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Extra Credit: Do Schools Push High Performing Kids Too Hard?

Dear Extra Credit:
My daughter is extremely bright and was an early reader. She loved kindergarten. When she started first grade, she struggled with the writing -- not what to write, but with the actual writing. She was frustrated because, as much as she tried, her handwriting was messy, and she couldn't make her letters neat enough to fit into the boxes provided for the answers. She began to dislike school.
When I mentioned to her pediatrician that she was having trouble with her fine-motor skills, he said it was because she was not supposed to be able to do that yet and that schools were pushing kids to do things they were not ready for physically. He told me that he'd seen a big increase in the treatment of children for depression and anxiety, something he attributed to the pressures at school.
My son is in an accelerated second-grade math class. I've been reading about how kids who are pushed to take algebra too early do not grasp all of the concepts needed for higher math. My son is on path to take algebra early, so I asked his teacher. She agreed that it was a big problem and that it would be a tough decision for me when the time came, whether to let him take algebra so early.
Every day, my kids (both in elementary school) bring home worksheet after worksheet; it seems to be all they do all day. Yes, that could have something to do with the quality of the teachers. But I think it has a lot to do with the curriculum. The new Maryland secretary of education said that we need longer school years and days, because kids have only one chance at their education, and we are falling behind countries such as Japan. You know what? Kids have only one chance to be kids, too. Can't we let them enjoy it?
Ann Harrington

Jay Mathews:

I am willing to let parents like you and me, middle-class folk in Montgomery County, have our kids take it easy. They are already living in a world of words in our homes. The research says they will do fine no matter what kind of elementary school they attend.

But please make sure that our wishes in this matter don't get in the way of the kids two or three years below grade level who don't live in our world and who need the early start that we, almost unconsciously, give our kids. Also, I wouldn't believe what even a doctor told me about anxiety treatment trends unless I had seen the data.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail

By Washington Post Editors  | May 7, 2009; 12:59 PM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  | Tags:  school stress  
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Next: Education Critic to Obama: Tell the Truth


We do know that the number of doctor's office visits by children and adolescents during which depression was reported more than doubled from 1995-1996 (1.44 million) to 2001-2002 (3.22 million). I couldn't find any more recent data than that.

I found several references to an increase in anxiety disorders in children as well, but was not able to find that increase quantified.

How much of the increase in reported cases is due to better diagnosis is also unclear.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | May 7, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Data schmata. Any researcher knows that qualitative data are good data. Quantitative data are much easier to fudge. As one who works in a school system, I can tell you that high stakes testing has had negative ramifications up and down the spectrum of achievement. Too bad that our politicians and journalists are now dictating what happens in the schools while teachers are demeaned into being test prep drill sargeants. Doctors and lawyers wouldn't allow such intrusions into their professionalism.

Posted by: Bluestategirl | May 7, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Dear Bluestategirl,
I find it interesting that a reporter who is actually conducting qualitative and ethnographic research most of the time (in other words, he observes, ask questions, and reports) refuses to listen to teachers when we complain about high stakes testing and how it affects our practice. In order to listen to the outcry, he must have his data and challenges us to give him evidence. Please write in again and tell Jay how high stakes testing has affected your practice and how much angst and ill will he is garnering from us folks in the trenches.
Check out the previous column ("Is High Stakes Testing Really the Answer?"), because it deals specifically with this issue.
Thank you for your opinion......we teachers need to speak out and maybe one day we'll be heard.

Posted by: pjlsan | May 9, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

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