Sunday, July 14, 2013

NY Times Getting Nervous About all of the High Stakes Testing

The New York Times, which has supported nation-wide school testing for years, is now pulling back a little.  In a lead editorial here they are recognizing that all of the emphasis on testing may build so much opposition that the Common Core standards become untenable.

I taught high school English for 37 years, in public, private, and parochial schools across the country.  Here is how I see it:

Kids are, quite simply, not reading very much.  The number of avid readers coming through my classes seemed to decrease every year.  And it is only through wide, voracious reading, that students acquire sophisticated reading and writing skills.

Consider what skills kids acquire through avid reading:  an extensive, nuanced vocabulary; the ability to keep multiple plots and characters straight; a sensitivity to tone and theme; and the ability to skim or read in depth.  Plus it’s impossible to read widely—in any genre—and not pick up bits of knowledge about history, psychology, science, and culture.  After a childhood of extensive reading, these knowledge fragments coalesce into solid frames of reference that make all learning easier.
The problem with extensive test prep is that it discourages avid reading, by turning reading from an exciting pleasure into a tedious chore.   It’s a perfect catch-22.  By trying so assiduously to teach comprehension skills one assures that children will never acquire these skills.

We need to trust children more—to turn them loose in large libraries and tell them to choose books and read.  We need to give class time for this, and we need to have teachers and other adults in the school modeling avid reading behavior. 

Making kids, who dislike reading in the first place, spend hours every day picking apart complex paragraphs on dull subjects simply guarantees disaster.  We might win a battle or two, but we will most assuredly lose the war.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Adoption Outcomes of by Same Sex Parents and Heterosexual Parents

There is an interesting study from the Williams Institute, at UCLA, comparing the adoption outcomes of same sex and heterosexual couples.  It’s quite an exhaustive study.  The complete version is here, and a  quick summary is here.

The main conclusions were that preparedness for adoption, mental health of parents, and the strength of the parents’ relationship with each other all impacted the development of the children;  the parents’ sexual orientation did not.

The mantra that children need a mother and a father in the home to do well is the main one I hear now from the anti-gay marriage groups.  This study disproves that—at least as far as children in their early years. 

The study used internalizing and externalizing scores to measure children’s outcomes.  A child with high externalizing scores is a child who acts out and exhibits behavior problems.  A child with high internalizing scores keeps everything inside and is prone to depression, phobias, etc.   I wasn’t familiar with the way of evaluating children’s mental health but found it very persuasive.  It’s probably a good way of evaluating anyone’s mental health.

At any rate, an interesting, important study.  Perhaps it will relieve the minds of people sincerely concerned about how the legality of same-sex marriage will affect the well-being of children.