“Race to Nowhere” or Waiting for Superkids.

In her new documentary "Race to Nowhere," first-time filmmaker Vicki Abeles explores the pressures facing many middle-class kids today, including her own young son Zak.

In her new documentary "Race to Nowhere," first-time filmmaker Vicki Abeles explores the pressures facing many middle-class kids today, including her own young son Zak.

The much-discussed documentary “Waiting for Superman” focuses on low-income children languishing in low-performing schools that ask too little of them. The film “Race to Nowhere” trains its cameras on middle-class children striving in high-achieving schools that expect too much of them.

Born out of first-time filmmaker Vicki Abeles’ concerns over the demands on her children, the documentary is a montage of over-scheduled kids working at a literal fever pitch to be smarter, faster and better to get ahead in what has become an arms race to win admission to top colleges.

“I didn’t think when I had kids, the only time I would see them is 20 minutes at dinner,” says Abeles.

“Childhood has become indentured to test scores, performance and competition,” she says.

“I started to make some changes in my home, but the pressures on my children and family felt more systemic and beyond my control. We face an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids trying to manage as best they can.”

In the film, parents confess their contributions to the escalation, pushing their children to do more after coming home from open houses at high schools where they hear that the only students admitted last year to Yale or Harvard  had a full AP load. At the first sign of a stumble, parent rush in reinforcements, hiring tutors.

In their efforts to measure up in competitive private schools, Abeles’ children, now ages 16, 14 and 11, began to complain of headaches and stomachaches, and every night became a battle to complete hours of homework.

When Abeles finds her daughter doubled over in pain, a trip to the emergency room produces a stark diagnosis: Stress. Her once carefree children are tense, tired and losing confidence that they can do anything right, says Abeles, who documents her children’s personal struggles, especially those of  Jamey and Zak.

But the real moment of revelation comes when a well-liked and seemingly well-adjusted 13-year-old girl in her community commits suicide over a math test grade. “When something like that happens, you can’t help but worry about your own kids,”  says Abeles.

The most poignant comments come from exhausted students struggling to excel at everything and still maintain their health and their sanity.

Eating disorders abound.  A student explains that she stopped eating because it made her sharper, more alert. A teenage boy says that he doesn’t even have time for a lunch period because of all his advanced classes. Another says he lives on lettuce to maintain his 145-pound wrestling weight.

A therapist talks about the rise in “cutting,” in which teens slice their own flesh in despair. One girl rolls up her sleeves to show the therapist what she  carved into her forearm that morning: “Empty.”

At a forum on stress, a teenager cautions parents that the worst question they can ever put to their children is “And?”

“I’m in three AP classes. ‘And?’ Well, I do sports. ‘And?’ Well, I work at the theater. ‘And? What else are you doing?’  I’m in three clubs. ‘Well, you know what looks really good — community service.’ Everyone expects us to be superheroes. ‘Why aren’t you doing more for your community? Why aren’t you working harder at school?’ I think parents need to step back sometimes and say to their children, ‘You’re doing a really good job.’”

But that student’s plaint is followed by counselors who explain that to get into the top  colleges today, students really do have to do more because of the increased competition for slots.

The film has its heroes; An AP biology teacher who cut the homework in his class in half and found scores on the AP exam rose. Principals who abolished homework in elementary schools, based on research that shows homework only begins to benefit kids in middle school, but only when it does not exceed an hour a night. Parents who reclaim family time in the evening and stop dogging their kids on grades.

There is a wonderful segment with Matt Goldman, a founding member of the theatrical trio, the Blue Man Group, which won a national following with its blue heads, creative antics and combination of art, music comedy and science. (To me, Goldman’s comments resembled those of regular Get Schooled poster Ed Johnson.)

While a movie or Wii game might seem the next evolution for the wildly popular act, the Blue Man Group chose a unique encore. Its members, all young parents themselves, launched a quixotic school in New York designed on the premise that children’s curiosity, creative expression and self-awareness are paramount.

“Why can’t we have children who love going to school all the way through 12th grade?” asks Goldman. “Why can’t we have happiness be as important a metric as reading skills and math scores? Kids come to school with a love of learning. Why don’t we not take that out of them?”

By Maureen Downey, for the Get Schooled blog

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Maureen Downey, Homework Master. Homework Master said: http://goo.gl/iGI4M “Race to Nowhere” or Waiting for Superkids. – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) http://dlvr.it/9hvKg [...]

Peter Smagorinsky

December 4th, 2010
6:09 am

Thanks Maureen. I’m glad that someone is airing this important side of the education story.

What's best for kids?

December 4th, 2010
7:03 am

YES! Whatever happened to just being a kid? One trailer has a mom who says that her greatest fear is that her kids won’t be as successful as she. I think that most middle class and upper class parents push their children not for their children’s sake, but for bragging rights.

ScienceTeach

December 4th, 2010
7:27 am

I teach middle school science to high achievers. There is no reason for it not to be fun and engaging at this age. Let the drudgery up come later, as I’m sure it will. This is the time for excitement and making science interesting, and at the same time, building up of some skills that will be of benefit later on. Although some teachers load them up, I don’t give much homework because I find it is just not necessary in eighth grade science. I’ve got happy kids who look forward to coming class, and happy parents, too, when they see the CRCT results that their children get in science in my class. It’s more fun for me, too, doing it this way. I got into teaching later in life and maybe I have a different perspective. You can have things at a very high level and not overload them with what amounts basically to busywork at home.

JUST WAIT

December 4th, 2010
8:06 am

It’s true, the pressure on high school kids has become outrageous. There are a lot of posters to Get Schooled who seem to think standards have been lowered. For kids who are currently in school, that is simply not true. The class of 2012 (current juniors) and younger have been slammed with a math curriculum that would challenge many a college student or adult. And for what purpose? This one size fits all mentality is unnecessary and dangerous. We don’t need a society of mathmeticians, we also need artists, musicians, media specialists, first grade teachers and plumbers. None of those fields require a mastery of pre-calculus, but yet we are trying to demand it of every student. I say trying, because already we are seeing that this is not a possible feat, and the state, for example has approved new math classes for the fourth year, including mathematics of finance. This is not a lowering of standards, but rather a recognition that different students have different interests and strengths.
The truth is most students are not geared nor destined for Harvard and Yale. One can be very succesful in life after attending a local technical college, I once read that those most likely to become millionaires or innovators are the “C” students. They’re not so hung up on fitting the mold I guess. Just some food for thought.

www.honeyfern.org

December 4th, 2010
8:20 am

You can step off the treadmill and still raise intelligent, successful kids. I did, and started a non-profit to help others do the same.

bmoney

December 4th, 2010
8:47 am

To net the education debate out; poor kids and their teachers aren’t doing enough. Middle class kids and their teachers are being asked to do too much.

catlady

December 4th, 2010
8:48 am

We don’t have a lot of high-achieving kids who are pushed to over-succeed. What we have are kids who are behind who literally have to trot from class to class scheduled to “make up for” years of being behind. We have kids with 2 EIP classes in addition to push in assistance from teachers (EIP math, EIP reading, ESOL, SPED). They have regular grade level instruction and are pulled aside every day for 20 minutes of needs-based instruction, too. What they don’t get is Social Studies or Science, and they are so over-scheduled FOR YEARS that they never have a relaxed moment. The kids on level also are rushed from class to class. Thank God they are now mandated to have time for PE, art, music, and 20 minutes of recess. Our teachers constantly have to demand that the kids hurry up! No time for reflection except the 15 seconds in the morning mandated by the legislature. (Supposed to be 60 seconds but we don’t have time to waste!)

YeahRight

December 4th, 2010
9:28 am

I wonder how much of these pressures stem from the Great Recession and parents’ anxieties about their children’s future job prospects? There’s always been concern about this, but I can’t help but feel that it’s been amplified. A little anxiety is good to motivate achievement, but we need to construct a world where not getting into a top-tier college is not the end of the world…quite literally in that one young woman’s case.

justbrowsing

December 4th, 2010
9:57 am

@ScienceTeach- teaching gifted students can be a wonderful experience. Teaching the same content to students who are unmotivated,or, come with and IEP’s for an assortment of learning disorders can be the most challenging- yet also- the most rewarding:)

Atlanta mom

December 4th, 2010
10:04 am

I believe we can place the blame for our over anxious children squarely at the feet of their over anxious parents. It starts when they are 4 years old and in organized sports, dance and music lessons. Then it only gets worse. Children in elementary school have activities four afternoons a week and on the weekends. Summer time comes and do kids have down time? No, they still have to be up at 7:00 am to go to whatever camps or daycare have been scheduled for that week. And for what? To get into an elite university? Didn’t we just have a column this week (here or somewhere else in the AJC) that shows that five years out it doesn’t matter where you attend college? In the meantime, the joy of childhood has been abandoned for what?
It also seems that everyone lives in Lake Woebegon. No one is raising an “average” child these days. Parents have spent so much time telling their children how wonderful they are—the parent even believes it.

teacher&mom

December 4th, 2010
10:08 am

Here’s another film that is mentioned on John Merrow’s blog. The link is below. This is the type of elementary school experience that I would want for my own children.

http://augusttojune.com/

http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=4539

teacher&mom

December 4th, 2010
10:20 am

When my oldest was in the 4th grade, I took him to the Dr. for stomach pains. Basically, he told me I had a stressed out kid who was on the verge of developing an ulcer. Talk about a defining moment. Here I was, an educator who thought she was providing a balanced schedule for her children along with high academic expectations…I thought I was doing it “right.”

We backed off the after-school stuff and I backed off the “bring home all A’s” expectation. Stomach pains disappeared.

Success and money are great but if you are dead at the age of 45 from a heart attack or plagued with stress-related illnesses, it just isn’t worth it. Why would we wish that on our children???

ScienceTeach

December 4th, 2010
10:25 am

Justbrowsing, you’re absolutely right, and believe me, I put my years in with those kids! My first three years we raised science CRCT 20 percentage points. And we did it in the classroom, not with erasers. Nobody particularly seem to care though, and I quit for a couple of years, then came back. It always strikes me as funny when people say they hate having to “teach to a test”, etc., and that is what we must have done to get those kind of scores. As anyone who can teach knows, teaching to a test cannot be done. Impossible. What you can do is be creative about teaching what is going to be on it, and of course, a lot more. You just have to figure out what to do to engage them, and give them chances for some little successes to get them going. Homework? Forget about it, maybe 25% compliance, so figure some other way. That was what made teaching those kids so interesting. It was challenging, hard, exhaustive, sometimes depressing, but you are right-absolutely rewarding. That’s why all this obvious CRCT cheating and the responses to it are so disheartening. But I tell you, these high achievers present their own challenges, believe me, and it is really rewarding with them, too. One of the big differences is the parents. They simply won’t tolerate an incompetent teacher for long, or one who is not on top of their game. I’m convinced when all parents get as demanding of teacher quality as they are, things will change.

EdDawg

December 4th, 2010
10:35 am

Ugh, That was my HS experience. I’m trying so hard not to start that parenting style with my own kids. At the middle school where I teach, HW is only 5% of their grade; the students know it really doesn’t matter if they do it or not. What they are assigned by me is only practice to make them study anyhow – I teach in a Title I school. So, only if a lack of HW completion is affecting their grade/acheivement do I remediate at lunch.

ScienceTeach

December 4th, 2010
10:42 am

The previous comments are so true about these kids schedules. They are packed with not a lot of time to really socialize together. I know they make up for it with Facebook, etc. but to me that’s not the same. A lot of science classes are made up of talking with me and each other. Just communicating. I do teach basic skills, of course; how to take good notes, how to use them with the book open, highlighting, getting it from a page to a neuron effectively, and how to outhink the test makers. The technical part of actually learning something effectively is probably the most important thing that they will take with them, but also having a class that is relaxing, intellectually challenging, and with open communication of ideas and creative thinking seems to be just what they need from me with all the other stresses they have going on.

West Cobb School

December 4th, 2010
10:59 am

I am at a West Cobb HS and we work with stressed out kids everyday. Our guidance dept. and admin constantly push more AP courses. In fact, the leadership is pushing to be certified as an AP school. They have sugested that every student should take at least one AP course in HS. Every Student?!?! Most kids are expected to take as many AP courses as they can, participate in clubs, be successful on the field, attend tutoring, and volunteer in the community. While none of these things would be a bad idea in themselves, trying to do each every day or every week is causing a lot of kids to be stressed. Some classes have required afternoon sessions because there is not enough time during class to cover all the state DOE requires. It’s a real shame that this level of stress begins so early. Yes, all the hs school level de-stressors are present in our area. In an effort to relax (like their parents often do) students are finding adult ways to handle the stress.

Kim

December 4th, 2010
11:00 am

Go to PBS website and check out yesterday’s (Dec. 3rd) Jim Lehrer News Hour. They have a segment about college grads and their futile job searches. Very sobering.

teacher&mom

December 4th, 2010
11:22 am

@Kim…thanks for the link.

Tuckergirl

December 4th, 2010
1:00 pm

It is interesting and ironic to see the divide between underachieving and overachieving students. The middle ground (like middle income) is becoming more and more sparsely populated. Being an “average” student simply is unacceptable these days.

When I think of what it took for me to get a full scholarship to Clayton State College in 1986, it pales in comparison to what colleges require now. I was the editor of the school paper, took a few AP classes, sang in chorus, got straight As and went to Governor’s Honors. That would be laughed at now. Today, I’d have to also volunteer in the community several hours a week, be on the Student Council, run track and start a fundraiser of some kind. WHEW!

We don’t ask adults to carry this kind of load in life. Why do we ask our kids to do this? Does every child have to attend Harvard or MIT? NO! For one thing, who could afford to?

I sent my first year and a half at Clayton State, then transferred to UGA to get my BA in journalism and a master’s in English. Yes, I do get some snickers when I say I went to a community college. But I don’t care. It was very challenging and my professors cared about how I was doing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was able to work and go to school at the same time, learning with a diverse group of students from young people like me to “nontraditional” students returning to complete their education. It gave me discipline and a wide experience that no Ivy league school could have provided.

So let’s quit expecting every child to be a Rhodes Scholar. Let’s quit obsessing on grades and prepare them for the real work world by letting them job shadow and do internships so they can see what they’re preparing for. Let’s give them hand-on opportunities so they can get their feet wet. This is a lot more sensible than shoving them into an expensive four-year cocoon that does nothing to prepare them for the changing job market out there.

Tuckergirl

December 4th, 2010
1:01 pm

P.S. I apologize for “sent” instead of “spent.”

Dekalbite

December 4th, 2010
2:23 pm

I sent my child to UGA and saved all that private school tuition. When she got through school, I turned everything we had saved for college over to her. She had a new car (no payments) and money in the bank for grad school. She loved UGA and also worked part time in a cutting edge genetics research lab, so she came out with 2 years of paid work experience as well. Most of her friends who went to private schools, many to ivy league or very selective colleges, will have college debt for years and years – or their parents have the debt.

I’ve never seen the Return on Investment in expensive private colleges. I went to one for two years and then to a big state university for two years and couldn’t see how one was superior to another. I wish my parents had just sent me straight to the big university in the first place and given me the money so I could invest it on my own. My daughter is so thankful she has dollars in the asset column instead of the debit column, especially in this economy. This was a good life’s lesson in thrift for her.

This is not a post knocking Emory or Harvard or Duke or Spelman any of those other fine schools. If it’s not a financial strain to write that tuition check, go to it. But if it’s going to put you or your child into debt in this economy then some serious thought needs to go into the decision. I know the high school counselors all tell the kids, find the college that is right for you and shoot for the stars, but when that child comes out of college with huge debt on his/her shoulders, that counselor is not responsible for paying it off. Unfortunately, I know too many parents who just enjoy saying “Sally is at Yale” or “Harry is at Georgetown”. For middle class parents, that’s become a very expensive statement.

LOD

December 4th, 2010
2:27 pm

The classes in high school and college that I always looked forward to and loved were the ones where the teachers and professors sometimes strayed away from the scripted curriculum. They would digress, you might say. They’d talk about their own life experiences, or maybe their take on current events. Sometimes it related to the class matreial, often not.

One of those little asides by my high school sociology teacher 40 years ago was so beautiful and profound that it has been with me every day since. Bottom line, if you’re a teacher don’t be afraid to be yourself and let your hair down now and then.

BehindEnemyLines

December 4th, 2010
3:09 pm

re: “Why can’t we have happiness be as important a metric as reading skills and math scores?

As much as I hate to break up the kumbaya granola social here but the next time a prospective employer treats happiness as important as the job skills associated with reading & math, then it might be elevated on the scale.

Tamika

December 4th, 2010
3:35 pm

Maureen,
I hear you but I doubt that the middle class kids stress is coming from school. The demand to perform without the acceptace of family is excruciating. The real issue is not the pressure of school but the poverty of life outside of school that allows school to become all important.

Future Teacher

December 4th, 2010
5:33 pm

@Dekalbite: Agreed! The funny thing is there are just as many good/great public colleges as there are private colleges. Don’t get me wrong. Being accepted into the Ivies is great, but it is just as tough to get into those at it is to get into North Carolina, UCLA, and to some extent UGA and Tech. I have friends that went to Ivies and friends at other schools. The Ivy friends are no richer and happier than the rest of us (I went to Tech, FYI).

However, I have to point something out. The plight of the “average” kid is a bit less problematic to me than the plight of the below average one. I have every bit of faith that an “average” kid will eventually find a place in life that won’t make him/her stroke out but will allow him/her to be happy. That kid is likely to make it in life. The below average one (more than likely to be poorer than the average one) is fortunate to graduate high school. These kids don’t get the class options. They get Math I. Then, Math I again and again until they decide to quit because they can’t pass the class. I worry more about them, because they are more likely to be the unproductive members of society.

Toto: speakin' dog to dawg

December 4th, 2010
11:16 pm

If the students are stressed out, it is because they/parents have made poor use of their time. They are squandering it on activities/studies they have no natural talent for. Everyone has a certain bent, be it music, art, drama, math, social skills, etc. The goal of true education should be to develop this talent to its fullest. In home school circles, this is called “delight directed studies”. Students are motivated and excel because the learning is based on what they are naturally successful at. This is why Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. He had been allowed to pursue his “passion” for math and computing K-12 and had acquired the necessary knowledge to start a successful business at the age of 19. While others would have been stressed out following Gates’ particular course of education, it was a natural fit for him. Of course there will always be unpleasant but necessary tasks, however, those things we delight in and are best equipped to do should be the majority of our work. Just recently I had a very engaging conversation with an 8th grade home schooler. She confided in me that math was not her strong suit, but then enthusiastically told me that it is her dream to be a novelist, and she is already writing her first one. She has parents who make sure she has ample time to develop this talent during the home school day. And this is not unusual. I have another home school friend with two children who are just as enthusiastic about writing. They know that in a traditional school there would not be the large chunks of uninterrupted time to pursue such work.

As for the filmmaker mom, she should home school her children and pass on her talent to them. Why record their/her public/private school failure? Creative types excel in home schooling because they are independent creative thinkers.

Real Reformer

December 5th, 2010
12:23 am

Ah….some of this information about “stress” is true, but I have come to believe that it may be overstated in some cases. If you examine the amount of time kids spend in activities that interrupt studying — Facebook, constant texting, Skype, video games and more — in many cases, the kids are spending LESS actual time in focused, concentrated study. They don’t know how to concentrate for more than two minutes without stopping to text, take a call, or Skype with someone. If you took all of that time out, and counted just “focused” time, you might see that they have more time than they think.

Having said that, it’s sad that kids have to have been “formed” by the time they go to college — to know who they are and what they want to do. Ridiculous! We now know, with more research to support the findings than ever before, that teenagers’ brains are really not “cooked” yet. Since we know they aren’t really “adults” from a brain development standpoint until about age 25, why in the world are we (1) giving them MORE freedom than college students in earlier generations and (2) asking MORE of them in deciding who they are and what they want to do for their life’s work? It’s TOO SOON.

sissyuga

December 5th, 2010
7:52 am

Children aren’t accessories that you wear or flaunt. “Race to knowhere” is also about bragging and gloating. “MY child got accepted to _____________.” At what price? That is not what true education is. On the other hand, I agree with Just Wait. As a supplemental teacher, I am suppose to turn my students who barely know their facts into a math genius using the DOE frameworks and pass the CRCT thank you very much (or your aren’t an effective teacher).

high school teacher

December 5th, 2010
8:13 am

We have a rule in our house: only one activity at a time. My son had to choose whether to play soccer or take art classes this past fall. I can’t handle driving two children to three different activities each week, and I know that they can’t handle it either.

Stress is a very real disease. Touting a degree from an Ivy League school isn’t very presitgious if you’re dead at 40.

Just A Teacher

December 5th, 2010
11:06 am

As long as public school curriculum is being mandated by the Board of Regents, this is what you can expect. Did you know that only 20% of the jobs in the work force require a college education? Yet we continue to mandate that all children be college ready when they graduate from high school. Does one need precalculus in order to be successful? Not at all! How about a machinist, an electrician, or a bus driver? These people are all contributing members of society and pay for public education, but we devalue their contributions by telling children that they must somehow reach the same academic standards of physicists and neuro-surgeons. I don’t know about any of you, but all I teach is average kids. Some are good in Math. Some excel in sports. But they are all just average kids. Instead of cutting each other’s throats for some ambiguous, abstract noun like “success,” I think they should be developing friendships and learning to get along in society. Oh, and by the way, when I take that approach with my students, I find they are much more apt to produce in the classroom. Less stress equals an atmosphere which is much more conducive to learning.

Extremes make me scream...

December 5th, 2010
1:16 pm

@Just a teacher: Unfortunately, your belief held true in our PAST economy; an economy that included manufacturing jobs. Our past ecomonomy welcomed the hardworking high school graduate to its factories and manufacturing plants. And in return those workers bought stuff (homes, cars, vacations, clothes) so our economy flourished. Sadly, this representative democracy decided to send our jobs oversees and now those hardworking high school graduates do not have jobs!!!! There are good jobs in America but many of our students do not qualify. They do not qualify because they have not prepared themselves academically. Bill Gates speak about the many openings for the educated skilled worker. He also sadly reports that the American students are not prepared for those jobs.

I understand there has to be the next bus driver or machinist. I hope my son will be one of the students that will qualify for one of the jobs that Bill Gates speaks about.

What is wrong with schools shooting for the stars with College ready curriculum? Should a kid decide that he wants more than to be a janitor or bus driver, he will have the preriquisites to do so. If he decides he does not want to go to college, what’s wroing with having the knowledge he has acquired. I think it makes society better overall!!!

Shannon

December 5th, 2010
4:07 pm

Several have acknowledged that there are too-low expectations for lower socio-economic status students and too-high expectations for middle class students… but I haven’t yet read anyone acknowledging that this is true in the same school. It was certainly true in my high school. There were plenty of students who weren’t being held to crazy standards. On the other hand, I was stressed out during and after high school (typical overachiever–highest SAT in the school, high GPA, took AP classes and joint-enrolled with the local college to take college classes during my senior year, and extra curricular activities out my wazoo, including over 13 years of piano lessons and heavy church activities). I completely cracked under the pressure. Every parent’s nightmare: I dropped out of college after three years just to learn to *breathe*. (I’m working on my Ph.D. now–all is well–but it took some time, a change of schools in which most of my credits were lost, and part-time attendance with full-time work to get there).

Oh, and about the top Ivy Leagues–if you get in, your tuition will likely be waived by the school, no loans involved. One of them (I think Yale?) eliminated tuition for all students. If you get in, go.

It’s the “middle” schools where students get really squeezed. (Around here, that’s Emory or Duke). The students are expected to be every bit as high achieving as in the Ivies, but the schools don’t have the depth of resources to waive tuition for everyone. Bottom line, though: don’t assume you know whether you can afford a school or not until you look at the financial aid offers–and be sure to ask about how it scales with tuition increases.

East Cobb Parent

December 5th, 2010
4:50 pm

I realize some kids are stressed trying to pack in the AP courses, but just as many if not more are stressed over the outside activities. What concerns me with this post is we simply are not raising the bar for our children. I encourage everyone to read Dr. Healy’s book “Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It” . In the text are samples of tests given over the years. The dumbing down of our kids is real. These type posts give parents the validation to tell teachers they are requiring too much from the students. Homework should be assigned to reinforce what was taught or if a student is struggling with a particular concept. I hear neighbors complain about school work all the time, but never think about the 5 days a week their child is involved in various sports.

concerned parent

December 5th, 2010
5:31 pm

I’m thrilled to see this post, Maureen. Thank you. When I was a senior in high school, I took the ACT to get into college. I made an ok grade and was accepted to the college of my choice. Once in, I had to take a different kind of test to get into the school of architecture. This test was totally different from the ACT. It tested the ‘right side’ of my brain. I aced that one, and was one of the first two women in the school of architecture (I’m dating myself). Since that time, I have always fought to have tests that measure kids’ assets, whichever side of the brain they come from. It’s ok to push kids. It’s good to keep them busy. But if we’ll nurture their passions, their strengths and their talents, we’ll find that we won’t need to push them quite as hard.
Sitting in desks, all in a row, studying the same curriculum, at the same pace, is not the way to excite our children. We DESPERATELY need educational reform.

Kim Kahwach

December 5th, 2010
6:30 pm

Kim Kahwach

December 5th, 2010
6:33 pm

Thank you so much for changing the conversation to what really matters. I would suggest everyone look at Finland and how they approach education and maybe why they are in the top three performers in the world.

Dekalbite@Shannon

December 5th, 2010
8:50 pm

“Oh, and about the top Ivy Leagues–if you get in, your tuition will likely be waived by the school, no loans involved. One of them (I think Yale?) eliminated tuition for all students. If you get in, go.”

Well, that will be news to my friends who paid/are paying tuition at Yale and Princeton. Where do you think those Ivy Leagues get the money to have such small class sizes, pay professors big bucks just to do research (although many do get grants in the sciences), and aid students who are needs based? Yes. They have large endowments, but the endowment are not big enough to give every student a free education. I know my husband and I made too much money to get financial aid for my daughter, but truthfully, we would still be paying for her education if she had gone to an elite private school. That said, these schools do a pretty good job of putting together aid and scholarships for students who’s family income is fairly low.

Toto: speakin' the truth to power

December 5th, 2010
10:04 pm

@Kim
Yong Zhao eloquently expresses the ideals of many home schoolers. We have seen first hand that what he says is true. Under Mao and the Communists, the Chinese people were greatly oppressed and persecuted. He sees where America is headed with our public school system and heavy handed government. We should heed his warning. While his ideas are best implemented in a home school setting, other creative models are being utilized such as the university model. Thanks for posting.

Dr. John Trotter

December 6th, 2010
5:53 am

Good and well-needed article, Maureen. My own children have never missed a moment of having a great time in school. They love their high school and both are very capable of making nearly All A’s, if they really want to. (And, by the way, this high school consistently ranks in the top five public high schools in Georgia as far as academics are concerned.) But, my senior son told me a few months ago, “Dad, yes, sir, I could make all A’s but I wouldn’t have a life.” This pretty much summed it up. Human are social beings, and I have often that said all of my children have been social butterflies in school, but this too is very important. There’s nothing wrong with having wholesome fun. My youngest son this year decided that he’s going to make a lot of A’s and is doing quite well. (Remember that I have always said that motivation is a social/cultural phenomenon. He’s decided that he wants to go to Juliard. Did I even spell it correctly. He told his grandmother that it costs $50,000. I think that she jokingly responded, “Let us pray.” Ha!) Trying to get my senior son to give up a single Saturday for just a little tutoring for the SAT was impossible. I gave up. He took the exam Saturday, and he’ll be O. K. He always scored very well on standardized exams in elementary school and did quite well on the PSAT, but if his score is just so-so, well, it’s a decision that he made not to give up much of his social life.

I am a social being. I have lots of friends and like being around people. So, I guess some of this has rubbed off on them. So what if they don’t blow the top off of the SAT. So what if they may go to a community college. Just about everyone in my family started off at Columbus State University from whence we hail. (My Dad started at Auburn and graduated from Auburn because Columbus State was not founded until 1958, and Dad graduated from Auburn in 1948. But, we have all earned several degrees from various institutions (Columbus State, University of Georgia, Georgia Southern, West Georgia, Troy, Mercer, Peabody/Vanderbilt). My aunt and uncle graduated from South Carolina and Miami. Other close relatives have graduated from Auburn and Florida State and LaGrange. It really doesn’t matter where you graduate from undergraduate school, as long as it is a legitimate institution. But, I think too many parents try to live their lives through their children’s lives. I heard just last night at Public two mothers talking about their daughters getting in (I presume UGA) and talking about which sororities that they wish to be a part of. They were just so excited, and I was just trying to pick up drinks, chips, and dip for the Auburn-South Caroline game. Ha!

We need to allow our children to be children and to enjoy high school — actually enjoy it and be able to look back on these years with fond memories. I think that it is unconscionable that the health and bodies of children are actually being damaged due to the stress put on them. There’s nothing wrong with matriculating to Kennesaw State, Southern Tech, Clayton State, Gordon Junior College, Truett-McConnell College, Berry College, just to name a few. This notion that everyone needs to be accepted to Georgia Tech or UGA or Emory or wherever right out of high school is a little bit skewed, in my opinion.

Fan of Ability Grouping

December 6th, 2010
8:48 am

Differentiation does not work! If schools were allowed to group by ability, maybe we could match content and motivation. As it is now, there are too many students not having their needs met. I do not fault the teachers. I fault the delivery methodology, class composition, and this dumbed-down curriculum. Low-performing students need extra help to bring them closer to on-level tasks. Students in the middle aren’t being asked to stretch enough. And the higher-achieving students can actually sleep through some of their classes.

Formalized education is not a factory producing widgets. Until we embrace the fact that students differ in aptitude, ability, and motivation, the school systems will continue to warehouse the majority of kids.

I don’t care what color your skin is or where you come from. We need to take the PC talk out of the classrooms and actually assess where children currently are (and I’m not saying use the CRCT — what a joke!). Then we need to actually TRACK their progress so that they can move into whichever class level would be most beneficial to them in the latter years.

And I know somebody is going to respond and say MS and HS is grouped by ability. My answer is… somewhat if you consider Advanced Content classes. However, classes are still determined by a student’s age, not knowledge gained. When I was in school, grade demarcation was not as finite. However, my schools also did tracking so they could tell my parents what trajectory they thought I was on. Think about it. This was done before; it can be done again. BUT… of course, you’d also need to get rid of the horrid math curriculum. What a piece of crap! This one path, with no flexibility in doubling up classes or concentrating on each math topic (Algebra versus Geometry) individually, will never meet the needs of the majority of students.

mystery poster

December 6th, 2010
9:04 am

New Yorker magazine reviewed Waiting for Superman. I think their review was spot on:

This hot-under-the-collar documentary devoted to the failure of the American school system is both touching and misleading. The writer-director Davis Guggenheim follows five families, scattered across the country in urban areas, as they attempt to get their children into charter schools. The children have a moving beauty, and when they and their parents have to submit to the humiliations of a lottery system in order to get into a charter the effect is enraging. Guggenheim mixes the narratives with two other strands—an animated exposition of the dismal performance rate of American schools, and impassioned interviews with such reformers as Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system.

The movie leaves the impression that charter schools are the only salvation for these children (and, by implication, for all American children), but, in the real world, charters do no better as a group than district schools, and often do worse. What’s needed is a new film that discovers why some charters work and others don’t, and that considers how the reforms in the best of them can be scaled to much larger schools.

An American Patriot

December 6th, 2010
9:38 am

The people writing the articles and messing with their kids, sound like a bunch of Obamaites trying to screw up our kids to bring our Great Country down to a level where we won’t or can’t compete with the toughest to world has to offer. Folks, it’s a jungle out there and only the toughest and smartest survive. The muslims are already plotting to take over our country and we’re playing right into their hands by letting idiots like the ones writing the column above have space to use to brainwash our children into being non-competitive……makes it easier for them. These kids are the leaders and hope for the future of our great country. I don’t think any of us want a bunch of leaders who can’t handle the stress of the job. Maureen, please check out the real agenda of these folks before you use their dribble in your columns :)

mystery poster

December 6th, 2010
9:44 am

Oops, that review doesn’t really belong here. I thought it was interesting, though.

mystery poster

December 6th, 2010
9:46 am

@American Patriot:

Parents have been hovering and pushing kids to the extreme LONG before Obama took office.

Really amazed

December 6th, 2010
10:48 am

Here’s a thought…my son is the one who pushed private high school. Not mom and dad. I told him he would probably go to public school for high school. He begged me to let him go to this very challenging private high school. We were a little reluctant. Thought by the time he was able to go to HS he would be able to be challenged enough via honors and AP classes. No mom and dad please let me go to xprivate. We agreed, now freshman year was challenging but got through it with two B’s. extra curri. band/sports etc. This year sophmore year has been a little different with many b’s. I keep telling him to let go of some of his extra curr. back off so many honor classes could have waited to start AP next year as junior. Us the parents are the ones that are stressed in this situation!!!! The funny thing is my child loves this school and still doesn’t want to leave. I keep telling him that this is what he wanted and that is why we expect the grades to come first. By the way, it isn’t just the ivy schools that expect you to take almost all AP classes. UGA and tech expect at least 4 to 5. Tech won’t except anything less than 5 with 5’s on the exams. How is a parent not suppose to be stressed. It is one thing if a student isn’t capable, however, when you have a student that wants to and has proven very capable are you suppose to just say o.k. go sink or swim??? Some school not challenging enough some over the top! Where is the happy med range?

Maureen Downey

December 6th, 2010
11:04 am

On the issue of how many AP classes: I have attended a few programs where research was presented that kids fare better on the AP exams when they take the courses as juniors and seniors. The highest failure rates were among the youngest students. Yet, I know schools that have freshmen in AP classes.
Anybody know why schools allow freshmen and sophomores into AP when the data aren’t great for kids that young?
Maureen

Really amazed

December 6th, 2010
11:55 am

@Maureen, I would love to know the answer as well. My child was recommended for this AP class as a sophmore with honors pre-calc, honors chem etc. this AP class is being taught by a teacher that previously taught it at a local college. They don’t even get a study guide. Her grading of essays is totally subjective. She has made it nearly impossible to pull an A or even close to a B. I fear that these normally high motivated students will want to back off AP next year because of it. I am now questioning the thought process of these teacher’s that think since they are honors an AP classes that the students shouldn’t need it taught to them. I am sorry, however, believe since it is private school the teachers should have more time for individualized help.

Dr. John Trotter

December 6th, 2010
12:47 pm

My brother’s two oldest children went staight to UGA because of HOPE and other scholarships. His youngest daughter (who may be sharpest of all!) decided that she’d stay in the area and first attend Columbus State. She seems to be quite happy.

Some parents just put entirely too much emphasis on getting in “the right school.” Don’t be like the overbearing father in the fictional “Dead Poets Society.” Let your kids be themselves. It’s hard. I have to keep reminding myself that my children are not me. Aren’t you guys glad?! Ha!

An American Patriot

December 6th, 2010
1:32 pm

mystery poster

December 6th, 2010
9:46 am
@American Patriot:

Parents have been hovering and pushing kids to the extreme LONG before Obama took office.

@Mystery Poster – This is very true, but this is the first time I’ve seen the issues discussed in a public forum…..is there a correlaltion?

Maureen, since you allow space in your blogs for this kind of dribble, do you agree with what being said? and if you do, are you ready for the consequences?