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Education A s P Ec i AL s Ec T i o N o F T h E R E c o R D - R E v i E W ✍ JA N UA Ry 1 7 , 2 0 1 4 Who’s afraid of the COMMON CORE? study sKills Helpful lessons for all ages T A By JAcKiE LUPo re you nervous about what the Common Core will mean to your kids? It seems that just about everybody is these days. When the first round of Common-Core-linked state tests were administered last spring in New York State, the proportion of students who were performing at “grade level” dropped precipitously in many districts compared to the year before. It wasn’t that students had suddenly become “dumber” than the kids who had been in their grade the previous year — it was that the rules of the game had suddenly changed: new tests, new criteria for grading and new expectations for what skills students should have learned before taking the test. At public forums last fall, angry parents, teachers and school administrators confronted New York State education commissioner John King over the rocky implementation of the Common Core. Some even demanded his resignation. Teachers were up in arms because they felt Common Core testing had been rolled out before students were ready, after less than a year of teaching to the standards. Teachers also objected to being evaluated on the basis of students’ scores, and parents objected to the amount of time being spent in class to prepare students for the new tests. Even homeowners without children pored over their districts’ test results to be sure their home values would not be affected by declining scores. But in a recent letter to school superintendents, principals and other school leaders, King defended the Common Core Standards. “We understand that implementation of the Common Core and teacher/principal evaluation in a time of limited resources has come with significant challenges,” King wrote. “The Board of Regents and I knew we would encounter a good amount of concern in the public forums. We want — and need — to By ToDD sLiss hat paper you’ve had two weeks to write is due tomorrow and you haven’t started writing it. The test that you’ve known about for a week and you haven’t started studying. A project that’s worth a large part of your grade and you’ve been putting it off. This is reality for many students, especially given the daily distractions in our lives. Perhaps that’s why preschools are giving homework to little ones, to get them started on the right path to balancing their lives earlier rather than later. But in addition to just being used to having a busy life filled with homework, there are many things parents and students of all grade levels can do to give them the tools to succeed in an educational system that is jam-packed with homework, tests, projects and more tests. “In the younger grades, homework is more about getting into a routine and learning responsibility,” according to Laura Rice, director of The Learning Resource Center in Mount Kisco. “It’s important to make sure you know the teacher’s expectations and routines. Don’t rely on the child’s memory. Each afternoon ask where their homework is. Decide what works best for your family. Completing homework right after school? After a short break and a snack or after dinner? Consistency is the key for creating a new routine. After homework is completed, encourage them to pack up their bag and leave it by the door.” There is a process that parents need to be part of, especially early on. Psychologist Dorrie Bernstein’s three steps are: “1) Do it. 2) Check it. 3) Pack it.” Part of the overall routine includes where your child does his or her homework each day. That, too, should be consistent, and also hits on another aspect of successful completion of homework and studying — avoiding distractions. “When choosing the appropriate space to do homework, it is important to choose a place with the least amount of distractions,” Linda Salomon of EliteTutors said. “For younger children this may be at the kitchen or hear from teachers, parents, and students as these important changes in practice occur in classrooms, schools and communities across the state.” Regardless of what parents might want to say to the state education commissioner, the Common Core is here. But what is it, exactly? The first thing to know about the so-called “Common Core Curriculum” is that it is not a curriculum per se. It’s a set of standards or benchmarks for the work students should be able to do at each stage of their educational career from pre-k through high school. It is not a complete “curriculum,” since it covers only English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. It’s also wrong to call it a curriculum because it does not detail specific teaching methods, books that must be read or teaching materials that must be used, just the standards that students are expected to attain. It all began in 2010, when a consortium of state governors and education commissioners banded together to develop a complex set of consistent educational standards that would ensure that every student in every state received an education that would provide them with essential skills and knowledge. Fortyfive states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories and the Department of Defense have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Minnesota and Nebraska have not adopted the Common Core. In New York, all schools were required to phase in instruction aligned to Common Core standards in the 2012-13 school year for grades pre-k-8, and the grades 3-8 tests starting in spring 2013 were aligned to the Common Core. The Common Core kicked in for high school students entering grade 9 in the 201314 academic year, and that cohort of students will move through high school with a Common Core-aligned course of study. The Regents exams they will have to take in ELA and math will reflect the Common Core Continued on page 4A Continued on page 6A INSIDE PrEscHool: Letting kids be kids just a little while longer T BooKshELF: a teacher speaks up… and hopes people listen ..................... 2a PUBLic vs. PRivATE: your child’s education options.............................. 3a RAisiNG A READER: Tips to help young children love to read .......................... 5a PAyiNG FoR coLLEGE: how to finance a higher education .............. 5a A TUToRiAL FRoM TUToRs: advice for parents and children .................. 7a EDUcATioN NoTEBooK: ....... 7a-8a By MARy LEGRAND aken as a group, preschoolers, children typically from 3-5 years of age, sure do love to play. So when they attend preschool, what’s the correct balance between the time spent playing and learning? A number of preschool directors and teachers from around Westchester County feel there’s plenty of opportunity to let youngsters continue to play while they’re that age, keeping in mind that while kids play they are in fact also learning. Judith Michael, director of temple education and programming at Temple Beth Shalom in Hastings-on-Hudson, and Tracy Pyper, head teacher of the school’s 4s program, said that now more than ever, preschool educators see their roles as crucial, in part because studies show how important time spent playing at school is to children’s brain development and social/emotional learning. And, according to Pyper, by the time children get into kindergarten they’ll spend more than enough time doing so-called “seat work” at their desks. “We feel in preschool what the students get is what they need in terms of the social and emotional aspects of life through play and cooperative learning,” she said. “It’s a safety zone, a pure early childhood environment.” Michael agrees that while children should be allowed to act their age by playing in preschool, “There’s also the recognition that what we’re doing is getting them ready for kindergarten. The goal is that our students have a positive orienta- tion to going to school — learning to feel good about themselves, learning to be members of a group. If children know how to be part of a group, how to listen to a story, how to ask a question and listen to the answer, they are ready for their learning experiences.” Parents whose children attend the Hastings preschool “understand how their children are learning through play activities,” Pyper said. “It’s the people who are legislating right now who really don’t understand education and are focused more on academic activities in early childhood. Children at this age do learn through play and exploration; it’s the teacher’s job to capitalize on and build a curriculum around them. Good teachers make sure everything is developmentally appro- priate and address each child’s individual needs.” Michael said, “Our rabbi recently reminded me of the great quote from Albert Einstein: ‘Understanding physics is child’s play compared to understanding child’s play.’ We do understand the merits of play.” Marilyn Horan, educational director of Hudson Country Montessori School in New Rochelle, said the program Maria Montessori developed more than 120 years ago “really hasn’t changed. We don’t call it play — we call it work, and we make sure the materials provided draw the children in through their interest to work.” To someone with no knowledge of a Montessori activity, it might look like children are playing with beads, Horan said, “but they’re counting them, sorting them, doing activities that are sequential. There are several things you teach children in the process; nothing is in isolation.” Not only does the child attending a Montessori school actively learn to “do the whole work cycle — do the work and put it back for the next child,” but the process is “also teaching the next person to wait their turn,” Horan said. “A lot of times children are helped way too much... if we start children very young learning to be selfmotivated and not having to hear ‘good job’ for whatever they do, they’ll do something for their own satisfaction, not because mom or dad thinks it is good.” Cheryl Smith, director of St. James the Less Nursery School in Scarsdale, said her school Continued on page 4A

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