Is Default School Choice Failing Kids?
by Lyn Lomasi, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
At the beginning of each school year, choosing the right clothing and school supplies becomes a top agenda for parents. These same parents often go with a default school choice, which means that "by default" they simply send their children to the nearby local school without really making a school choice. Is default school choice failing kids?
In addition to parents who are unaware of choice in education, others may know about choice but perceive that they lack funding for private school tuition, or for transportation to a more distant school. This is still a default choice, if parents fail to realize that choice in education may increase school success in kids. As a parent who once utilized school choice for her own children within the public school system and who now utilizes school choice to homeschool all of her children, I feel qualified to explore this subject.
What is School Choice?
School choice in simple terms is the option that parents have to make a choice in education options for their kids. This could refer to vouchers being given to public school children to attend more competent private schools in the area. It could also mean sending a child to a public school outside of the neighborhood due to incompatible opportunities at the neighborhood school.
For some, it may simply mean making the choice between public, private, and homeschool. There are many ways school choice is exercised, but all have the same goal: a better education for our children. Should there be a default school choice?
Is Default School Choice Failing Kids?
Oftentimes, before the kids are even ready to go to school, parents have it set in their brains the school they will go to. Most often, it is simply the neighborhood school. While there certainly is nothing wrong with sending kids to a neighborhood school, it could be a hindrance to have a default school choice.
Default school choice may be failing many kids. Part of this is because all children do not learn in the same way. Along those same lines, all teachers do not teach the same way either. Nor do all schools use the same curriculum or methods. That's actually a good thing. But only if the advantages to varying curricula and teaching methods are utilized. Otherwise, there isn't much of a point in having so many options if they aren't going to be used with the kids they benefit the most.
Choice in Education May Help Homeschool Thrive
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), in 2009 a new study was released regarding academic achievement of home schooled children. This national study showed children who were homeschooled scoring an average of an entire 30 percentile points higher than those in public schools on all core subjects. As a seasoned home school parent, those results do not surprise me. Why? My personal thoughts taken from experience are that some of that is due to school choice.
Most parents who homeschool are doing so because they want their children to have the best educational options possible. Therefore choice in education methods is at the forefront of many decisions. Many of these parents chose home school as a method, due to their assessment of what would work for their child. With national home school children scoring so much higher than national public school children, could school choice be the answer?
Choice in Education Increases Test Scores And Graduation Rate
In the above example, home school test scores were well above those of children in public school. Now let's take it a step further and compare test scores of other children whose parents exercised school choice. According to the Friedman Foundation, private schools who participated in voucher programs to exercise school choice had higher test scores and graduation rates than public schools. For instance, in Milwaukee in 2003, the graduation rate at private schools who accepted school choice vouchers was 64%. Public schools had a graduation rate of only 34%. The same material, comprised of many studies, mentions children in several states gaining a significant increase in percentile points when participating in a school choice voucher program.
Choice in Education May Increase School Success in Kids
When comparing the data above with my own research and observances over the years and with my varied experiences with school choice, I continually come to the conclusion that choice in education may increase school success. Many other factors will play a role, but taking steps to ensure that the choice of schools reflects a child's actual needs can be a great start, if not a big factor, in a child's school success.
Is Homework Reducing Learning and Play Time for Kids? Should Homework Be Eliminated? Pros and Cons
by Lyn Lomasi, Staff Writer
The subject of homework has long been a debate among parents and teachers. Some teachers believe it is essential, while some find other ways to add to the curriculum. There are parents like myself who feel it takes up valuable time. This time could otherwise be spent reading, playing, or learning in other ways. As a mom, homeschool teacher, and former public school parent, I've seen it from more than one side. I've also done research over the years, as well as asked opinions of teachers. My research and opinions below are accompanied by recent conversations with three teachers.
Homework vs Study Time
Besides what is being taught in class, kids may need or desire to do extra research on their own. They also may want to read unassigned books for the pure enjoyment of reading. However, when homework takes up a substantial amount of time, this may not be possible. The student may tire or run out of time before extracurricular activities or bedtime. Children should be free to explore and learn as much as possible and too much homework may hinder that process. My personal thought is that study time needs to be reevaluated and should be done freely versus being assigned. I expressed some of my thoughts on how to do that in another writeup: "Should Current Homework and Study Methods be Reevaluated?"
Ann W, a teacher and parent, shared the following with me:
"There are several negative effects of traditional homework assignments, especially upon elementary school children. In my experience as a parent and former public school teacher, I've seen both sides to the issue. If homework lacks substance or too much is assigned, children become increasingly frustrated and may develop a bad attitude toward school. In our own experience, homework took four hours of time to complete. Not only did this take away from our family time together, it also reduced the amount of time our child was able to devote to individual reading.
"Down time and actually having the time to read for pleasure can refresh and prepare a student for further learning. Excessive homework, such as writing 20 spelling words 25 times each by a child who can spell all the words correctly and has a fine motor disability, creates a stressful atmosphere and is a waste of precious time. That is just one of the reasons, among many, that we eventually chose to home school our daughter."
Benefits or Drawbacks?
This is the area where it seems the answer varies depending on who you ask. Not all teachers agree and not all parents agree. According to an article on Scholastic.com, there is not credible evidence to suggest that there is a tangible benefit from homework. In fact, in that same article, there is evidence of a no-homework policy working well for students. The argument given by one teacher is that homework is essentially the same as if an adult went to work and then came home and kept working for several more hours. Some may in fact do this, but why put so much pressure on anyone, especially children?
Then, there are those who argue there are indeed benefits. For instance, Sandra Peterson, a teacher, tutor, and home educator shared this with me:
"Especially in the subject of math, homework is, in my opinion, essential. Homework is one of the best day-to-day assessment tools a teacher can utilize. Daily homework can alert a teacher to comprehension problems early enough that the lesson can be re-taught. This is important in math since one concept builds upon another. If the student does not understand how to find factors, they may not understand how to reduce fractions or make equivalent fractions from two fractions with unlike denominators. Many students learn best by practicing skills in a lesson or by summarizing what they have learned in an essay. Not that homework is rote learning, but homework can provide one more opportunity to cement those concepts in the brain. Homework can also be utilized to allow the student to express his individuality, especially in the creative writing portion of the language arts curriculum."
When Can Kids be Kids?
Another argument against homework is that often kids are spending so much time on it, there is no time left for anything else. What about extracurricular activities? What about family time or just regular kid time? When my kids were in traditional school, by the time my oldest was finished with homework, she had no time to do anything but eat dinner and prepare for bed. Yes, learning is extremely important. But so is downtime, fun time, and fitness. All have benefits and all are necessary. If children are spending all their time on homework, where is the time for any of this?
High school teacher Amanda Herron told me what works for her students:
"I teach on a block schedule, instead of traditional, which means our students have four classes a day (instead of eight) and stay in one class for 90 minutes (instead of 55). I rarely, if ever, give homework because I feel that as an effective teacher I should cover what I need to in 90 minutes. Research does back up that daily practice of concepts helps with memory retention, but I feel that in 90 minutes my lessons should teach the concept and offer practice time. By doing traditional 'homework' assignments in class, the students have peer coaches and teachers to ask questions and get help. Especially at the high school level, few parents can help on homework assignments. Also, our students have such full, high-stress lives. At my school, we have a high teen parent rate, added to the necessity of after-school jobs for essentials like gas (and unfortunately for some of my students, family groceries due to the high-unemployment in our area). Colleges are looking for sports, extra-curriculars and community service. If every teacher assigns an additional 45 minutes of homework, our students (with only four teachers) would need an extra three hours in their schedules.
"The average schedule for one of my students:
7:00 a.m. ~ Bus stop.
7:40 a.m.- 3:00 p.m. ~ School day
3:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. ~ Sports (football, basketball, etc)
5:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. ~ after school job or baby sit children/siblings until parents get home from later-shift jobs
"There is no time in my students schedules for homework every night. They would not be finished until after 1:00a.m. At schools with traditional schedules (more classes meeting in a day) that could go longer. So, I'm not a fan. I get a better result from my students by keeping practice and project times in class and I have no problem doing this and still covering my state-mandated standards."
What is Being Taught in Class?
A final question that I struggle with often: "What's being taught in class?" If a child is learning for hours throughout the day, why is it necessary to then come home and repeat the process? Haven't they been learning all day already? As someone who has had children in public school and has educated them at home, I have seen things as both a parent and teacher. Whenever we are homeschooling, I have found the children complete more lessons in less time than when they attended traditional school. That's why I struggle so much in understanding why it's necessary to repeat lessons during a time that should be family time.
Because of homeschooling, the performance of most of my kids has increased. They sometimes complete two grade levels per subject every school year. This is without having extra work to complete at the end of the day. Because of this, I'm left to wonder why traditional schools need to assign extra work outside of class. Shouldn't the length of their school days compensate for that? I have the utmost respect for educators and believe most do have the students' best interests in mind. It's just something I have yet to understand, based on research and personal experience.
*Thanks to Amanda Herron, Sandra Peterson, and Ann W for your opinions.
**I originally published this content via Yahoo Contributor Network
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