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I have been doing a lot of reading lately on education, the Common Core, schools (especially the curriculum taught in elementary schools), and the relationship and roles of parents and teachers in the education process.

If you think there is a war going on between Republicans and Democrats, just read some educational blogs.  It really is reminiscent of the civil war which pitted brother against brother and father against son.  It’s political, don’t get me wrong, but the sides are not clearly drawn and the allies on either side would be political enemies regarding almost anything else.

During the course of reading these blogs and articles, what started to become apparent to me is that when you strip away the politics, where one falls in these debates depends a great deal on WHERE you are from (city, country, somewhere in-between), whether you are an educator yourself or a parent, and what your personal experience has been at the school you teach in or the one your child has attended or is attending.

People with kids in low performing schools or who have children who are not thriving in the school they are in or who don’t like the curriculum want choices like charter schools.  Many educational professionals think charter options undermine non-profit public schools and they believe it is part of a concerted effort by “capitalists” to do away with public education as we know it.  The participants can be very dogmatic; think Young Earth Creationists vs The Fact of Evolution proponents.

With all this in mind, I would really like to get an idea from educators and from parents and even kids in the system (or recently out of it) what your experience has been.  I specifically would like to know:

1)       What type of curriculum was/is taught at your school.   At the elementary school level, I would like to know if there were textbooks or if school work is from photocopied pages of a workbook you never see.  Is phonics stressed or are sight words stressed?  Are children writing, starting in Kindergarten, using “kid writing” or “invented spelling” and was “correct” spelling a priority.  Are children taught to look at pictures and to read the whole sentence to help them guess unfamiliar words or are they taught to sound out words they are unfamiliar with?

2)      Are the teaching methods employed resulting in kids sitting quietly in their seats for most of the 7 hours a day they are there and memorizing everything or is the classroom environment one where “learning centers” and techniques such as “Daily 5s” and “CAFÉ” are used?

3)      Do the children learn math from manipulatives like unifix cubes and creative group work or are the standard algorithms stressed.  Is Everyday Math (or something similar) the curriculum where you might see homework with lattices, and hear words like “spiraling”, and see many story problems?  If you are the parent, can you help your child with their math homework or does it look unfamiliar to you?

4)      Do kids spend a significant amount of time working in groups or by themselves at their desks or on the floor while the teacher is working with several kids in smaller groups separately?  Or is most of the instruction of the type where the teacher stands at the front of the class and instructs from the white board or an Elmo (projection machine)?

5)      Do the children have classwork that is graded and then returned by the teacher or is most of the work completed together in class with no grades?  Does the teacher give quizzes and tests or is student progress measured mainly by assessments performed by the teacher several times during the course of the year?

6)      Are the class sizes big (approaching 30) or are they small (20 or less)?  Is there enough room in the class or do the children seem cramped once all the desks and extras are there?

7)      Do the children learn everything in school or are the parents expected to participate to a large extent in the teaching/learning process at home?

8)      Do you live in a big city or in the country or somewhere in between?

9)      Do you work at or does your child attend private school, public school, a charter school (or something similar), or is your child homeschooled?  If your child does not attend public school, why did you make the decision not to send him or her there?

10)    What grade do you teach or what grade is your child in?  If you are speaking from a past experience, what calendar year are you referencing?

11)   Teachers, do you feel like you get enough constructive support from parents, and if not, what are your two top complaints?  Parents, do you feel like your child’s teachers are/were supportive of your child and you, and if you were dissatisfied, what are your two top complaints?

12)    Teachers and parents, do you like the curriculum taught at your school?  If so, why and if not, why?

13)    If there are students answering here, do you feel like your elementary school education prepared you for advanced work in high school and beyond?

These questions are not intended to be all-encompassing.  If you think I left something out and it is important, tell me.  Neither do I expect everyone to answer all these questions; perhaps some do not apply.  Do not feel obligated to answer in bulleted form.  Paragraphs are fine.  Whatever you feel comfortable with works for me.  I am just trying to generate some feedback.

I also realize that some of you may not be comfortable (for obvious reasons) answering these questions as yourself so I am fine with anonymous responses.  Please, just be honest.