Jonna Gallo

I Hate Elementary School Standardized Tests

Written on April 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm , by

 

I’m just going to put it out there: I hate standardized tests, and as a mom I can’t freaking wait until they’re over at the end of this month.

When I was a student, standardized tests never bothered me that I recall, especially not in elementary school. They didn’t unnerve me, and I didn’t feel like my fate was somehow riding on them. The school year definitely did not revolve around them. We were not issued separate workbooks to lug back and forth specifically to prep for them. Standardized tests were not, to put it bluntly, a “lifestyle.” Now they are. So next week my son, a third grader, will take New York State standardized tests in English and Math for the first time. All the hours of classroom time spent prepping, all the homework pages I compelled him do when he would MUCH rather have been playing, because he is an 8-year-old boy, after all, will boil down to six test sessions. Tests based on the heavily-hyped Common Core, which very well could be good for students in the long run, but was implemented far too quickly in New York City by the chronically overwhelmed and underfunded Department of Education. And tests that were originally meant to assess student learning and provide useful feedback to teachers and parents about a kid’s progress and areas to work on, will instead be used to “rank” schools and “rate” teacher competence. To say that I cannot wait for April to be over and done with would be the understatement of the year so far.

So, do tell – are your kids stressing over standardized tests? Are you?

Your Thoughts: Do Kids Really Need Homework?

Written on August 28, 2012 at 9:02 am , by

When we (the editors of Family Circle) started kicking around the idea of a piece on homework, I grabbed the reins because it’s a huge issue in my household. To put it bluntly, after a full day of school, my 8-year-old son doesn’t want to do more work—and frankly, I’m not at all convinced he should have to. I mean, he hasn’t even reached a double-digit age yet. Shouldn’t seven hours of school cover it for younger kids academically?

Apparently not, as evidenced by his homework assignments in multiple subjects. This necessitates me having to suggest, ask, nudge, prod, and finally, flat-out demand that he do the work, which is a dynamic between us that I have come to loathe at the end of the day. (If he’s forgotten a book he needs, because of the crush to pack up quickly, that’s a whole other source of aggravation.)

Of course, absolutely and without exception, whether it is technically “assigned” or not, I would insist he spend time every day reading. I would think that would go without saying, but I will say it lest anyone be tempted to call me out on the reading issue. When I say “homework,” I’m referring to worksheets and similar tasks.

Anyway, I’m fascinated with the writings of educator Alfie Kohn, who makes a convincing case against after-hours assignments. In his piece in Family Circle‘s October issue, he writes:

Doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it’s usually fairly small. And in any case, it’s far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you’re wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Other educational experts obviously, and vocally, disagree. In my mind, the topic at least merits spirited debate, rather than just rote compliance.

So speak up! Tell us your stance on homework in the comments below.

Jonna Gallo Weppler is articles director at Family Circle magazine.

Wacky School Fundraisers That Raised Lots of Money

Written on February 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm , by

 

Hi, everyone. I’m Jonna, the articles director at Family Circle and the editor who handled the school fundraising story in our March issue. I’m somewhat new to the school fundraising deal because until this past September, my oldest son was enrolled in a private school that charged a hefty tuition but did no fundraising whatsoever. Yes, you read that right. No fundraising at all. You paid the tuition and that was that. Believe me, it’s only now that I see how great I had it. Now that I am the parent of a public school second grader, I totally get how relentless the fundraising is. And frankly, for the amount of money my husband and I pay in state, city and local taxes, it makes me furious that education gets so short-shrifted and we as parents are charged to make up the difference. We are fortunate in that, we CAN, with a lot of effort on everyone’s part. But what about schools without a dedicated parent population, how does that work then? Then there’s also to Guilt factor: As in, I Feel Guilty if I don’t participate in every fundraiser to the utmost. As a working parent, I have enough to feel guilty about and don’t need something else. So I buy umpteen raffle tickets. I order bakery sweets that I literally give away untouched because I don’t want the calories. And on. And on. So I feel like I’m “helping” and my son does too. I have only been at this for coming up on 6 months. I can’t even imagine how aggravating it will seem in a year or three.

So that’s my rant. (Nice to meet you!) What I am actually going to talk about is wacky-sounding fundraisers, ways to bring in money that don’t scream same-old same-old, been there-done that, however you want to put it. We cover a few in the story and asked our Facebook crew to chime in.

Michelle Miller mentioned a Rock-a-thon, where kids got pledges and rocked in rocking chairs all night. Seems interesting, provided you have access to the right facility and more importantly, the means to pull off the supervision required for an overnight event.

Reader Marilyn Chapman talked up Change for Change, when the principal, teachers and students stood out in front of the school every morning for a week with containers to collect spare change. Each container was marked with a grade level, and the grade that pulled in the most coins got a popcorn party, meaning, virtually every cent collected was profit. Sounds interesting.

From Sarah Rodgers Bechtol came word of a pickle sale, which appeals to me personally because, well, I LOVE PICKLES.

One other response that caught my eye was from Leslie Letourneau Keenan, who suggested something called Bag2School, which buys unwanted clothing and textiles for a set price per pound. On one hand that sounded potentially worthwhile, though part of me feels that no-longer-needed clothes should really go to the needy. Looks like no conflict for me at the moment, Bag2School seem to only operate in the UK.

Anyway, I am looking for fresh, fun, not-terribly-difficult-to-pull-off ideas to pitch to my PTA. Got one? Please comment!