Laurie Levy

Homework for Young Kids: 4 Questions for Parents to Ask Teachers

After two weeks of school, the dreaded notice arrived: homework was on its way. Beginning in a few days, my friend’s first-grade son would receive daily math assignments. She turned to Facebook to ask her friends what they thought of this expectation that she knew would turn into a daily battle with her child. 

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No More Paper Turkeys: What Preschoolers Really Need to Succeed

Our youngest learners will soon be entering a new school year. Yet, despite all of the attention devoted in recent years to rigorous, standardized education, especially for our youngest learners, a sizeable achievement gap still exists between white children and children of color. Recently, a group of professors from Stanford and Harvard Universities shared data from new studies on racial disparities in American education. They focused on the achievement gap between black and white fourth grade students across the country, using the NAEP assessment as their guide.

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The Cruel and Pointless Push to Get Preschoolers 'College and Career Ready'

In case you missed it, April 21 was officially Kindergarten Day. This obscure holiday honors the birth of Friedrich Frobel, who started the first Children’s Garden in Germany in 1837. Of course, life has changed tremendously in the 179 years since Frobel created his play-based, socialization program to transition young children from home to school — and so, too, has school itself. But what hasn’t changed in all this time, not one iota, is the developmental trajectory of the preschoolers Frobel was thinking about when he created what we now call kindergarten.

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8 Reasons My Family Decided to Opt out of Meaningless High-Stakes Testing

In state after state, parents of all political persuasions are coming together over the issue of meaningless standardized tests whose sole purpose seems to be rating schools and teachers. These tests have become the performance review of childhood. The results matter—not for learning, of course, but to measure how well kids are doing their job as consumers of information. Since we can’t fire kids from being students if they don’t measure up, we penalize their teachers and close their “underperforming” schools. Because these test scores carry such huge consequences, we spend vast amounts of time and money teaching kids how to get the right answers. What we don’t teach them is how to actually think, or how learning can be rewarding for its own sake.

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An Elementary Student's Bill of Rights

I recently read a blog post in which a mother and former teacher, Laura Eberhart Goodman, details putting her young children on the school bus everyday with one, simple wish: that they have a good day. But she knows that is not what will happen.

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Is There Hope for a Return to Common Sense in Early Childhood Education?

I have been involved in education long enough to know that, much like the children riding the painted ponies on the carousel of time in Joni Mitchell’s song "The Circle Game," educational trends often go round and round. So after years of (erroneously) pressuring early childhood programs to prepare children for college and career, perhaps we are finally seeing the light at the end of what I view as a very long and dark tunnel of developmentally inappropriate expectations and instruction for our youngest learners.

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Think Homework Is Important? Here's Why You're Wrong

Should kids in elementary school have a homework packet to complete over winter "vacation"? Should children in kindergarten, first, and second grade even have homework? A homework packet that was "gifted" to every student over winter break in an elementary school in my community set off a firestorm of controversy as parents took sides in the great homework debate.

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Do We Really Need to Test Special Needs Children More Than We Already Are?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thinks our schools are shortchanging students with special needs or disabilities. The truth is, he’s right — he’s just not right about how our schools are failing them.  

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It's Time for Schools to Rethink the Benefit of an Extended Summer Break

No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks. 

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Can Good Teaching Be Measured By a Formula?

What is a good teacher? I think most of us could probably list the qualities possessed by the teachers who have touched our lives most profoundly. My own Top 10 List of the characteristics of a good teacher looks something like this:

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How Our Backward Approach to Education Hurts Our Youngest Learners

When my daughter was in second grade, she loved performing in ice skating shows. But she regularly complained about a baby in her group who was ruining the performance. When I volunteered to help backstage, I saw that she was right: there was a tiny child in ice skates, still being nursed by her mother between acts, being pushed out on the ice well before she could possibly have been ready for such a feat. 

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My 5-Year-Old Grandson Hates Homework - And I Don't Blame Him

My grandson is in kindergarten, and like many kindergartners today, he has homework. Not just a little homework, but a lot of it. Each week, he comes home with a homework packet that is due the next Monday—a good enough due date, I suppose, because like 64% of mothers with young kids, my daughter works. Having the packet due on Monday at least gives her the weekend to force him to do it, because of course he can’t do this homework on his own. Getting it done requires hands-on parental support and intervention. And predictably, getting it done has turned into a huge battle.

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5 Devastating Facts About Charter Schools You Won't Hear from the 'National School Choice Week' Propaganda Campaign

Wow! Check out the fancy website for National School Choice Week. It’s polished, it’s colorful; it features kids of all races with bright smiling faces. They even have their own dance! The videos are tearjerkers, reminiscent, in emotional value, of the highly touted documentary film, Waiting for Superman, which propelled school choice advocates into the national conversation back in 2010.

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8 Common-Sense Policy Debates School Districts Need to Have Now

Ever wonder why parents try to request certain teachers or schools for their children? If you think the only thing they care about are a school’s standardized test scores or its teachers’ ratings based on those scores, you’re only seeing part of the picture. Parents also seek schools that have a reputation for being welcoming communities where their children will be valued and respected. They seek teachers who are fair, nurturing and accepting of their children as unique learners.

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An Educator's Wishlist for the New Year

This New Year will mark the 12th anniversary of my becoming a grandparent. It is also sure to be a year where I will continue to examine how education reform has impacted the lives of my now eight grandchildren, in ways I could never have imagined in 2003.

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Think Your Job Is Hard? Here's What It's Like to Be a Teacher Today

It was an innocent question: "How’s your school year going?" She’s an experienced educator, teaching third grade this year in a highly regarded suburban district. So why did her eyes well up with tears during a casual conversation at a party? Did she have a tough class? Was she upset about a challenging child?

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It's the Poverty, Stupid

How can a brilliant man who received a rigorous education at a private school and graduated from Yale University end up living in poverty and shot dead for dealing drugs in Newark? That is the question I grappled with as I read The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs.

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What's Wrong With the New Standardized Tests Coming to a School Near You

What if they gave a test and nobody came? During the '60s, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?” was a popular anti-war slogan. That logic still resonates with me today—about war, and about the testing regime that currently has a stranglehold on our schools.

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Why the Latest Approach to Learning Math Is Driving Students and their Families to Tears

Recently, I saw a Facebook post by an educator teaching sixth grade for the first time. In it, she begged for help from anyone who had taught Common Core math to sixth graders. Her school district hadn’t provided much training, and she was clearly in over her head.

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Bombarded by Tests: How Young Is Too Young to Start Testing Kids?

Remember when the biggest test in kindergarten was not crying on the first day? Remember when kindergarten teachers had time to let kids play; to observe them and get to know their little quirks and personalities? Remember Robert Fulgham’s words on that once omnipresent poster claiming Everything You Need to Know You Learned in Kindergarten?

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10 Ways Kindergarten Can Stop Failing Our Kids

My grandson, like millions of other five- and six-year-olds across the country, is about to start his formal education in kindergarten. Like most kids, he’s a bit worried. He has three important questions about what his new school will be like:

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Is Your School District Taking the Right Approach to Special Education?

Lily* started kindergarten at her neighborhood school in 2009, as part of the school district’s inaugural inclusion program. She was officially diagnosed as having a severe language disorder with some autistic spectrum features. Had she entered kindergarten in 2008, she most likely would have been placed in a self-contained special education class, with some limited opportunities to interact with typically developing peers. She would have been assigned to whichever school in the district had room for the class that year, and possibly moved to a different school down the road if her original school became too crowded.

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Why Teaching Children to Be Tolerant About Diversity Just Won't Cut It

As children, the Greatest Generation grew up fearing those who were different from them. Racial slurs were the norm and people with disabilities or mental illnesses were often sent away or kept out of sight. Tolerance wasn’t a buzzword back then.

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How Forcing Children to Read Before They're Ready Can Badly Backfire

How do we teach children the joy of reading? I’ll confess up front I am not a reading specialist, just an educator with 30 years of experience and a parent and grandparent of kids who love to read. And I’m concerned about the way the Common Core State Standards are promoting reading instruction by recommending the close reading technique for young children.

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Is An End to Testing Madness Closer Than We Think?

Testing season is winding down for now, along with the polar vortex (we hope). As spring attempts to emerge, is it possible we are waking up to the folly we have accepted as education policy since No Child Left Behind became law in January 2002 (only to be followed by Race to the Top)? Is it possible the "opt out of testing" movement is for real?

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Are the 'Diaper Olympics' Closer Than We Think?

I'm neither a policy wonk nor a competitive person, so here's the thing: Will ExceleRate Illinois -- a new grant from the federal government to create a system for improving quality and rating all early learning and development programs statewide -- help low income children and close the achievement gap in our schools? Or will it devolve into The Diaper Olympics? When daycares and preschools go for the gold, will some of the well-documented problems associated with Race to the Top (RTTT) emerge?

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