PreK drop-outs

Published by Lori Pickert on March 7, 2010 at 02:32 PM

Developing an enthusiasm for learning is especially important in the primary grades. Even students who have excelled in preK or kindergarten can find first or second grade so trying that they turn off to learning. Such disengagement has become so widespread that Sharon Ritchie, a senior scientist at FPG Child Development Institute, has worked with educators on a dropout-prevention project that focuses on children in preK through third grade.

You can walk into a classroom and see kids who by third grade are done with school,” she says. “They are angry and feel school is not a fair place or a place that sees them as the individual that they are.” Some of that disengagement, Ritchie says, is rooted in the way students in second or third grade are taught. She found that students in preK classes spent 136 minutes a day involved in hands-on projects. That dropped to 16 minutes by kindergarten and 12 minutes a day by second and third grade.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in the Age of Testing, Harvard Education Letter

Go ahead and boo me. I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short. You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week, 11, 12 months a year.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, addressing middle- and high-school students in Denver

How long do we need to make the school day to give children meaningful learning experiences?


Comment by sarah :: greenclogs on March 7, 2010 at 04:33 PM

oh my. I'm sure I'll have a LOT to say on this one, but for now I'll start with this being exactly the reason we started homeschooling Annika. She was checking out halfway through 1st grade.

I'm going to ruminate this morning, and be back.

Comment by allie on March 7, 2010 at 04:39 PM

It's not about the quantity here - it is about the quality. Why should we put children through long days of worksheets 7 days a week, 12 months a year? Where is the quality? Those hands-on experiences that are missing in the first grade will ever be found with extra time in the classroom because so many of the teachers and the curriculums and standards and tests are using up the time. If there is more time in a school day, chances are that public schools will just think of it as more time to prep for the test.

Until schools realize the value of learning through experience and exploration in preschool AND beyond, there is no point in lengthening the school day. Those 12 minute a day 3rd graders will be true dropouts at that point!

Thanks for sharing these quotes, Lori - I'm a bit fired up about them!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 7, 2010 at 07:24 PM

sarah, i know you can relate. what *is* the point of more, if it's just more of the same? there's no significant change happening. the same opposing sides rumble about core content and 21st century skills, but kids don't get the chance to experience both. you have to wonder what they do with all those hours they have our kids *now*, let alone what they would do with longer days, longer weeks, and no summer break.

allie, you and i are singing the same tune. :^)

i read a piece today in which a core-knowledge proponent said projects don't work because teachers aren't capable of doing them and keeping students learning. i'll share it later .. i want to keep your fire hot. ;^)

Comment by Jen on March 7, 2010 at 07:56 PM

Well, if we consider the public school system to be primarily a proving ground for the manufacturing work force, perhaps we should have 12-hr school days with rotating weekends. Here they can practice the drudgery of repeating the same task over-and-over with little personal responsibility or incentive. Also, the school will be offering longer daycare hours for those parents who have to work these schedules now - so it could be a win-win situation! In the meantime, I guess I'll just keep mine home to pursuit hands-on individualized learning. If he is not prepared to compete with manufacturing jobs in IIndia or China, so be it - I bet he'll find something to do.

Comment by amy on March 7, 2010 at 07:57 PM

I clicked over and read through (okay, skimmed!) the Harvard article. It made me very happy my kids are where they are. They get all those things--a relationship with their teacher, time for play, hands-on activities, input into what they study...

Now, why can't ALL schools be like that??

Sorta kinda related, a local town's school committee is looking into the possibility of sponsoring a charter school. Know why? So that they get tuition-paying students from other districts. And I had to laugh. (First of all, just because they say it doesn't mean it will happen--the charter process isn't quick or easy.) If that school department can be so creative and innovative, why don't they do it with the schools they already run? Because they're not. Giving a public school department control over a charter school seems wrong on so many levels.

Comment by Arwen on March 7, 2010 at 07:59 PM

I just love the rationale behind the longer school day/week. It makes sense to me that we need MORE of what's NOT working.

Actually, I remember seeing a post last year on a poplar mom blog about someone proposing more time in school. I was expecting the comments to be full of uproar. Instead, they were full of moms who thought it was a great idea, and they admitted it was not because it was better for the kids. They wanted longer school days because it's easier for parents. It made me sad.

Comment by sophia on March 7, 2010 at 08:10 PM

wow--"projects don't work". That's keeping my fire stoked.

This is the reason why after one semester with my daughter in preschool, I realized traditional education wasn't going to work. There was so little project-based learning and I realized that in kindergarten and so on, she would get even less. Who ever said they stopped learning with hands-on activities once they turned 5?

The sad thing part is thinking of all those kids who will have to continue on with this kind of education feeling like they don't belong in school and the consequences of that following them after they finally "get out".

Comment by jen on March 7, 2010 at 08:48 PM

Oh, yeah, my fire's hot alright!

Have mercy on us - I shudder to think of my kids at school that much! They would wither and die inside for lack of real life . . . and we have a great school!

There's so much more that I want to say, but I'm pretty sure words can't express the deep angst I feel about those two quote sharing space.

Comment by kort on March 7, 2010 at 09:24 PM

oh, Arne! you get a great big boooo from me.

Comment by Cathy T on March 8, 2010 at 12:48 AM

Today I was reading the Afterward of the book "Waldorf Alphabet Book" by Famke Zonneveld. In it she asks (among other questions) "Is it possible that the cultural pressure to teach children to read earlier and earlier promoted in our monolithic school system is misguided by requiring of the child's lively, intuitive consciousness an inappropriate degree of abstraction too soon? Should linguistic intelligence actually be retarded by leaving the riches of the oral tradition prematurely?.... Logically in this approach more resources and skill development time ('drill and kill') would be devoted to those children below agreed upon bench marks, targeting their exact weakness.... Such negative feelings experienced at the beginning of one's schooling sap the will to learn, the joy of learning, and the ability to learn."

I think that says it all... Zonneveld goes on to explain how the Waldorf approach to kindergarten is what it is (too long to write about here as I've already written quite a bit!) - but play based essentially.

Comment by Theresa on March 8, 2010 at 01:04 AM

Aaaaagh! The powers that be in education just do NOT get it. AT ALL. I wonder if they even read the same things we do. How could they and still not see the blatantly obvious errors in thinking here?Are they that dense, or do they just refuse to understand. And if it's a refusal, then why??? Who is benefiting from keeping the status quo? Because it sure isn't children.

Comment by Kristine on March 8, 2010 at 07:06 AM

You have to question the hidden agenda of that second quote...

From memory the concept of schooling was developed during industrial revolution to occupy the children while both parents worked once child labour was outlawed.

That first quote is a beauty. I went over and read the article and the two accompanying discussions. Excellent and such a very credible source. Harvard's education faculty has an excellent reputation - particularly for brain based learning.

I have noticed that issue here around year one and year three. At both ages there is a dramatic change in how the students are allowed to learn. In Australia there is increasing pressure both from government and a some of the community itself to stop 'wasting' time with a play based curriculum in the early years.

Comment by Kirstie on March 8, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Speaking as a Brit I find the Arne Duncan statement a bit mystifying - so he wants the American school system to produce pupils who are culturally more Chinese?

However, having read the Malcolm Gladwell book 'The Outliers' -I am assuming Mr Duncan is referring to KIPP schools when he talks about longer hours and shorter holidays?

"How long do we need to make the school day to give children meaningful learning experiences?" - well the obvious answer is that children can have meaningful learning experiences all day long without even setting foot in a school.

I don't know about the history of education in the US, but universal school education in Britain was created largely to free the adults to work in the fields and factories and 'rescue' the lower classes from the influence of their parents. Sometimes, I think government policy hasn't changed much.

Comment by nic on March 8, 2010 at 11:17 AM

hmm, I'd be happy for my kids to attend school until lunchtime maybe 4 days a week, and while we're planning ideal situations, maybe my husband could go to work the same hours! I do think these long days at school are preparing our children so well to transition effortlessly into 40 hour work weeks without much fuss...but if we want creative thinkers who can live their own way, well, we may have to do things a little differently...

Comment by Arwen on March 8, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Amy - when our town got a charter school a little while back, I wondered the same thing - if they can make charter schools so much better, why can't they just improve the regular schools? I found out that even though the charter school has to answer to the school board, they have a little more freedom in the way they do things. Charter schools also tend to have a lot more parental involvement. The one by where my sister-in-law lives requires the parents of each kid to put in so many volunteer hours a month there. Since parental involvement is a huge factor in how well children do in public school, the students at that school tend to be very successful.

Comment by Dana on March 8, 2010 at 01:12 PM

After 30 years of thinking about it I have finally returned to school to get my teaching certificate. The activist in me says is time to make a change. It seems that parents of public school kids only care about these issues for the length of time their kids are in school then someone else has to take up the fight. Teachers need to do more to fight for what is right and not let it become another fiasco funciton of our government. I read your blog because I wish I could home school my kids full-time for all the reasons you all talk about here. We do what we can. Thank you for keeping the flame alive.

Comment by Mags on March 8, 2010 at 01:12 PM

How long? Hard to say! I love the idea of free time, play and project based learning. I am trying to set up the days to be able to do this with my children.

And then we have friends and people around us who talk about what their kids are doing and then we - as parents - start to worry that our own kids not getting the same learning or at the same speed of learning or exposure to learning and we start to ask ourselves - "am I hindering my child's learning by doing this or that or not following this or that approach to learning?". There seems to be so much varied information.

I know not everyone here thinks like this but there are lots of parents (sometimes me!) who start to become anxious and worried that we may be hindering the learning that can be done in the very early years. It is also hard to believe (and sad!) that kids stop doing hands-on project learning once they arrive at primary school.

So what is the answer?! I look forward to reading the ensuing discussion!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 8, 2010 at 05:26 PM

jen, it is like a life-size version of teach to the test! educate to the job! forget about a balanced life, happiness, art, music, craftsmanship, personal expression — forget about your particular gifts, talents, interests, and passions. start being the best cog you can be!

amy, why *can't* all schools be like that?! i'll tell you, but it's an ugly truth. to have those kinds of schools for our children, we the people would have to completely change our values. we'd fire bad teachers .. but we can't do that because of unions. what would happen to the teacher unions? we'd change how we assess children's learning. but .. we can't stop standardized testing .. it's a huge industry .. with lobbyists and connections to government. what would happen to the testing industry? we'd change the focus from preparing children to be good workers to preparing them to be good people .. but .. wait .. what would happen to our GNP?!?!

there are those who step off the path and do something different -- schools like mine (only lasted seven years!) and the one your kids are attending, and homeschooling parents. *those* kids get to have a different experience.

i love the charter school thing -- get schools thinking about pleasing students and families! why not?!

arwen, ah, you put it very succinctly. ;^) why indeed?!

i can't believe how accepting parents are of homework. their kids are in school for that huge, long day and they still have to come home and do *more* work?! when they should be playing and spending time with family and friends?! how do schools justify that?! yet parents not only accept the situation, they think homework is a key to learning and success. someone did some excellent propaganda work there.

i remember talking about that same post with you before (about the happy moms). sometimes i think it's about working parents who have a hard time with that time between the end of the school day and the end of the work day. but i've noticed that people seem more and more comfortable with leaching art and music and hands-on projects out of the regular school day, because they think those things can be "covered" in after-school activities. they forget not all children have access to after-school enrichment. and maybe they forget about the value of what after-school time used to offer -- relaxing, playing, socializing, being bored, creating...

sophia, i think you make such an important point -- kids react to this wrong way of teaching and learning by feeling there is something wrong with *them*. they feel like if they were "smarter" , they'd be better at sitting still all day and filling in blanks, spitting back the answer the teacher is probing for, and etc.

jen, lol, see, i thought pushing those two quotes together created something! turns out it was angst! ;^)

i wonder, along the same lines of what i was saying to arwen, if they won't end up making some argument that if we just give them the kids *longer*, they'll have more time to do art, music, etc. .. the "specials". because that's what they say about full-day kindergarten. half-day K is now all about desk work; if you sign up for full-day K, they say, then you get music, art, and PE back!

kort, me too!

cathy, interesting .. i've written before about how i think the push toward some sort of idealized student (good at everything) makes students end up feeling bad about the things in which they don't excel rather than excited and energized about the things in which they do .. it puts a pall on the students and the school when their job isn't to celebrate individuals and help them achieve their own goals, but instead push everyone toward a fake idea of a stepford student who aces the standardized tests then dominates the playing field. how many are going to meet that standard? very few. how many could be happy exploring their talents and passions while working hard to improve themselves? all?

theresa, some educational minds get it .. wouldn't the bigwigs in d.c. be proud to point to harvard as where we keep some of our best thinkers? the question for me is, why aren't the people who really understand how children learn best in charge of how children learn?

kristine, you really do have to question it! you really, really do! :^)

i am starting to think the government is mostly concerned about the middle of the bell curve. they want to train those kids to compete against india and japan and do all those jobs for our important business leaders. they trust that the geniuses will drop out of school and be homeschooled and the businesses leaders will come up through the ranks of pricey private schools. so we'll still get our inventors and our leaders. now let's just train the masses to be quiet, sit still, follow directions, and be satisfied.

kirstie, your first line made me lol. :D

see, what you need to do is stop applying common sense.

also, why would we want to continue to do what has made america a world leader? what, innovate? invent? what we *need* to do is imitate those countries where their kids know all their times tables by age 5. *that* is the key to success, obviously.

"How long do we need to make the school day to give children meaningful learning experiences?" well, they haven't managed to find the time yet .. but maybe if they had them a few more hours per day ..

the factory history is the same here .. times have changed. schools haven't.

nic, well, if you completely changed how schools work and what they did there, i can see my boys possibly wanting to spend hours a day there. :)

re: work .. i've always said that our being self-employed made the leap to homeschooling much more of a slight sideways step. really, it's extremely similar. you work more hours when you are very engaged, very productive, or very motivated. and when the sun shines, you go outside and fly a kite. ;^)

dana, fantastic. we need more teachers who want the system to change. good luck! and thank you.

mags, if you are a parent who is worried about these things, i think you are in a fairly small group. the majority of parents seem to be pretty content letting school take care of their children's education -- and satisfied that even if it's not perfect, at least it's the same experience their neighbors' kids are having.

if you are someone who takes on the responsibility for your children's education -- whether you homeschool or continue to use public/private/charter schools -- it's really just a mindset after all -- then a certain amount of anxiety probably comes along with it.

your children deserve to have someone in charge of their education who tosses and turns at night because they are so concerned about making the right choices. believe me, the majority of teachers and administrators wouldn't be.

aw, i ended on such a crabby note. oh well. :^)

Comment by Cristina on March 8, 2010 at 06:28 PM

I've actually written before on my own blog about the consumer mentality of more equals better. It would be a shame if children were subjected to this mindset. Working long hours without a break is not conducive to physical and mental health. Consider that most books about traveling with children stress the importance of stopping frequently so that the children can get out and stretch their legs. There is a reason for this! Children need to move! They need time to let their minds wander and daydream.

And by the way, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over expecting different results. Since I attended public school, homework has increased, time devoted to subjects and testing has increased, time spent in afterschool enrichment has increased, and school taxes have increased. If we have more of all of this, why aren't the schools creating little Einsteins?

Oh wait. Einstein didn't do well in school, did he? :-D

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 8, 2010 at 07:24 PM

i think school officials are thinking of an equation like X the time kids are in school, minus Y the amount of wasted time equals Z the amount of actual instruction time. and they want to increase X to increase Z, where we want them to reduce Y to increase Z.

the fact that children need to move their bodies in order to sit down and concentrate is well known, but that doesn't keep schools from reducing or eliminating recess -- or even building schools with no playground.

you mention all the things that have increased .. what has decreased in the last 50 years is the quality of a high-school education!

ha, einstein was my drop-out i was talking about up above. ;^)

Comment by Arwen on March 8, 2010 at 07:31 PM

Lori, the homework thing was what got me thinking about homeschooling in the first place. (Might have mentioned this here before too.) We lived in a town in Northern California with a high cost of living, We moved there for the job, but most of the people we knew who moved there were from other parts of California and moved to this town for the excellent schools. I worked with a small group of Cub Scouts for church, and they told me about how they literally had at least 2 hours of homework every night. It was apparently some kind of requirement that the kids have a lot of homework. I thought if 2 hours of homework for 9-year-olds is what is considered excellence in education, our family is better off without it.

And yeah, the parents in that thread were mostly working parents. That's what made me so sad. I remember when I was a kid, there was a term - "latch key kids" - for those kids who didn't have any parents at home when they got out of school. They were rare and to be felt sorry for. Now it seems to be becoming the norm.

On the other hand, it seems that among those moms who are staying home, more of us are opting to homeschool because we want to spend more time with our kids. (I don't remember where, but I recently saw some statistics that showed a great increase in homeschooling over the last few years.)

In regards to being competitive with China and some of the other big manufacturing nations: the people in charge don't really seem to understand what the real problem is. This doesn't have so much to do with schools as it does a lot of our other laws. It it simply cheaper to manufacture things in countries without the child labor laws and safety laws and things. Yes, those laws are important. However, our government then wants to add extra taxes to certain industries which will make it even more expensive to produce raw materials, and from there manufactured goods made from thise materials. (Sorry for the off topic political bent, but this is a sore point with me, and your blog gets me talking.)

A good education for our kids is obviously important, but the government needs to leave competing with China out of it. They are, in my opinion, two different issues.

Comment by Courtney on March 10, 2010 at 03:22 PM

This is my first post. I found your blog about a month ago and I'm enjoying reading it a lot. As a Kindergarten teacher, this is exactly what has made me completely frustrated with our educational system. I think our leaders are on not only on the wrong track, they haven't even made it to the depot.

First of all, around here, they don't even have funding for necessary to fund education as it is. How will they ever fund additional hours or days?!?

Second, if we want to begin comparing ourselves to China, let's remember that only high performing students are even allowed to continue after 9th grade. I'm not sure a communist society should be our model.

This (and about 100 other reasons) is why this is my last year as a public school teacher. I love it and I long to make a difference, but have realized it is not possible with the current conditions of our school system. I am excited that I will be home next year and teaching my favorite student ever, my daughter, in the way that I know is right.

Comment by Bonnie on March 12, 2010 at 03:57 PM

I would like to know what it would take to make some of the structural changes that would make it possible for public schools to do learning differently. Aside from the major shift in priorities -- setting aside easily measurable expections such as algebra readiness in 8th grade, reading by 1st grade -- I believe it would also demand a lot of money.

I'm a public school 5th grade teacher, and discussions like this frustrate me because I know there are so many better ways for children to learn than what we are doing now, but I can't see how we can ever get there in a system that takes all comers. I have 23 students in a classroom that is no more than 600 square feet with little access to outdoor space (and this is in a suburban setting -- how much worse would it be in a city?). By traditional measures, I have students capable of working 3 grade levels above and those who are still working 3 grade levels below. In a different system, they might come to me with more self-management skills, but only about 5 of my current students have what I consider age-appropriate skills in that area.

Give me a decently-equipped, multi-age classroom of 15 or so kids who have basic social skills and a desire to learn, and free all of us from micromanagerial standards such as the one that requires me to teach who Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were. I'm not asking for much, but it seems so, so far from possible...

Comment by estea on March 12, 2010 at 05:48 PM

lori said: "i am starting to think the government is mostly concerned about the middle of the bell curve. they want to train those kids to compete against india and japan and do all those jobs for our important business leaders. they trust that the geniuses will drop out of school and be homeschooled and the businesses leaders will come up through the ranks of pricey private schools. so we'll still get our inventors and our leaders. now let's just train the masses to be quiet, sit still, follow directions, and be satisfied"

bingo x ∞

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 12, 2010 at 08:15 PM

arwen, they are two different issues to me, too. i would like to say to arne duncan, "sir, my chlid is so much more to me than someone's future employee."

courtney, thank you so much for commenting. congratulations on getting to homeschool! i know *so* many teachers who now homeschool. :)

whether arne duncan is talking about china or future employment or longer hours, i wonder why none of our society leaders says STOP — let's talk about what's best for our children as *whole* people.

bonnie, come back tomorrow and check out the quote i post about time spent in the classroom actually *learning*. it's interesting.

i have to say, the talk of how much money is required to do this or that falls on deaf ears with me. i ran a private school on a shoestring with an nth of the amount of money each public school student brings in to their school. wouldn't you love to see a true accounting of where all those tax dollars go?

where do you think they would cry "more money"?*

and at that small private school we did have decently equipped, multi-age classrooms with 15 or so kids who had basic social skills and a desire to learn, and my teachers were free from micromanagerial standards. :)

as for what it would take to get public schools to change dramatically .. what do you think? who's holding us back?

*(random aside - i always wonder why they don't stop talking about getting higher-quality teachers and start teaching the people they have to be better. why not just plan to get higher-quality students while you're at it? if you're in the business of education, shouldn't you be advancing everyone, children *and* adults?)

estea, depressing but accurate, methinks!

Comment by Bonnie on March 18, 2010 at 03:31 AM

I really don't know about the money issue. Perhaps there is plenty of it -- just not well-spent. Certainly, I think that public schools in my region would attract and retain higher quality teachers if salaries were higher. (That alone would not do the trick, but it wouldn't hurt.) I believe strongly that reducing class size alone would make an enormous difference in learning and might even pay for itself by eliminating the need for pull-out remediation for many students, by decreasing discipline issues, and by reducing teacher turnover.

I have almost no say in how money spent on behalf of my students is spent. Even my modest-sized school district (18,000 students) has a bureaucracy in place that orders manipulatives and sends them to my classroom without asking whether I need them. It's a well-intentioned effort to ensure that all classrooms in our economically diverse city are equally provisioned, but not a good use of money. (I didn't need another class set of calculators; rarely do I need 23 kids to simultaneously use a calculator anyway!) Our state pays thousands of dollars for textbooks that sit on the shelf almost all year, but I can't scrape together money for subscriptions to magazines that kids will devour.

Both examples, I think, point to the challenge in public education of trying to see that kids from very unequal places get equal education. My bigger question is whether we as a nation can find a way to conduct public education that is *fair* in that it meets everyone's needs while admitting to ourselves that we are unequal in so many ways.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 18, 2010 at 06:30 PM

on the one hand, teachers spend an average of $500 a year buying supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets. on the other hand, we pay full salaries and benefits for teachers accused of misconduct (i believe the article i linked to said 600 in chicago alone). i think it's about how the money is spent.

i just read an article about a small school in CA that has won awards but whose superintendent recommended be closed due to budget issues; the students' families suggested the money could be found by making the superintendent's job half-time. :)

interesting system they have where you just get sent random materials!

i know from running my own private school that you can do a tremendous amount on a very small amount of money; that, and my experience running a business for 20+ years, makes me very skeptical about school budgets and demands for more money.

you said, "Both examples, I think, point to the challenge in public education of trying to see that kids from very unequal places get equal education. My bigger question is whether we as a nation can find a way to conduct public education that is *fair* in that it meets everyone's needs while admitting to ourselves that we are unequal in so many ways."

you are so right. there needs to be an awareness that equal doesn't always mean same. particular schools know what *they* need for *their* kids. part of what sends up red flags for me re: national standards is the seeming lack of recognition that different places have different cultures and different needs. it seems to me that the individuality of schools (and towns .. and communities) is just as important as the individuality of students.

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