On May 7, the Kalmanovitz School of Education hosted a showing of the documentary, “Race to Nowhere” at the SMC Soda Center.  A large audience of nearly 100 educators attended and the producer, Vicki Abeles, was on hand to answer questions at the conclusion.

The film exposed some of the many problems that have arisen since high stakes testing began in the nation’s K-12 schools, including: cheating, overscheduling, depression, eating disorders, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, and even suicide.

Abeles cited research on homework showing that, when assigned in elementary school, it does not necessarily correlate with higher performance on tests; in middle school, 1 hour per night is sufficient to increase scores; and in high school, 2 hours is the tipping point.  Beyond these timeframes, there is no significant improvement in achievement. And despite homework workload well beyond these amounts, UC Berkeley still has to remediate 50% of its freshmen in reading and math skills, proof that students are not being adequately prepared for college.

According to Abeles, the focus in schools today is “produce and perform,” rather than on processes such as collaboration, problem solving, decision-making, critical thinking, life skills, learning to fail and moving on, etc.  These are the skills that graduates need to do well in the real world.

Some of the possible solutions discussed in the film include:

  • Give children more unscheduled/free time
  • Redefine what “success” means
  • Have parents back off on their involvement in homework
  • Teachers need to teach to the developmental ages of the children
  • Incorporate self study with independent contracts
  • Be clear about what it takes to produce a happy, motivated child
  • Have students take time off between high school graduation and college
  • Ask questions with no right or wrong answers
  • Limit extra-curricular activities and number of Advanced Placement courses
  • Allow time for family activities
  • Children need to sleep enough and eat nutritiously
  • Integrate career and technology education with academics
  • Learn to recognize the signs of depression, drug use, etc.
  • More dialogue is needed throughout the community leading to a new paradigm. Re-educate by sharing research with parents.

*Check racetonowhere.org and racetonowhere.com for a list of more activities and recommendations. A copy of the film is available through the Saint Mary's College Library.

**The sequel to “Race to Nowhere” is currently in production and will show success stories where new teaching methods have been applied.

Recommended Reading

The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett, Research articles in The Atlantic Monthly

Childhood Roots to Adult Happiness by Dr. Ed Hallowell (for parents especially)

Creative Innovators by Tony Wagner

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