"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 11, 2006

No Child Left on the Playground

The phone is ringing off the hook at the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play (AACRP) from parents concerned about their children's physical health and social development as play time or recess becomes a thing of the past. This article in Saturday's New York Times about first graders in Highland Park New Jersey with little time on the playground during the school day shows yet another destructive consequence of this legislation.

“There’s almost no recess and all the emphasis is on academics,” Ms. Buch said. “It’s nothing like it was in Denmark or in my own childhood. Children need free play.”

She joins a growing legion of parents and educators who fear that recess is disappearing from the school schedule and needs to be rescued.

“It’s been a hot topic at our Parent-Teacher Organization meetings,” said Ginny Deatz, a P.T.O. officer at Irving Primary School, which Ms. Buch’s son attends. “There are a lot of people who are passionate about this.”


Why is this happening?

A survey of 15,000 school districts conducted in 1999 by Dr. Clements’s association found that 40 percent were either eliminating recess or cutting back on it or considering one or the other, she said. The cutback on recess started in the late 1980s, she said. Before that, elementary school pupils often had a 10- to 20-minute recess in the morning, another after lunch and a third in the afternoon.

But that was before a battery of national and state testing was initiated, educators say. “Now schools are so accountable to test scores,” Dr. Clements said.

Irving Primary School has a 45-minute lunch period, and the time can be used for both eating and recess; when the weather is good, all students go outside. After that, recess is at the discretion of teachers.

“With No Child Left Behind, there is so much more that we have to fit into the day,” said Nancy Romano, Irving’s principal. “The children do need to go outside and they do need to run around
.”

However, the end of recess isn't a concern in private schools that are not subjected to the draconian mandates of NCLB.

Dr. Clements said that private schools tended to view recess, like art, music and drama, as an enhancement. She said that she had never heard a complaint from a private-school parent that recess had been cut. “In the private school sector, it’s valued,” she said.

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It's valued in the public sector, too, Dr. Clements, but unfortunately it has become just another luxury many public schools can no longer afford. Unless, of course, politicians and business leaders can find a way to test, measure and collect data on it. Hmmm...standardized play -- another chance to create a new category of winners and losers. The possibilities are endless.

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