A propos of Kindergarten children being asked to write journals and stories without any instruction in spelling (or even in pencil grip or how to form the letters), and also children being taught -- or not -- number facts and algorithms, this discussion has come up on a couple of other boards I read. One important issue stands out: there is enormous variability in what is required and/or permitted to be taught in these areas.Outsourcing math facts to parents handicaps all children. I know we've talked about this a lot over the years, but I don't have the patience to go hunting the posts. Easier to write a new post now---
I advise all parents to get a copy of your district's curriculum documents, if you can (many have them online) and see what teachers are being told to do. It may surprise you. In many places, expectations for teaching the mechanics of writing -- pencil grip, letter formation, manuscript or cursive writing styles, even spelling -- have been *completely* removed from the curriculum. Teachers can of course model them or give instructions en passant, but cannot actually focus on these things as objects of lessons.
Catherine has brought up the use of "instructional coaches." This is becoming more and more common, and one of their (unstated) roles is to act as "literacy police" or "numeracy police." If they see teachers doing spelling, or printing, or teaching math facts systematically, they are to discourage these things and also discuss it with school administration. My district no longer requires math facts to be taught, and teachers have actually been forbidden to practice them in class. They can assign math fact practice for "homework" which is another way of outsourcing to parents, as Catherine has pointed out in the past. This disproportionately penalizes low-SES kids whose parents don't have the time or sometimes the expertise to teach these things to their children.
It's very often not a matter of teachers not wanting to teach "the basics," but of their being prevented from doing so. Many of my colleagues grumble quietly about it, but because it is ordered from on high it can't be openly flouted. It's not clear to me who makes these curriculum decisions higher up the ladder, but sometimes it does seem (as an anonymous person said earlier) that the goal might just be to keep the proles in their place! In my darker moments I am tempted to think this is so.
At least two high-SES, highly-educated parents we know told us they were never able to remediate their sons' deficiencies in math facts or in long division. One of these parents went to Harvard. They tried, but they did not get the job done. Even Kumon didn't get the job done for one of the kids. (Not sure why -- possibly because the parents realized what the situation was too late -- ?)
I was lucky because the Saxon Math "Fast Fact" sheets worked for C. after 2 other approaches I tried failed outright: flash cards and flash card software. When I switched to the Saxon worksheets, he learned rapidly.
I had no idea what to make of it. Can't learn his math facts using flash cards? Can learn them practically overnight using worksheets?
Later on, I read a Rafe Esquith passage advising parents that students need to practice material in the format they'll use it on the test. That makes sense. It's consistent with everything I know about animal training and with Dan Willingham's explanation of flexible and inflexible knowledge.
But how many parents know this?
I sure didn't.
At a board meeting recently, our new part-time Interim Director of Curriculum and Instruction made one fantastic observation. She said she'd told teachers that "If we were serving a low-SES population, with parents working two jobs to make ends meet, we wouldn't expect parents to be skilling and drilling the math facts. Our parents have busy lives and many demands on their time, and we shouldn't expect them to do it, either."
Then she added, diplomatically, that in fact parents here, nearly all of whom are high-SES and well-educated, are not getting the job done.
Last year, the 6th grade accelerated math class had to stop dead in its tracks so the teacher could teach math facts & the standard algorithms. The kids were all high-SES and their parents are well-educated.
Teaching math facts isn't simple or obvious. Skilled teachers do it far better than most parents.