Monday, January 31, 2011

What Is Transitional First and Why Do We Need It?

Published: The Huffington Post 2011.01.31

Our Local School District has cut the Transitional First Program or T-1. This is a reaction to the budget knife being wielded against 5 and 6 year olds.

First time parents are clueless (even more than second and third time parents). Anyone who says they know what they are doing is lying.

Back in the mid-90's our oldest was going through kindergarten. We thought things were honky-dory until the third marking period. We got an ominous sounding note about our son's performance. We were a little taken aback when the teacher said our kid wasn't ready for first grade. I guess you go through some K├╝bler-Ross steps and eventually accept that your kid isn't Mozart or Carl Gauss.

The teacher wanted to put our kid in a "Transitional" First Grade or T-1. Instead of repeating kindergarten, our kid would be put into a situation where kindergarten would be re-taught, with many elements of first grade. After the year of T-1, our child would go into regular first grade.

We weren't crazy about it.

Holding a kid back? Holding our first back? Would he become some maladjusted kid if we did this? Would he become just as warped if we didn't? It is a damned-if-you-do moment. The teacher put us in contact with another parent who we knew from around town. 30 minutes talking to her made us realize it was the right decision for our kid.

As parents we needed to realize a few things:
  • We aren't in a race. There are no prizes for graduating ahead of time. (Unless you really, really want to start paying those college loans back.)
  • Every kid develops differently. There are all types of intelligence: academic, social, emotional, physical. Respecting each form of intelligence develops differently means sometimes you slow down to allow one facet of the kid to catch-up.
  • The purpose of school is to set your kid into a slingshot to get the best possible outcome. Public schools are trying to make sure that society as a whole has the ability to handle diversity at the end of the process. (Yes, given the nature of our micro-casting society, this is a good and necessary thing.)
  • The school - the government - with this program was helping us immensely with a tough decision about raising our kids right. Thank you. (I can go James Carville on you at this point about how government helps...)
  • Girls mature faster than guys.
  • Age (as it relates to birthdates) matters.

We were clueless parents ready to push our kid into a situation that other school districts would be happy to allow us to push forward in. We could have short-circuited the system by sending our kid to first grade at a Catholic School and bring him back for second grade. But what would that have done for our kid?

Had we pushed it, he may have been the youngest kid in the class with good academics and a poor social attitude. He would be the runt of the litter as far as his relationship to the other kids physically. Eventually, this could impact his confidence in general and start a downward spiral across the board.

He likely would have been "Pushed Through". How many times do we hear about failing academic performance because large groups of kids have been "Pushed Through"? If you aren't going to catch the problem early and rectify it then, why would you do it later? The longer you push off repeating a grade the worse it is for the kid as relationships are formed, broken and reformed.

Currently, our local school district, afraid of seniors or tax increases or robots on a rampage, has dismantled this program. This is a penny-wise dollar-foolish decision made by a group of people who would rather put more cops in schools than teachers. This school district had one of the best records for elementary school education as far as the standardized tests in the Philadelphia region.

When we were looking for a place to live in the late 1980's only one other school district in the region met our criteria for schooling (high on academics -- low on snobbery). This was a selling point for this school district that will be thrown away. Nothing like seeing your real estate values crater a little more.

We won't see the adverse affects for three or four years when the standardized testing comes out and there is a dip in performance. Whoever is on the school board then will be set up for failure. I hope those school board members' names who made the decision to cut this today will be remembered in the future for this decision.

Another problem isn't this T-1 program is being cut; it is the testing associated with it. When our oldest went through T-1 there were about 20 other kids in the same boat from this one school. They had about 5 Regular First Grade classes that year. The teachers evaluated all those kids with an eye for who was going to do well later. Meaning, as this program goes away, about 20% of the kids are now slated to fall through the cracks.

When you think about it, if you have that many kids in an at-risk group, why wouldn't you take them aside and get them really ready for the 12 year trip ahead?

Are the at-risk kids going to be allowed to repeat? I doubt it, if you have an administration that is this cost conscious about education; they are going to be more likely to "Push Through" kids who aren't ready. By allowing the at-risk kids to be mainstreamed, you are negatively impacting the kids who were ready to go. It may drag more kids down with them; more downward spiraling.

Eventually, the at-risk kids will be put into a slower track and left in the dust as the years go by. By the time an at-risk kid hits middle school or high school, you have essentially wasted all the money you have spent on them. We can then hear the cyclic chorus about how bad the public schools are and how they need to be dismantled or fixed by taking money away from them.

BTW, our oldest had a great his high school career, and is on the dean's list at college. Our younger guy also went the T-1 route is doing very well in high school. Our daughter did not do T-1 (girls mature faster than guys -- yeah we hear it all the tim-d think - they are all nuts.

Why should anyone get involved in the political process?

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