Monday, September 24, 2012

"Two Times Tabled to Death" (figuratively speaking)

While out to dinner with our good friends this weekend, the conversation, as it often does, turned to education. Our friends have two children about the same ages as ours. He works in the private sector and wants the best for his kids like most parents. Knowing that I am a school superintendent, he values my opinions and thoughts around education. He will often ask questions about school and his kids' education. He usually begins by saying, "hey, let me run this by you and see if this makes sense to you". We do not always agree on educational issues but I find him to be very thoughtful around the issues. Sometimes I find myself being the defender of public education in some of our conversations, but this one - I could not defend or understand.

He shared that his son,who is now in 4th grade, must write his 2x's tables every night of the week five times each - and has needed to do this for weeks. I naturally asked, "does he not know them?" and he answered that he absolutely knows them - but when it comes to the "timed" written fact test of them he can't write fast enough. His son struggles with some anxiety around performance but truthfully, I find him to be smarter than most adults I know. I asked, "so did you speak with his teacher about this? Specifically, did you explain that he knows the 2x's tables and simply can't write fast enough?" To which he said yes, and the teacher's response to us was, "Oh, I know he knows them, but he has to past the written fact check test to move on. It is a school policy".

Ok, I am not sure if the teacher got this policy right - or if it is an actual policy- maybe she just heard that somewhere, but, if that is a policy we are in deep trouble. *This school (and district) is considered a high achieving district under the current NJ/Federal definitions of high achieving, meaning-our kids all pass the NJASK. Also, in all fairness to the school there are some excellent educators there. Most likely, this is some rule that became 'law' and has taken on a life of its own. It is time to end it.

While it is still important for children to be able to memorize the multiplication facts so they can have them on easy recall, more importantly is that they understand the actual mathematics behind multiplication. I spent the next 10 minutes at our dinner quizzing their son - he knew all of his 2x's table facts as well as what it means to multiply. If the teacher were to just think about what learning outcome she hoped to achieve I think she could see how absurd it is that he is forced to continue writing his 2x's tables every night. Let's move on already, the 3's are waiting.

Education is NOT linear, I do not understand why we feel we must gate-keep - "you can't have the next bit of knowledge until you master the current bits"... hypothetically, their son could spend the rest of his education writing the 2x's tables.