I just happened to see a news release from Bright Kids NYC, which is now pushing its Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) preparation materials to those anxious parents who want to give their children that helpful little push across the rock-strewn, competitive landscape of  “gifted and talented entry.”

Immediately, images come to mind of those affleuent moms huddled around baby carriages in Central Park, talking about what schools their darlings have been accepted to.

But this service is probably for parents one step down the socio-economic ladder.  You know, extra money but not enough for private school. The ones that are enriching tutoring services and that turned SAT and ACT prep into a billion-dollar business.

The CogAT is one of the key factors in determining which kids will get special instruction in smaller classes with the best teachers. In public schools, it’s the closest you can get to going private. And bragging rights? Priceless.

I used to joke about a woman who would make a point of standing up at every school meeting and preface her remarks by saying, “My child is gifted.” I also quipped that the only known benefit of being a PTA president came when the school put their kids in the gifted program.

Obviously, this intelligence thing is no joke. And while coaching and preppign for college boards is commonplace in high-achieving households, trying to buy and push your first-grader into the gifted program ahead of other kids who are relying on just their natural abilities seems somewhat less than sporting.

 

Will Georgia schools erase cursive writing?

I published this previously on the Georgia Colleges Blog, but the subject has been getting some attention recently, as it should.

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The decline of cursive writing is an alarming trend. Students’ inability to write in longhand–usually a faster and more flowing process than block printing–may hinder their ability to fully develop their thoughts in essays.

I’ve written on this previously (see below), and OnlineAthens devoted considerable attention to the issue in an article by Ryan Blackburn, who states, “Proponents of cursive say its a necessary tool for students that can help them learn how to read and communicate more quickly and efficiently for the rest of their lives.”.

But that’s may not stop our educational leaders from doing away with it. Blackburn writes:

Curriculum standards that Georgia may adopt make no mention of teaching cursive to children, and educators say they spend less and less time these days practicing the flowing writing style in class.

Cursive isn’t listed anywhere in the new curriculum standards Georgia teachers may start using next school year, though teachers and school administrators plan to start talking in March about whether to add penmanship to the curriculum.

Meanwhile, good examples of cursive are fading away like ancient hieroglyphics.

Teachers don’t spend as much time on the craft as they used to, and more and more students prefer computers or text messages to handwriting.

Clarke Middle School English teacher Ellen Jackson has noticed that cursive is disappearing from her students’ writing lately. When they turn in their assignments, many of them prefer to use printed block letters rather than connecting them in the broad strokes that characterize cursive.

“A lot of my students over the years have stopped being able to read cursive writing, so when I write on the white board, I have to make sure to write in print because they can’t read it,” said Jackson, who has taught English for 20 years. “Fewer use it and fewer seem comfortable with it.”

Georgia still requires teaching cursive starting in the third grade, and students are expected to be able to read and write legibly in cursive by the time they finish fourth grade.

But many teachers say they simply don’t have as much time to spend on cursive handwriting skills – and the stakes aren’t as high because none of the standardized tests given to elementary students measure how well they can write in cursive.

“You try to squeeze handwriting in anywhere you can,” said Lisa Lyles, who teaches third grade at Gaines Elementary School. “Unfortunately, the state has so many other standards that something like handwriting has gotten to the point where we don’t have enough time in the day.”

Cursive isn’t a required standard for students in the new Common Core State Standards for English, which Georgia and 40 other states adopted last summer. Teachers and administrators from across the state will meet in March to decide whether to amend the standards and retain cursive writing, according to Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

“Opinions are certainly varied regarding the need to keep it or let it drop from the standards,” Cardoza said. “At this point, I am not sure what the consensus of these two groups will be. … Feedback from Georgia educators thus far regarding the new standards has not shown even a reasonable concern regarding cursive writing not being included.”

That’s ominous. Cutting out cursive writing will harm our children’s ability to learn and communicate. We should contact educators and lawmakers to let them know that failing to teach an essential skill is not acceptable.

The decline of cursive writing

Cursive writing does not mean what I think it does.  —Bart Simpson, on the blackboard 100 times.

Cursive writing and penmanship are becoming obsolete. The skill isn’t being taught, at least not diligently. After a pass-through of Zaner-Bloser books in third grade, students revert to block printing, since upper-grade teachers don’t demand or enforce cursive writing. Consequently, by the time they reach high school, most students have forgotten how to write in longhand.

After all, cursive writing isn’t on Georgia’s CRCT tests, so how important could it be?

Still, its demise came as a shock to me, since I remembered struggling to get good grades in penmanship in 5th grade.

When my son was practicing for his ACT test, I looked at his essay and told him he’d be able to complete more of the writing section if he wrote in cursive. He looked at me like I was from another planet and told me “nobody writes in cursive.” He went on to say only one or two of the kids in his English class wrote in script.

Sure enough, when I investigated, I found some disturbing news in an archived Washington Post article:

The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it’s threatening to finish off longhand. When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.

And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.

Which is too bad, since it’s faster and more efficient to write connecting letters than it is to stop and form every letter separately. And it does affect test grades–notably the SAT and ACT writing sections–since longer essays are typically better developed and invariably score higher than shorter ones.

From the Post:

Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it’s important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.

In other words, by teaching to the test and failing to pass on an essential skill, we may have just dumbed down the next generation in the name of “adequate yearly progress.”

Brilliant! Let’s give kids another reason to hate school

This is institutionalized abuse.

We’re not even at the midpoint of summer yet (more than 50 days left), and already kids here in Georgia (as in “you got me hotter than Georgia asphalt” Georgia) are going back to school. Classes in Cherokee, Rockdale, and Henry counties start today. The temperatures in Atlanta this week are expected to hit the high 90s.

Oh, don’t worry. Cherokee students can bring water bottles onto school buses until it cools down, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And 41% of regular education buses are air-conditioned. And there are always those raging thunderstorms to provide relief.

There should be a Geneva Convention for schools. The issue of early starts in Southern states should be near the top of the action list.

For some strange reason, school boards in one of the hottest states — with some of the lowest test scores — feel a need to get started early every school year. Parents and children hate this, of course, especially when the AC units aren’t functioning properly. And since August is traditionally the hottest month, having a full load of classes drives electric bills skyward.  (Is Georgia Power behind this?)

In fact, many parents boycott the schools until after Labor Day, bringing their kids in to school when THEY’VE decided that summer is over. This drives principals crazy. (On the other hand, some parents can’t wait to dump their kids off on someone else.)

Actually, the truth hurts. DeKalb County officials once explained to parents that they had to start the school year early so that the first semester would end before winter break. If they didn’t give finals before Christmas, students would forget much of what they learned and do poorly.

This seems basically wrong, in an “All hope is lost” kind of way.  No retention, no lasting value. There’s got to be a better way.

My son graduated from high school in May,  and he won’t start college classes for nearly three weeks. He hated the early start dates. Born on August 11,he was usually sitting in a classroom on his birthday.

In the end, it boils down to what Mark Twain said: “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”

Update: Some Cherokee County parents have upbraided me for writing this. I encourage them to check out Maureen Downey’s recent post on ajc.com’s Get Schooled Blog discussing the possible heat-related death of a high school football player.  If you actually believe I’m alone in my thinking, read the comments section.