Race to Nowhere - Questioning Public Schools
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Race to Nowhere - Questioning Public Schools
Last week I went with a friend to a screening of the movie
Race to Nowhere. I thought we were settled in our choice
of our local school for our 5-year-old, but now I am
having serious doubts. I don't want her to grow up in a
pressure cooker that slowly erodes the joy of learning. I
want her to be challenged, in a serious way, that
encourages her to *think* and not just memorize by rote
only to have the information be forgotten the next week as
I remember vividly doing in school. Does such a school
exist? That fosters serious and deep learning, without an
overload of homework and testing? And do we even have hope
of getting in at such a late date? We are not rich, but
now I am willing to consider alternatives and make our
budget stretch just a little further if need be.
I also saw the film and was also deeply affected.
I have a 5th grader and a 2nd grader in an OUSD school. The
district has a policy that homework must be given, but we
have found that every teacher (bar one) has been more than
reasonable in homework expectations.
I assume your daughter is enrolled for September. Have you
spoken with the principal of the school regarding homework
requirements? Will they let you talk to one or more of the
kindergarten teachers about your concerns? They may have
seen the film as well, and although they might be limited in
what changes they can make due to district policies, they
all have their own style of teaching and expectations. Learn
how to work with your child's teacher.
Not every school is the pressure cooker as depicted in the
film, especially at the elementary level. I think the
filmmaker included her young son as the extreme example. In
my own children I realized that even though their teachers
may have been relaxed about the homework, *I* wasn't always,
and the film provided good examples of how parents can
reduce the pressure and help children realize the best ways
to measure success.
I do think the real concern is high school - and you have
many years ahead of you to ensure your child has a better
quality of education.
Follow the guidelines that were at the end of the film and
on the website how to Take Action.
That's where the real change will come for ALL.
Mom of Two
I'd encourage you to visit
Prospect Sierra school. We
have been at the school now for 5 years and feel very
grateful to be a part of it. The teachers and the
curriculum are most inspiring and truly engage the
children. I feel both my children are learning in an
authentic, engaged way...a far cry from the rote learning
of my childhood. I feel the school strikes an amazing
balance of truly rich academics while still being mindful
of engaging the whole child.
Yes, such a school does exist! Check out Crestmont School,
a K-5 cooperative in Richmond (on the Arlington, not far
from the El Cerrito border). Our son is in 3rd grade and
our whole family is very happy there. There are no grades
or tests, though the 4th/5th teacher does help prepare the
kids for testing since most of them will experience tests in
middle school. I too saw Race to Nowhere and the
overwhelming feeling I had while watching it was ''thank God
we are at Crestmont!''. It totally confirmed for me all the
reasons why we chose the school. Check out the website --
not sure about space for next year but it is certainly worth
Happy Crestmont parent
I saw that movie too and I am thankful that YES such a school does exist and
my son started there in Kindergarten and he is now finishing 5th grade so he
& we have been there 6 years - that school? Crestmont School
(www.crestmontschool.org) This is a wonderful school in the Richmond Hills
off Arlington Blvd a couple of miles past Moesser. The school is built on
experiential learning with no testing and focuses on learning through field
trips, art, music, creativity and active learning. Creativity and exploring
education in a non-traditional setting. Students sit with teachers and with
the whole school and talk about feelings and how to treat others. The school
is a cooperative, so the tuition starts at a lower rate than most private
schools. Plus the more you volunteer and work at the school = the lower your
tuition bill. You can volunteer during the school day, nights & weekends.
Each time you volunteer the monthly tuition payment goes down.
Academics? My son tested (through an outside agency) two grade levels
above the average child of his age after just a few years there.
There is a lot of cross grade interaction with academic projects, & creative
activities. Please call the enrollment line at (510) 237-9336 - I believe there
may still be some openings, but you have to call to be sure. I am now the
music teacher there after being a parent there for four years, feel free to
email or call me to discuss the school - I can't say enough wonderful things
about all the teachers and the school!!
I think it's possible to get in to a private school on short
notice in this economic climate. I drive past the Montessori
Family School in El Cerrito and have seen a sign up for most
of the year advertising space in Kindergarten for 2009-10.
If you are looking for something more alternative, check out
Wildcat Community Freeschool in Richmond--they take kids
based on availability at any time of the year.
That said, if I were you I would send my child to public
kindergarten, see how it goes, and keep my options open. I
share your concerns about ''teaching to the test'' but I
wouldn't worry that your daughter will sour on learning
forever based on one year of public school. If you switch
out of public school after a year or two, you will know from
direct experience, rather than a movie, that it didn't suit
your daughter's needs. In the meantime, you will save
buckets of money on tuition and be able to do a thorough
private school search without feeling rushed.
My son is finishing up kindergarten in public school. I have
had a few cringe-worthy moments where I feel that the
curriculum is too demanding, and I wish they had more time
to play. But, overall, we have been very happy. His teacher
is wonderful, the community is friendly and diverse, and my
son is happy and learning a lot.
Best of luck to you.
Free works for me
Umm... not sure how to respond here, there are so many
things I am thinking. I have not seen this movie, but I am a
teacher and have heard about it, and I can guess that it
talks alot about the pressure of state tests?? Because
someone made a movie about it, doesn't mean that's how all
public schools are teaching. I work in a small district
south of Oakland with a mix of very low to medium on the
socioeconomic scale. I do not believe in homework as a
rule, (which is good, because with all the recent budget
cuts, we don't have money to make copies)- but only believe
its effective when used as a way toward responsibility and
goal setting. nor do I 'teach to the test'(and yes, next
week marks the start of a very high stakes CA test, the STAR
test. If your kids are in an engaging classroom all year
with a motivated teacher who is teaching the standards,
she/he will be prepared for the test anyway.) My entire
district's philosophy is a constructivist approach, which
means children learn by creating and building their own
meaning. A good teacher will encourage children to become
problem solvers and critical thinkers, so they can tackle
challenges that come their way throughout their lives. A
good teacher collaborates with others to keep up on the best
practices of teaching and current research (ALL of which
point to the things I've already mentioned.) Good teachers
are everywhere and in every district. Hopefully, the
district you are in promotes collaboration and professional
development, which is so important in keeping up to date. Do
some research and see if your local school does something
called ''writers' workshop'' (out of Columbia college in NY)
or readers' workshop. These are programs that intrinsically
get kids and teachers motivated and passionate about
reading/writing/thinking and sharing ideas. when my district
started these programs I found myself focusing much more on
having conversations with my students about their learning,
rather than let's say, grading for punctuation. Get to know
your local school, volunteer, see how the teachers are
teaching, you might be surprised. BTW- I teach 2nd grade.
support your local school
If you can afford going private, consider montessori learning for your child.
Not all montessori schools are equal though. We have had a wonderful
experience so far at Montessori Family School (MFS) and are pleased with
both the academic and social/emotional learning and growth we see in our
child and other children at the school. It is such a balanced, kind
environment and we appreciate the community focus. Next year our second
child will start in the preschool and our first is moving on to a kindergarten
transition classroom. We feel our children are a good fit for montessori and
they do not need supplemental external pressure. They get enough of it from
us at home. Montessori Family School continues from age three through
middle school or eighth grade. I never believed we would stay in montessori
past kindergarten. After doing research for awhile and exploring a variety of
school options, I came to similar conclusions expressed in Race to Nowhere. I
started to relax a little and am grateful for the insights. It's never too late to
change your course. A child is a child only once.
Happy Parent at MFS
Yes, there is a school that does not stress out children
with too much homework and rote learning. That school is
Beacon Day School.
As an administrator and parent of a 7th grader, I can tell
you that our goal is for every student to be successful
and that doens't mean they all need to have straight A's.
Our curriculum is designed to have students work in pace
groups (these are fluid) until the skill has been
The Elementary School is year-round with a continuous
progress education model and we do NOT assign homework
until Upper Elementary. Even then the homework is
somehting that the student can do independently. Our
Middle School operates on an extended year with block
scheduling. Students are not stressed out with hours of
homework. They can actually enjoy outside activities such
as scout meetings and sports practices without worrying
that they are behind with their homework.
I too saw the film last week. Although much of it was hard
to watch, I am very thankful that my daughter is being
educated in a school that does pay attention to homework
load and is more focused on making sure students love to
learn. In fact, Beacon is mentioned in Sara Bennett's
book ''The Case Against Homework''. Sara was one of the
experts interviewed for the film.
Please call me in the Admissions Office at 510-437-2311 if
you would like to learn more about Beacon Day School.
We and our children (grades 5 & 2) have loved
School in Oakland. It is definitely not in the Race to
Nowhere! The kids learn lots and lots, but they don't do
standardized tests, leaning is fun, deep and meaningful.
There is homework beginning in 2nd grade, but it is not
very much. One of the things I've loved about Aurora is
it respects both children and childhood. Kids are not
expected to be little adults. I don't know if there are
still K openings. Contact Lisa Piccione the Admissions
Director, 428-2606. Much more info is at the website:
I've been thinking about this question a lot, as my BUSD
third grader is about to have his week of morning testing.
When we began public school, we had the same concerns --
that the testing would be far too emphasized and the
teachers might be too focused on that more joyless aspect of
teaching. We worried about homework and how it might affect
him [and us].
I have to say, now that he's had a bit of it all, he enjoys school
as much as ever, he's learning a lot, and he's had bright,
imaginative and thoughtful teachers. At least in his school,
the test prep hasn't taken as much time as I feared it would.
Not in teaching nor testing time. The past week or two, his class
has done a few sample tests, but that's clearly more to prepare
them for the format than it is an attempt to "teach to the test".
The year has already already prepared them for the information
they are expected to know.
The homework issues were at their worst in the beginning, in
first and second grade, but it wasn't that the homework was
hard or time-consuming. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was the
fact that it had to be done which angered him and it took a long
time because of his reluctance to do it. This year, in third grade,
he's much more accepting of it as a part of his daily responsibilities,
and for the most part, he does it quickly and it's over. It's still not that
much, nor is it very hard. I get to see what he's doing in class and
how well he understands, and he really seems to enjoy sharing with
me the things he's so proud of knowing. And little by little, he is
learning strong work habits.
Would I prefer he not have homework or state testing? I guess it
would have been nice to hold off on the homework until 3rd or 4th.
Maybe he'd have had a better homework attitude by 3rd grade even
without any of it to do in 1st or 2nd, I don't know. But maybe I'd be
having 3rd grade homework battles instead. I know that it doesn't
teach him anything new, but is certainly has reinforced what he's
learned in class. He's a great student, in part because he has learned
to take it seriously. And the tests are no big deal to him. I work in his
class a fair amount, and it's been hard to see much negative impact.
For us, it just hasn't been as big a deal as we had feared.
Race to Nowhere is such a thought provoking movie and I
can completely understand why you now have doubts. My
husband and I struggled with the same issues just 2 years
ago when we were trying to decide what school our 5 year
old would attend for kindergarten. We were similarly
worried about being able to afford private school but we
decided that our children's education was top priority.
We chose Prospect Sierra, a fantastic independent school
in El Cerrito and we could not be happier. Our now 1st
grader is thriving and becoming not only a confident
learner but a thoughtful and mindful person. Prospect
Sierra focuses on the whole child. Kids are engaged in
activities from a school garden, to service learning in
the community to CSA boxes. The art studio and the
science lab that all graders go to weekly are places where
the passion of the teachers are shared with the kids and
the creativity and imagination of the kids just blossom.
My son plays in the elementary school orchestra, plays
capture the flag at lunch and plays with his friends after
school. He loves doing his homework because he gets to
write stories and illustrate them. He is definitely
encouraged to think and be an active participant in the
learning process. My younger child will hopefully start
kindergarten in a year and he can't wait. He sees how
much fun his older brother is having and how great it is
to be able to read, to write and to do math. To him,
learning these skills is just part of the fun. I would
definitely contact the school if you are interested in
touring the campus and checking out their program. As I
said, we also were concerned about the financial impact
private school would make on our family and the school has
been able to ease those worries with its financial aid
Basically, we think Prospect Sierra is the whole
package and we couldn't be happier about our decision.
Best of luck with yours and please don't hesitate to
contact me if you have any questions.
I have not seen the movie but I have several kids'
worth of experience with both private and public schools,
mainly public. So I wanted to comment on the effects of
testing and heavy homework loads throughout public school.
Don't use K-3 as a basis for how your kid is doing in public school.
We managed just fine up to about the 3rd grade - not
too much complaining, not too much strain on the family,
kids were in the GATE program, spelling bee winners, blah blah blah.
And then around the 4th grade, the bottom dropped out. My kids completely lost all
interest in school, stopped doing homework, or just stopped
turning it in. Grades plummeted. They had stress stomachaches, didn't want to go to
school. For the next NINE years (grades 4 - 12) I dreaded
afternoons and evenings, with their hours and hours of prodding
kids to do homework. Family time was on hold until the summer.
By middle school my kids had become so cynical about
testing that one of them told me he just marked answers
randomly because "it doesn't affect my grades." One kid
barely scraped through high school, another kid dropped
out at 17, as did many of his friends. Yes, they had
friends who successfully navigated public school, but
too many of them didn't. You would be surprised by all the 20-somethings
in Berkeley who never finished high school. My opinion is that the school
system is broken. We are scraping together the $$$ for
provate school for the youngest.
I've forgotten the nature of your original post, so I
apologize if you were asking for recommendations for a
particular public school in a district that may or may not
be riddled with test taking. If you were asking, what is to
be done about the current state of ''accountability'' and
''testing'' that is insensibly killing education, then, please
continue to educate yourself by reading ''The Death and Life
of the Great American School System'' by Diane Ravitch. She
goes into the history of ''choice'', vouchers, charter
schools, attempts at a national curriculum, NCLB, Race to
the Top (Bottom/Nowhere), and explains in depth why our
current policies are so detrimental to our children's
education. I wish I knew of a group that is advocating right
now to abolish NCLB/Race to the Top. I gather the group
that put together The Race to Nowhere are trying to organize
people, but are there any other groups?
Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and anyone who cares
about education needs to get informed on this issue and we
need to change things. Oh, and there's also the older
documentary, First to Worst which tells the story of
California's public funding demise. Diane Ravitch's book
covers the US at large.
Want a Sensible Educational Policy and the Funds to Make it Happen
this page was last updated: Aug 30, 2010
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