Category Archives: Public Schools

Redshirting for Kindergarten

Image from Women on the Fence

It use to be that the only place you heard the word “Redshirting” was in college athletics.  The term is used when a student athlete wants to sit out a season in order to play in their fifth year of college.  Now if you type “Redshirting” into a Google search engine, you will get a mix of listings for both college and kindergarten.  What does “Reshirting” have to do with Kindergarten you ask?  Well it is the new phenomenon of holding children back a year and giving them an extra year of growth before they start Kindergarten.  It has become quite controversial and its abuse has made it difficult for parents who really feel that their child needs an extra year.

As you may know, my 5-year-old was born 4 days before my state’s Kindergarten Cut off Date.  He should have been in Kindergarten this year and despite my case that he was too young emotionally, I was told that I would have to send him or hide him for the next two years.  I chose the latter of the two options and he is now happily enrolled in Montessori preschool this year and will be in their Kindergarten program next year. In our state, it is a town by town decision and my town is adamant that if you are 5 before September 30th then you must be enrolled in Kindergarten.  Twenty minutes south of my home, in the state below us, the cutoff is September 1st.  In that state my son would not be allowed to start Kindergarten until the fall.

The decision to hold a child back from starting Kindergarten is usually based on social or academic reasons.  Some children born on or around the cut-off dates struggle when it comes to social behaviors and basic academic skills.  In these cases, parents would like to give their child an extra year in order to grow and hopefully be more prepared for the next 12 years of school in front of them.  Unfortunately some parents are holding their children back for other reasons.  They want to give their child an edge in academics, set them up for leadership roles and some even hold their children back for athletic reasons.  Many children with birthdays 6-8 months before the cutoff dates are being held back for these reasons and because of this more schools are cracking down on their policies.

There is however an opposite phenomenon going on.  Some schools and districts actually push for “Redshirting”.  In order to have schools with high achieving students and high test scores, they’d rather their population be a year older.  They encourage parents to hold back their children and many oblige feeling great pressure.

In my opinion, every decision to hold back a student should be looked at on a case by case basis.  In the end the parents know their child best and they should be able to work with the educators to make the best decisions to help set their child up for a successful school experience.   If a child’s birthday is within two to three months of the cut off date (more in certain extreme cases) and the parent feels that there is a reason that they should not go to Kindergarten on schedule, then they should be listened to.  Schools should not be allowed to push students through who are clearly not ready.  And at the other extreme, parents should not feel pressure to hold their students back if they feel that they are ready.  And as for the helicopter parents who want little Johnny to have an advantage on the basketball court, stop making life so difficult for the rest of us.

Click here to view a 60 Minutes video on the topic of “Redshirting”.

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Teens Show Why it is Cool to be Green

Students from Marist Catholic High School is Georgia made a really wonderful video about why you should help our planet.  My kids and I just love it and wanted to share it with you.  Thanks Auntie K for sharing it 🙂

Click here to view it if you can’t see it below.

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I Guess I am Not Alone

For quite sometime I have thought of myself as a bit of an outsider when it comes to my need for a better education for my children. I thought that perhaps I was too overprotective, too untrustworthy or perhaps close minded when it comes to public education (strange since I am public school educator by trade). My husband often wonders if I am over thinking the issue. He agrees that the public school system is broken, and has been for sometime, but he points out that I survived and that our children will too (did I mention he was homeschooled??).

Yes this is true, our children would survive the public school system as it stands right now, but is that what I want for them….mere survival? Yes they would get some good things out of it, a lot of bad and because we are a supportive and loving family they would do okay.  But call me selfish, I want more than just okay.

I recently found out that the first grade in my town has not done any learning in the areas of science or social studies yet this year….it is JANUARY!! Their focus is on literacy alone and they fit in some math once a day. When I asked the parents who shared this information with me how they felt about this (both are parents of girls and both attended Montessori before First Grade) their answers were very similar. They both said that their girls are adjusting just fine, that they love to read and that they love to please their teacher. They continue to be very curious creatures (products of Montessori) and that the one family supplements the science and social studies activities at home on the weekends. There is no time during the week because of all of the homework and extra curricular activities. The other mother looked puzzled by the idea of supplementing science and social studies (even though she is a science teacher herself) and said, “Well with four kids and all that homework, I just don’t have time to do that.”

My son thrives off learning about his world. He will not thrive in an environment that expects him to park his curiosity and sense of wonder at the door so that he can focus on phonics and handwriting. So what is a mother to do?? Am I just crazy??

Well I thought I was crazy, until I started talking with other mothers (many of them teachers) with children the same age. They too are trying to avoid the “teaching to the test” mentality and are looking for alternatives to public school. Because many of them are teachers, money is a BIG issue and so they are looking into Charters (although Charter Schools have to take the test too), scholarships at private institutions, Catholic Schools and home schooling. Meeting up with all of these mothers has been eye-opening for me and my husband as well….I am not ALONE! I am not crazy! Our kids do deserve better!!! They deserve better than the cookie cutter, one-size fits all, robot could lead the class, public institution that is our current school system. A system that is broken and failing our kids. They do deserve better, all kids deserve better but for now I can only focus on my own.  I want to help create a bright future for their educational learning.

So I have a year and a half to figure out my next educational move for my son and a few more years for my daughter. Will I home school?? Apply for the lottery in the new Charter?? Try to find a job at a private school so my children will get reduced tuition?? Start my own school??

Who knows but I am excited for the upcoming journey!

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The Parent Doesn’t Know Better???

My son is 4 years old and was born at the end of September.  From the minute he was born and I found out he was a boy, I knew I would be holding him back a year and waiting until he was 6 to start Kindergarten.  Our school district’s cut off date for Kindergarten is September 30th, my son makes it by 4 days.  Despite this fact my husband and I feel that he may be ready academically, we do not think he is ready socially and feel that he would benefit from having the extra year.

My friend is in a similar boat with her daughter and called our local public school to see if holding our children back would be a problem.  She was told that it was up to parental discretion and so we searched for a private kindergarten and planned to send our children to public kindergarten when they turned six.  The search was long and tedious but we did find a school that was inexpensive, had room for them and seemed friendly enough.  I emailed the principal of our local school to see if there were any forms we had to fill out so that the district would be aware that they were taking the extra year and she wrote back telling me that holding them back was not an option.

She told me that in our district, you must send children to kindergarten if they are turning 5 by September 30th.  If they are turning 6 by September 30th, the must enter first grade.  She told me my only option for holding him back was to “hide” him from the district for two years until he should be in second grade and then I would be able to enroll him in first grade because the school can’t push him forward without having had a year of first grade.  She told my friend that she herself was a September birthday and that she did really well in school.   She said we should not be concerned and that my son and my friend’s daughter would be just fine and if they weren’t academically ready for 1st grade they could go into the “Transition” program for a year and then continue onto first grade.   We told her that we had been told it was parental discretion and asked if there was anyway around this.  She responded with the fact that it had never been up to the parents to make this decision and that sometimes the superintendent makes exceptions but not often.

I was livid with this email (and phone conversation that my friend had)…..who was she to tell me when my son was ready for Kindergarten without ever having met him??  Why should he enter when I know he is not emotionally ready and then maybe move into a “Transition” year while his new friends move on to first grade??  Why would I put him in this situation when I have done extensive research on the benefits from having an extra year, especially for boys!  As both a parent and an educator I was disgusted and this forced me to take a close look at the school system I would be fighting to send him to.  Well my findings are enough to fill another blog post but I can tell you that I have decided not to fight.   As an educator I was always told that decisions regarding students must have the parents approval.  Besides the child, the parent was the most important member of any team meeting regarding a student.  It seems ludicrous for this district to think that they know better than I, especially since he only makes the cut off by 4 days.  Absolutely crazy!

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Testing Corruption

The Atlanta Public School System has just been caught in a major cheating scandal which has taken place over the last 10 years.  Administrators and teachers actually erased and corrected student answers while the Superintendent’s office ignored and destroyed the evidence of these horrible acts.  The improving test scores have brought a lot of positive attention to Atlanta over the last few years where teacher’s were being pressured to take part in this unethical behavior.

Here are some quotes from the article from Metro Atlanta /State News:

“At Gideons Elementary, teachers sneaked tests off campus and held a weekend “changing party” at a teacher’s home in Douglas County to fix answers.

“Cheating was “an open secret” at the school, the report said. The testing coordinator handed out answer-key transparencies to place over answer sheets so the job would go faster.

“If anyone asks you anything about this just tell them you don’t know,” the report said Salters said. He told teachers to “just stick to the story and it will all go away.”

At Kennedy Middle, children who couldn’t read not only passed the state reading test, but scored at the highest level possible. At Perkerson Elementary, a student sat under a desk, then randomly filled in answers and still passed.”

This article not only disgusts me but it makes me so sad for the children and parents of Atlanta.  They have been living a lie for the past ten years and many of the students have not been getting the services that they desperately needed.  I can’t imagine being a teacher in that environment and being forced to either cheat or shut up….how awful!

If this is what testing does to our society, why are we doing it??   I remember when I was administering the 3rd grade test in my school in Massachusetts, one of the teachers would look the books over and tell her students to go back and check numbers 3, 5 and 7 (etc) for the right answer.  She was so worried about her students doing poorly on this test that she wanted to make sure she gave them the best chance to do well and make her look good.   The fact is that these tests only show how these children perform in math and reading (mostly reading because you have to be able to read in order to take the math, science etc. tests) on one given day of their lives.  It does not take into account their emotional lives and everything they have learned and can do.   It is not an accurate reflection of how schools are performing.

When I was teaching we had to give a writing prompt to all of our 4th grade students.  The prompt was, “Write about your best snow day!”  This had been a snow free year in Massachusetts and we had no snow the two years prior either.  All of the children from the Dominican and Puerto Rico who were forced to take this test, despite the fact they had very little English, had no prior knowledge of snow!  How were they to answer this question, let alone write an essay about it?

There has to be a better way to judge schools effectiveness.  Testing pressure drives not only students to cheat but also teachers and administrators.  There has to be a better way to assess learning….there must be!

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Life is School

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its original dimensions.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

This quote came up on my friend’s facebook page today and it made me smile.  It beautifully sums up something that my husband and I feel so strongly about, lasting happiness comes from experiences.  It is said that buying a new toy, gadget, clothes etc. will only bring happiness for about 9 months on average.  An experience however, even if it is only a brief period of time, can last much longer than that…..sometimes the memories of an experience can bring happiness for a lifetime.  My husband and I have spent the last year trying to minimalize our lives and try to make a conscience effort to buy less.  I must be honest, it is hard to give up life as a consumer, I have spent the last 34 years being trained to be one (a good one at that)!  We are doing our best and trying to teach our children that experiencing life is far more rewarding and will make you much happier than buying a “thneed” (as Dr. Seuss would say).

A few months ago I came across an article about a mother who bought a used RV and took her children on a 3 month explore of our country.  She homeschooled them on the road and reading about their experience made me very emotional.  How wonderful to spend that time together and learn about our nations history, geography and environment first hand.  Yes they had their share of breakdowns, cramped quarters and her husband had to work through the majority, but overall it was an amazing experience.

I could not locate their story but I was able to find stories of a few families doing the same thing.  I am so intrigued by this idea of taking time to be a family and explore and learn about our country, “live history” as the dad in the video below says.  These children have learned so much from their journey and the experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  I hope that whichever educational path that we choose, that experience will be at the heart of it.

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Waiting for Superman….

I finished watching Waiting for Superman the other night with an empty pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes.  As a former elementary school teacher I knew our nation’s schools were in trouble, but I had no idea how bad it really was.  Watching this movie you get to see the pain on the faces of a handful of parents from all over our country, trying to avoid their neighborhood schools to make a better life for their kids.  It was absolutely heart breaking.

Our public schools are failing.  And it is not just the poor schools that are failing, many of the well to do suburbs also have failing schools.  Almost 10 years ago, the government took action with it’s No Child Left Behind No teacher left standing legislation.  No Child Left Behind brought both democrats and republicans together to help our broken schools.  There may be some good ideals within this law but the truth of the matter is you cannot truly make change in education until you rework the entire way we educate children in this country.  No Child Left Behind put another layer of bandage onto a very broken system.  It added a mandatory test for every school to measure the effectiveness of the law.   Schools are failing these tests and so they have been marked as a “school in need of improvement”.  They then have to create a plan for how they are going to get out of this status with little to no resources (and a few ineffective tenured teachers on staff).  The plan that they create usually is filled with test prep work and when the students still fail they are desperate to make change.  That is when they throw their school mission and philosophies out the window and purchase a “Miracle Literacy Program” aka Basal Reader.  Now with these new programs any monkey can be a teacher and use the cookbooks to teach the class.  Many good teachers are being driven away because their creativity and ideals are no longer valued and you are left with a broken school system with layers and layers of bandages that are not helping one bit.  So now what???

The truth of the matter is that most parents cannot afford private schools.  The only options other than their neighborhood school is to move, homeschool or pray that their child’s number gets pulled so that they can attend one of the few good charter schools out there.  I am one of those parents.  My husband was homeschooled and I survived through basal readers in the 80’s.  I have taught in two amazing and progressive public schools but even they have been forced to bury their philosophies and beliefs and adopt a “Miracle Literacy Program”.

I am at a loss as a parent as to what I should do. Do I send my son to our local public school?   We live in one of the top 5 wealthiest towns in our state but our school is still a “school in need of improvement”.  The children are flooded with worksheets, basal readers and very little time is devoted to science and social studies.  Do I seek out a charter school?  We do have a few around but it would be a bit of a commute to get to them.  Do I homeschool?  I do worry that one child would love this option and the other would not.  Do we move??  Where do we go, most of the public schools are headed down the same path of destruction.  What do I do????

If money were no issue, my decision would be clear.  I would send my children to a private school that was not focused on testing but rather allowing children to grow as individuals, explore their natural world and encourage their independent thinking.  Maybe the answer is to start my own school……

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