Do Charter Schools Take the Joy Out of Learning?
This article in the Salt Lake Tribune tells the woeful tale of some overworked kindergartners. These kids spend several hours a day on academics, with little or no time left for play.
One comment blames this state of affairs on charter schools:
There’s seems to be this disturbing trend today, seen specifically in the development of the charter school program, of pushing the education system to higher standards in the name of achievement.
Are charter schools really the culprits? I don’t think so. The article describes public kindergartens run by traditional districts, and at least some of the impetus for drilling kindergartners comes from Utah’s education department:
“Doubling time in kindergarten should mean twice the time for instruction,” said Reed Spencer, a curriculum coordinator at the state office of education who is designing a uniform testing tool for Utah’s full-day kindergarten programs.
I’m guessing whoever wrote the comment would say that the traditional districts are responding to competition from charters. There’s pressure for traditional districts to win back students from charters, and the way they attract them is by ruthlessly pursuing higher test scores.
If districts are pressured to improve, that’s a good thing. However, improvement doesn’t have to mean forsaking common sense. As an illustration, look at some of the new charter elementary schools in St. Louis. There’s a Montessori school, a Spanish immersion school, and a French immersion school. None of those charters takes a drill-and-kill approach. A district that wants to compete with them would do well to avoid standardized tests for five-year-olds and instead replicate what the charters are creating.
As for charters like KIPP, that are known to focus on academic skills, they find ways to do that through age-appropriate activities. Here is a sample schedule from a KIPP elementary school in Houston. There are long hours, lots of time on reading, math, Spanish — what you would expect from a KIPP school. But interspersed throughout the day are blocks of time dedicated to “circle time,” “creative play,” “”storytelling,” and “project-based learning.” (And see this article about the creative ways KIPP is teaching reading to older children in St. Louis.)
It’s not all about textbooks and the blackboard. In fact, any charter that did torture kindergartners with uninterrupted test-prep would have trouble attracting students and would be very easy for any district to compete with. There would be no need to change the kindergarten curriculum in order to compete with such a poorly designed charter.