Here's a phrase you don't hear much any more: the Third-Grade Slump.
Like a lot of other child-raising customs which didn't survive the 1960s, that one was the result of then typical parental pre-k preparation of children for school-who then found they (we) could coast through the first three of their (our) 13-year public education odyssey.
The slump came when we found that, starting with grade three, we actually had to pay attention and learn something; the adjustment-lag showed up in poor report cards, parental displeasure, and swift attitude adjustment.
My generation of parents was the last to do our pre-k job; when the slump showed, we were sternly instructed at the parent-teacher conference that it was our fault because-rather than presuming to teach, a professionally demanding task not executable by mere amateurs-we should have presented the kids at the schoolhouse door as tabulae rasae, blank slates on which (or whom) pedagogical magic could be skillfully worked to achieve high level literacy and numeracy.
Well, it ain't the 1960s any more. The low test scores aren't confined to grade 3 and teachers are now complaining that parents aren't pre-king their kids as they used to. The real story is that prepping kids for reading and math-indeed, we were taught, and did ourselves actually teach, our kids to handle basic reading and math-is so easy that even we parental troglodytes could and did do it.
If you think back to the typical grade-school boredom you experienced while the basics were reviewed-yet again and again-consider what the process must hold or fail to hold for the adult educator him (or her) self. It perhaps explains why the professionals have sought intellectual stimulation by debating about all the multiple variations of New Math and New Reading techniques which might be used to rescue teachers from near-terminal mind-numbing boredom in the classroom.
The argument over the whole-word Dick and Jane method versus the phonics symbol-sound method was triggered more by a desperate teacher grasp at variety than by a bored-second-grader insistence, I'd bet.
To carry my speculation a step further, I'd argue that it's at the root of such phenomena as lecturing primary grade students on such more-interesting-to-adults subjects as non-traditional marriage, global warming, cultural diversity, First-World urban sprawl and Third-World deforestation, etc. Today, "Proficient" roughly equates to "able to function at grade level" although many educators, as I've reported in earlier columns, want to equate it to the even easier "basic" so as to finesse the NCLB 2014 proficiency requirement.
As a parental troglodyte, I can testify that I could both receive and then give instruction. So can all homeschoolers whose students typically score higher than their public-schooled peers. Neither homeschool teacher nor pupil suffer boredom-perhaps because we didn't make a tediously repetitive career of it and the students, because they learn the 36 symbols and swiftly move on to more interesting stuff where they get to use what they've learned.
All basic training "grads" are proficient in their basics-more than can be said for the majority of school kids who aren't in theirs-because they weren't taught their own 36 basics, something even parents can do.
Public education rejects responsibility for this situation arguing, in a suit led by Vermont educrats against federal standards, that nowhere in their job description is their the obligation to bring any specific percentage of students to "proficient"; if the feds want such an unreasonable outcome, then they are just going to have pay more for it. (With the money in hand, it will then happen.)
I'd bet that it's no statistical accident that students in k-12 education for military dependents, typically, score much higher in the federal reading and math tests than their civilian-school counterparts. Nor is it irrelevant that military instructors are held responsible for student proficiency-"If the student didn't learn, it's because the teacher didn't teach"-and career-tracked accordingly.
The success of most parents at basic reading, writing and arithmetic instruction-and the contrasting 2/3 failure of the k-12 system at the same task measured via NAEP tests-suggests that expanding pre-k to prevent parental teaching at an even earlier age is precisely the wrong direction to take. Every study of pre-k, from Head Start on, has exposed its long-term ineffectiveness.
I'd suggest parents ought to be encouraged to teach at home through grade 2-maybe by removing the taxes which force both adults to re-join the labor force when their kids are still at nursery-school level-so that they can present their offspring for grade 3 fully knowledgeable in the critical 36 symbols, ready for more classes which both they and their teachers will actually find interesting.
No more Grade 3 Slump-as all the evidence shows, teaching the three Rs is so easy even parents can do it.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.