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Ahead of the Class: Starting off early to see results

The subhead of this article is: Parents invest in summer tutors to give young children a leg up. Note how some teachers both feed this hysteria and participate in it. I'd like to send these people a copy of My neighbor is teaching her two-year-old to read the Wall Street Journal--except that I'm afraid they'd all buy a subscription.

by Jennifer Radcliffe

Nazira Ason draws the line at 5.

His 5-year-old is too young to spend the summer in academic tutoring. His 6- and 9-year-olds, however, are not.

The Woodlands kindergartener and third-grader are among a growing number of very young children receiving one-on-one help this summer in reading and math. Some parents are hiring tutors, experts say, because they're feeling the pressure of looming high-stakes tests, which begins in Texas with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for third-grade children. Others are thinking about college.

"I just wanted them to have a step ahead from the normal child," said Ason, who moved his family here from Malaysia three years ago. "Given the competitive environment we have now, parents have to do something."

Marianna Cleek, president of the Club Z tutoring franchise in the Spring area, said she was overwhelmed by the response her company received when it mailed out fliers advertising help for young children a few years ago.

"Initially I really didn't realize there was such a market for this," she said. "I am just shocked. It's a pretty good chunk of our summer business."

Houston-area tutors work with hundreds of young children on phonics, numbers, colors, study skills and fine motor skills. Some take children as young as 3 1/2 .

"Four, to me, is not too young," Cleek said.

But some caution that putting pressure on young children might give them a distaste for school. Rather than spending upward of $45 an hour on private tutors, they say parents should use outings to stores, libraries and museums as teaching moments.

"A child needs summer," said Kay Hall, director of the Early Learning Academy in the Spring school district. "There's a lot of learning that can take place over the summer, but it doesn't need to be in a classroom in a structured environment."

Yet tutoring companies say that many clients are the children of teachers and school administrators, who realize the need to give children an edge but know how hard it is to work with their own children.

Tomball parent Tracy Chavis, a public school teacher, said she signed her 4-year-old, Noah, up for summer tutoring to ensure that he learns how to read before he starts kindergarten in 2009.

"I'm just really trying to make sure I give him as much advantage as I can," said Chavis, who pays $42 an hour for her son's tutoring. "There is a lot of pressure on them to learn certain things and to not be labeled."

Industry officials said a few families have legitimate reasons to be concerned about school readiness. Five-year-olds are expected to be on the verge of reading, some educators said.

Aiding retention
Young children also are in danger of losing fledgling skills they learned, but may not have mastered, during the school year. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University say that students, especially from low-income families, can regress during summer break.

But in other cases, parents of already high-performing children are just caving to the pressure fueled by Texas' high-stakes testing, they said.

"They're buying into what they hear. They buy that social pressure that someone out there is putting on them that their child needs to be a genius by the time they're 4," said Michelle Branch, co-owner of Houston-based Academic Resource Tutoring.

Ason said tutoring is a good investment. "I started with my son (in first grade), and he showed dramatic improvement. He's been on the honor roll since. The money I'm paying for tutorials is worthwhile." He said he'll sign his youngest up for tutoring next year.

A few of the items in Texas' kindergarten curriculum:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Learn numbers, shapes, directions and colors.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Gain control of grammar when speaking, including subject-verb agreement, complete sentences and correct tense.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Know the difference between capital and lowercase letters.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Recognize how readers use capitalization and punctuation to comprehend.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Produce rhyming words.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Name and identify each letter of the alphabet.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Distinguish fiction from nonfiction.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Count by ones to 100.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Construct graphs.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Name the five senses.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Tell how germs cause illness and disease.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Observe and describe properties of rocks, soil and water.

Source: Texas Education Agency
Blogging Houston education

— Jennifer Radcliffe
Houston Chronicle





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