Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Common Core is costing a lot more than just our dollars. It’s costing us our dignity.

The Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” funding drove a lot of states to adopt the Common Core Curriculum even before it was written. (With Pelosi’s precedent of voting to make a law in order to find out what was in it, who can blame them?) Blind greed drove them to adopt the standards even before any proof or piloting to prove their efficacy. One might wonder what the incentive was behind the plan. Here is the White House press release:

Adapts the Race to the Top Model of Com­petition to Transform Lifelong Learning. Widely viewed as leveraging more change than any other competitive education grant program in history, the Race to the Top (RTT) initiative spurred States across the Nation to bring togeth­er teachers, school leaders, and policymakers to achieve difficult yet fundamental improvements to our education system.

What is that undocumented, unprecedented, and indefinable change that the administration is so happy about? We still don’t know. What we do know, is that it’s going to cost a lot of money. Thanks to the author of my source for this article, we have specific numbers:

The CCS implementation cost in California will be $2,188 million ($2.188 billion), while the federal awards total $104 million.  When I subtract the awards from the CCS cost, I get $2,084 million ($2.1 billion).  In other words,California will need to find $2.1 billion to fund the CCS implementation.

For Illinois, the CCS cost is $799 million and the federal awards are $66 million.  This means Illinois will lose $733 million on CCS implementation.

Pennsylvania will experience a $647 million loss; Michigan will see a $569 million loss; and New Jersey will have a $564 million loss on CCS.

A lot of citizens, too, are now waking up to the prohibitive costs associated with implementing Common Core, and they are not happy. Concurrently, they are realizing this incredibly dubious installation is beginning without any consultation from the electorate.

In the majority of cases, the state education departments adopted the Common Core Standards without the knowledge and approval of the state legislatures.  Many state legislative bodies are now feeling the pressure of the citizens and are re-examining the states’ decisions.

Are we a voting public or aren’t we? Wouldn’t you like to have a say in how your tax dollars are spent? Because with implementation of this costly, untested new curriculum, they are proving to themselves and even to you that your opinion doesn’t count. Maybe the money aspect doesn’t worry you, but how much is your vote worth? With Common Core inflation, nothing, anymore.

For any proud American, that cost is truly too much.

Read Full Post »

The greatest goal of a solid education is to give students the ability to think, reason, and discern. Learning various disciplines like algebra and writing are simply the tools for this. For instance, mathematics exposes a student to rudimentary logic, and writing is argument, stimulating development of the skills of analysis and reason. I recently attended a local forum on Common Core, hosted by our local newspaper, with representatives for both sides of the issue, and I was completely astonished to hear our Superintendent of Schools say, “I’m not sure learning long division is even all that necessary anymore. These kids will always have calculators.” Despite his title, his attitude is antithetical to the basic tenets of education.

The event was heavily attended – standing room only – by anti-Common Core activists, and there was a rowdy mood among the crowd. They felt betrayed by the unilateral implementation of the greatest overhaul of the country’s education system in, well, ever. Nobody voted on this, no parents were ever consulted, and even educators were mostly left out of the discussion. The Common Core was developed by bureaucrats – but why? And why did the states willingly adopt it, even before it was written?

The answer to that is as old as business: money. Of course, there are myriad reasons why money should not dictate our education methods, not the least of which is that nothing should dictate in a democracy.

Toward the end of forum, when they were cutting the question mics in the audience, a nervous blond woman standing in front of me walked up to the mic insisting on asking her question. The moderator tried to silence her, saying we had run out of time, but the audience encouraged him to allow her to speak – we weren’t in any hurry. “There is a video that shows Common Core implementation – telling children to choose between ‘Mommy asks me to clean my room,’ and ‘Mommy nags me to clean my room.’ The correct answer is ‘nags.’ Why are they bringing this kind of anti-parent teaching into our classrooms? And how can you assure us this won’t happen here?”

The Superintendent of Schools readily suggested we let the kids decide what seems appropriate. With horrible, telling gaffs like that, it’s no wonder the schools had not invited their parents to the forum, why most parents have never heard of CC.

When a state imposes a broad new curriculum in our schools without any input from educators or parents, no vote, no discussion, that is a totalitarian act, and parents and school boards that passively accept that infringement on their rights shouldn’t be surprised or upset when they are told their opinions are no longer necessary. The state just proved it.

As the forced implementation of this new curriculum already indicates, Common Core is the antithesis of traditional education: it aims to stifle individualism and restrict learning. Some call it behavior modification, some call it brainwashing.

Or, if you insist, “re-education.” Education, it is not.

Read Full Post »

To home school your own kids is to invite insecurity as a constant companion.

You can never measure up to a governmental institution that has been practicing and perfecting the art and science of schooling children for over a century… Can you?

Over the recent decades, home schoolers have challenged that assumption, surprisingly successfully. In fact, many have surpassed the government standards, highlighting the general inadequacies of our learning institutions.

How did they do that? They obviously had principles they refused to compromise, but I think it also has something to do with understanding the limitations of any bureaucracy. Government simply cannot serve all children equally (they are all so unique) – that defies logic. They must adopt a “good enough” attitude (now known as “No Child Left Behind” or more recently, “Common Core”). In contrast, home schoolers can concentrate on the individual child and have much more exacting standards.

What I’ve discovered in the past year, when I enrolled my two boys (briefly) in a very qualified private school, was eye-opening, so I’ll share it here.

The school they attended used the Shurley Grammar curriculum I’ve written about. One of the issues I had with Shurley was its writing program, which is extremely repetitive and painfully intense for my active boys. The private school supplanted that program with another, less exacting plan from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Not only that, but they didn’t complete everything in the grammar portion, either. Imagine that! They didn’t finish every task in the book! This was absolutely (sadly) mind-blowing for my obsessive, exigent self. What if they missed something? I thought. And then I realized that missing a thing or two along the way could always be caught up later, during the inevitable repetition of subject matter.

In fact, teachers almost never cover textbooks in their entirety – not even the private schools, but certainly not in public schools. I recall my mother’s discovery that the biology class at our high school only covered 17 chapters of a 56 chapter science book, to her horror. Last year I discovered that was the norm, not the exception, so I did a little research. Most curricula are purposely over-written. They are designed so individual teachers can pick and choose, and they provide extra work to keep advanced children busy. Average or slower students will never see (and never need to see) the extra stuff – what I call “busy work.”

So if our revered institutions don’t complete the ‘prescribed’ work, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist, which is unhealthy – for me and my kids. I decided that just because I have high standards does not mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to satisfy them.

Keep your eye on the ball. The learning is the goal, not the textbook.

This year, I’ve backed off a bit. I do most of the Shurley sentences for each lesson, and about a third of the writing assignments – there will always be time for my kids to do more writing the next year, because Shurley is nothing if not repetitive, and for good reason. Children learn best through repetition. They often cannot take in an entire concept at one sitting, but need multiple exposures to complicated ideas, like how to write a particular kind of essay. They also should not be subjected to tedious busy work as a way of drilling information that will be covered many times over in the future. I admit: it’s a fine line. But at the risk of losing my student to abject boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution: everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see my student “gets it,” confident that there will be review in the coming days. This way, my students, the loves of my life, are not burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I prefer for us to concentrate on enjoying the process, instead.

As for my insecurity, which goes hand-in-hand with my perfectionism, I’ve learned to deal with it. Sometimes it’s quite challenging, but I’ve found a great balance between hard-core, staunch, fulfill every single demand of an over-written schoolbook and the broad strokes that our public schools paint with every year. As long as my kids excel, enjoy the process, and can show my husband how to diagram a sentence with an object compliment adjective, well, I guess that’s actually good enough for me.

Read Full Post »

Why Not You?

I’ve been homeschooling for a little while now, and blogging and advocating, and I do believe it is the best thing you can do for your children and your family. While I’m ready to concede that not everyone is “cut out” to be home educators, I will certainly also point out that school is not any idyllic educational forum either.

Our educational system is universally recognized as broken. But I recently learned this fascinating correlation: it was designed during (and because of ) the industrial revolution. As we are all slaves of trends, or the spirit of the times, so were the schools which developed. Based on the manufacturing assembly line, our little people were first divided by age, something seen nowhere else in life (most divisions are merit-based, not age-based) and then they were given, like on the line, a series of “subjects”, each with its allotted time. When we break the layout down in this fashion, of course, it starts to look absurd. What works for building cars and computers is hardy appropriate for educating small and impressionable children! And yet here we are.

Perfection is not attainable. Okay, so that’s a given, but where do you go from there?

It has been proven over and again that kids learn differently and organically, not on some arbitrary time-schedule that some bureaucrats decide. That kids would stumble in our institutions is almost a given, in the rigid environment it provides them. Is it any wonder that the kids are sent home with homework, even if they are capable of assimilating all the instruction?

When parents say they wouldn’t be able to homeschool, I simply ask if they do homework with their kids. Inevitably they answer in the affirmative. That right there is homeschooling. Then, unable to resist, I ask why they accept that the school gets the child for 7 and a half hours a day and still sends home homework. If the plumber comes to fix my leaky faucet, and leaves a few screws and joints for me to tighten, would I be okay with that? Hardly! Yet our children come home with work (and I’m speaking mainly of the grade-school students) and we just shrug and lament it, but for some reason accept it as a necessary evil.

The biggest impediment to people finally deciding to homeschool is their own assumption that the education their child receives in school will be, if not excellent, then at least good, but unfortunately that’s just no longer the case.

If our school system was terrific, do you think we’d have Sylvan, Mathnasium, and Kumon franchises opening up everywhere?

We no longer rank anywhere near the top in education worldwide. That’s quite a statement for our great and proud union, and yet no one seems able to do anything about it. Bad teachers cannot be fired; good ones cannot be promoted. We are engulfed in lose-lose contracts with our teachers’ unions, so much so that in some places school boards are abandoning the unions altogether. And they are saving money.

Nowadays there are so many different ways to homeschool, it boggles the mind. You can just do public school online, if you are really die-hard conformist. No more bagged lunches and yelling, “Get in the car or we’re gonna be late!” Or you can join a co-op or a group and sign your child up for lots of classes and field trips.

I had a new acquaintance on the phone the other day and when she discovered that we home school she sighed, “I always thought about that, but I would have to make so many adjustments… I don’t know. It’s too scary to even think about!”

Too frightened to think?

I answered her like this. “Do your research. It’s not nearly as scary as all that. Educate yourself before you write it off, because five years from now, you really don’t want to be sitting there wondering why you didn’t bother.” Let’s face it, you could take a year off from school and just spend time with your grade-school-aged child, take up sewing or fishing (or both), and her schooling would not suffer, in the long run. Even when I was in public school, in fifth grade I got a pass in English for the entire semester because they were repeating the previous year’s content.

So if you’re wondering about it, but you’re too afraid to try, or unsure of yourself, just know there are a lot of other people out there who observed that public school simply wasn’t good enough, and they felt compelled to offer their child an alternative. Then take the plunge, and keep telling yourself,  “I could do worse – and leave them in public school.”

Read Full Post »

Welcome to a new year of homeschooling, Sorbo-style.

We started off the new school year one week ahead of our public school, mainly because we had all really lazed toward the end of the summer, and I knew we would need a ‘settling-in’ period to get back in the groove. By this I mean we did part-time school with old workbooks, just to review and get up to speed with our work. Meanwhile, I had ordered our new textbooks and was waiting with bated breath.

Now, if you’ve read previous blogs, you know how I tout the wonders of the Shurley Grammar curriculum. We are currently pursuing years 4 and 2 of that study. Biwa hates the writing component and yet he excels at it, so I make a point of noticing how quickly he finished, after he moans about how long it will take him to do both assignments (yes, two writing assignment on writing days!) Shane dislikes doing any work, yet revels in it once he’s begun. He adores learning.

For mathematics, Shane has the 3rd year Spectrum notebook and Biwa 4th year and they are both finding the books challenging but not overwhelming.

For history I still like The Story of the World series, but I’ll be honest, the workbooks are a little much for my kids for some reason. I don’t believe in forcing a child to do what I call busy work because they know what it is. Biwa never has patience for drawing or coloring; he lacks aptitude for it anyway, so why torture him? Shane, on the other hand, loves those kinds of things, as well as connect-the-dots and puzzles, so he is much more responsive to the coordinated workbook for history. I found him a connect-the-dots book specifically on Egypt and it’s all I can do to keep up with him.

As for science, it’s all around us. We have our lizard and the boys are expert lizard hunters. We are hatching a tomato hornworm into its moth. The tomato hornworm was found by Shane, after our first four up and died on us, and he eventually formed his chrysalis and buried himself in our terrarium. But not before absolutely devouring my tomato plants! That’s okay, because I made a garden this year, so the kids got to experience first hand growing some of the other vegetables they eschew. We also just attended the Science Night at our public school. I only remembed it at the last minute, after karate, and I innocently asked, so, did you still want to go to Science Night tonight? “Yes! I LOVE science!” was the resounding answer.

I’m having Biwa study French this year, and he has actually started pronouncing the “R” correctly, finally, but I am still researching a better Latin program for the future. The one I got for last year turned out to be only a single year program!

But there are even more important lessons to be learned at home and so I will share this story with you.

I have some very ugly outdoor lights. They are purple, and hang very low, giving them a strange vibe. I had recently realized that I could maybe rehang them upside down, and they probably would look a lot better, so I asked a painter to give me a quote to paint them a more palatable color, but I never heard back. Finally, I decided to take matters into my own hands and I offered the job to Biwa, for a lot more money than he deserved. Part of my thinking was that by over-rewarding him I would somehow engender a greater sense of responsibility and he might ‘rise’ to the occasion. That was misguided, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Biwa stepped up gamely enough, taking the lanterns I removed from the walls, scrubbing and washing them, and then taping them to my satisfaction before starting to paint them with a primer-paint spray we had picked up.

Then his sister made a great big mud puddle with the hose. Shane joined her and that proved too much temptation for Biwa. Mud is fun!

Biwa came to tell me the paint can needed a rest, and he was going to join his siblings in the mud bath. Well, push apparently came to shove, and Biwa ended up spray-painting his younger brother’s arm. Livid, I explained that this was completely irresponsible of him (he could have blinded Shane!) and I cut his promised wages in half.

But let’s face it. He is only ten. I reconsidered my rush to judgment while Biwa was rinsing off upstairs. When he came downstairs after showering I told him I felt that perhaps I had overreacted. I would only dock his pay by 20% (thus forcing him to do some math work as well).

He looked at me with a sly smile. “That’s good, Mom, ’cause in the shower I was thinking that I could just refuse to do it at all, and then you’d have to get a guy in to paint and that would cost you a lot of money – more than me.” He knew already that no painter had returned my calls.

Well paint me proud, though a little miffed at his cockiness. His barely suppressed glee at having bested me in this negotiation was too obvious to overlook.

After duly absorbing his surprising grasp of basic supply and demand economics, the next day I decided I had to take him down a few pegs.

I started with, “Biwa, things have changed a bit again.” Then I launched into my own cunning analysis in a very matter-of-fact tone. “After I began applying your own logic to my situation, I’ve decided that you are going to do the job I gave you for half price. You see I know that there is nowhere else that you can earn the money I will pay you, even just this half we are talking about. So you will finish the paint job, and you will be happy to collect your pay for it. And if it isn’t done today, then I will do it myself, and that money is off the table for good. And for next time, I hope you’ve also learned it’s best to keep quiet when you are ahead, although I am very proud of you for thinking the way you did in the shower yesterday – you know that. You are very, very smart!”

Of course he tried to argue with me, but I had the upper hand (though how long this will last is a testy subject for me). There really is nowhere else for him to earn that kind of money, and I know him – he loves money! He eventually agreed, and even put on a smile when I insisted. I do admit to enlisting friends to commend his fine job and also remark on how well paid he was – not letting on they knew it was only half of our original figure.

This entire experience involved a couple of tremendously valuable lessons in the art of negotiation and supply and demand – none of which would have been taught in this way had my son been enrolled in our local school. (I could never have given him this chore with all the homework he would be bringing home on a daily basis.) And of course the lesson I learned is also invaluable: a child may rise to the occasion you craft for them, but they are only so tall.

Read Full Post »

A friend just emailed me that she had enjoyed a nice winter school holiday but was dreading the whole morning rush back to school.  I don’t experience that particular phenomenon, although I did wonder how it would go for my kids and me, getting back in school mode after our long break.  We took three weeks vacation over Christmas – the first week with no school requirements, and the second two with only minimal reading I’ll explain later.

Here’s how we re-assimilated…

We arrive back home from our trip on Monday morning at 7:30, after a night’s flight.  I am way too exhausted, and so are the kids, to do any homework today, so I give them the day off, in exchange for their promise to push everything by a day – meaning schoolwork on Saturday.

Tuesday, I’m still strung out from the lack of sleep and jet-lag or whatever, but I am sitting at my computer first thing in the morning and Biwa waltzes in and starts his Latin. “Mom, please print out the assignment sheet, so I can cross things off as I go.”

Then he goes right into math, and after that, spelling.  Finally, he says, “Mom, let’s get the grammar done now.”  Who am I to say “no” to that?  Frankly, I’ll admit that I am way too tired to enforce some sort of work ethic today, but if he’s asking me to do grammar, I’m gonna (by golly) do grammar with him!  He finishes off with history.  I’ve decided to start him on a different, more comprehensive history curriculum, but, unfortunately, I quickly discover I don’t have all the materials, so I get over to the computer and order them.

Because of Biwa’s enthusiasm, the other children follow suit, so in answer to whether it is difficult to get back to schoolwork after an extended holiday, I give a resounding (and somewhat surprised,) “No!”  Wednesday, we are getting back into the swing of things, and by the end of the week, Saturday, we finish our week’s worth of work.

The only challenge is that next week, we leave again on Wednesday! The kids will be skiing, so I don’t want to burden them with too much schoolwork while we are there. It’s no fun struggling to learn when you are tired. Review is better for this trip, so I’ve decided bring other stuff instead of 5-day-Shurley. Plus, that approach lightens my load. We’ll take our math books instead, and lots of reading – the most important element in schooling!

I will say that although we didn’t do ‘formal’ school over our long vacation, I had Biwa reading over an hour each day. We also explored the local historical buildings.

For Shane, whose reading is challenged, I took my teaching book for reading and we did two lessons each day, only about 30-45 minutes. That actually provided a nice break from the whole doing-nothing-because-you’re-on-vacation routine. I also did a few pages in the same book – earlier chapters – with Tavie each day. My goal was that by the end of our trip, Shane would be reading.

I proudly report it worked! When we got back, I took out a level 2 “I can read” book, (a book he never could have attempted before my accelerated reading program,) and he read it, haltingly. When it comes to reading, Shane has an issue with confidence. Remember, he excels in math, so I guess it’s a bit of a trade-off.  But now, he’s totally reading! Another wonderful result is that Tavie is now also reading, three-letter-words only, with lots of help. But her approach is so fearless, she’ll say anything – just take a stab at the word, even a bold-faced guess – whereas Shane is intimidated into silence by the fear of being wrong, it seems. No worries. A little cajoling and a bit of encouragement, and he’ll read better and better.

Today, after a long bit of concentration on my cereal box, he asked me, “Mom, does that say ‘peanut butter granola’ on that box?”  He was right!

Read Full Post »

“I could never home-school. I would probably kill my kid by Wednesday, if I had to spend the entire day with him, every day!”

Typical fare for the teenager-parent relationship? Unfortunately, yes. But ironically, the individuals making these pronouncements are often the ideal candidates for home schooling. Possibly the worst thing frustrated parents can do is send their aloof, argumentative children away (to school.) In any other setting, dropping them off somewhere, for someone else to deal with, would be deemed giving up on the relationship. (This is the way children likely perceive the slight as well – they aren’t stupid, you know.)

If the parents cannot stand to spend time with their own child, how will he ever feel loved? But parents are so blinded by school’s beacon; they shield their eyes and shove the child into the wolves’ den. (It is no wonder he returns home behaving like a wild animal.)

What children learn in school…

Parents wonder where their relationship with their teen went wrong. Answer: Their influence was all but eclipsed the moment the child crossed the school threshold. It’s that simple. Each day a young child goes to school, he learns (way too early,) that his parents don’t know everything. School reinforces this point by teaching the little ones to instruct their parents. “Tell Mommy not to pack plastic sandwich bags in your lunch – that kills the dolphins!” Mommy kills dolphins! He makes friends with other kids whose parents also slaughter innocent animals. He joins his peers, learns to challenge authority, then comes home and asserts himself. The parent thinks, “Well, that’s probably a good thing, because he is learning to be self-confident and capable.”

But a good parent has a sneaking suspicion that it isn’t quite right.

Troubled Teens

A few years later, still on the school treadmill, the youngster becomes a surly judgmental teen and the fights get too big to try to win anymore. The parent throws his hands up and sighs. “Teenagers!” It’s inevitable: the independence, the ego, his disdain for Mom’s outdated values and his resentment that Dad somehow has maintained control of the Wii remote or his access to the car.

The experts, school authorities, say they see this type of thing every day and advise the parents to weather the storm. Other parents agree: the teen years are the pits – but completely normal and acceptable. (Shrugs and chuckles!)

By “normal” they mean that most children go through this, but most children are enrolled in school. By “acceptable” they mean it simply must be endured; it is unavoidable. Wrong. “I’m too lazy to take on home schooling. It’s all I can do to keep up with their homework.” “I can’t teach my kids. What would I do when they got to algebra or calculus? I don’t remember any of that stuff.” If first grade learning is too hard, by all means, start him in school now. But let’s not fool ourselves: homework is home school (just with more pressure, later in the day, when everyone’s tired, hungry and grouchy.)

Acquaintances of mine went to a home schooling convention early on in their children’s lives and met families with polite, loving teenagers. They quickly decided, “That’s how we want our kids to behave when they are that age.” Now they successfully home school their respectful and caring teens.


On December 6th, President Obama addressed a report that US teens continue to sink in world education rankings, calling for another “Sputnik moment.” It took only 18 years to bring our space program up to par, but we were already running second in the race. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, in a recent study of 65 countries, US education scored lower than fourteenth on the list, well behind Japan and South Korea. Is a mediocre education worth risking the parent-child relationship?

Not when home-schooled children typically out-perform their public school counterparts by 30-37 percentile points across the board. Socializing all day (for that is truly what school has become,) is apparently not the most sensible way to nurture or instruct a child. With so little to recommend a public education, the decision to send a child to school must be a product of societal conditioning. Responsible parents owe it to themselves and their families to investigate home schooling options.

As distressing as they are, the parents’ mundane declarations in this article articulate tremendous loss: the death tolls of those parent-child relationships. They indicate great naïveté, and yes, selfishness. Tragically, these parents have speciously placed their hope and trust in an institutionalized “education” system that gradually but resoundingly destroys the very fabric of their family life and, consequently, the future role of family in our nation.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: