Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?

What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? by Susan Ohanian

Reviewed by Susie Berry

What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? is not just for parents and teachers of young children. It is for anyone concerned about the radical changes happening in the public schools (charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, for example) in Indiana and across the country. While reading I marked (with my little book darts) many pertinent quotes from Ohanian and other educators, parents, and even students. Here are just a few of the quotes I “darted”:

From David Elkind, The Hurried Child: “International research shows that pushing children to read early causes later reading problems.”

From Lucy Haab, a longtime kindergarten teacher: “I am tired of the attitude that seems to serve politicians … if children have a difficult time learning something at age five, let’s ask them to learn it at age three.”

From Molly Ivins, who wrote about an excellent teacher she knows in Arizona: This teacher protested when legislators passed a law saying the only method that can be used to teach reading is phonics. She contends that phonics is a good way to teach reading but is certainly not the only way. She said, “There is not a single teacher in the Arizona Legislature. Why are they telling me how to do my job?” This teacher felt so strongly she resigned.

From Professor Stephen Krashen: He stated that in 2001 “Chicago spent $29 million in an attempt to boost test scores of 29,000 students. There might be an easier way,” suggests Krashen. “The time spent on reading for pleasure has a stronger impact on increasing reading test scores, and $29 million buys a lot of books.”

Annalise Schantz was the valedictorian of a high school class in Massachusetts (where high-stakes testing was encouraged by the governor). This was part of Schantz’s address to students, parents, administrators, and a few elected officials: She asked what separated her “from two, 50, or 120?” She said the “assigned numbers reflect nothing about the true character of an individual. Nothing about personality. Nothing about desire or will. Nothing about values or morals. Nothing about intelligence. Nothing about creativity. Nothing about heart.”

On testing, Ohanian says, “The notion that subjecting an eight-year old to a
17-hour test to prove that the state has standards is a colossal fraud as well as child abuse.”

Ohanian contends that schools should not be labeled based on test scores. She is afraid that testing is controlling the curriculum and worries about the fairness of the questions asked our students. Interestingly, even in 2002, when this book was written, parents were beginning to take stands on all the testing. Ohanian referenced parents in California, New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts. A California parent uses the slogan “High stakes are for tomatoes.”

Our voices need to be heard. Legislatures in our state need to be informed by teachers, administrators, and parents. We know what is best for our children; if the legislators don’t know how we feel we need to inform them.

I read this book and wrote this review before the Diane Ravitch speech in Fort Wayne March 13. It is noteworthy that the compelling research Ravitch cited is so similar to what Ohanian referenced in this book.
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