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Laurie Levy @laurieadvocates

Laurie Levy @laurieadvocates

Laurie has been an early childhood administrator, advocate for children and families, teacher, and community leader for over 30 years. Her passions, aside from her 8 grandchildren, are education (with a focus on including children with special needs), empowering parents and teachers, and creating caring and just school communities. She also blogs for ChicagoNow, Huffington Post and AlterNet. Her work has also been featured in The Washington Post and The Forward. In her pre-blogging life, she was founding director of Warren W. Cherry Preschool in Evanston, Illinois, an innovative developmental early childhood program that includes and celebrates all children.

Laurie's personal experiences as a parent, grandparent, and family member of children with special needs, as well as her years as an educator, school administrator, and community volunteer, have made her an advocate for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves. She writes to empower parents and educators to make their voices heard. She writes to restore developmentally appropriate practices to education. She writes to seek justice for parents and children crushed under the heel of the educational-industrial complex. Laurie's dream is to create caring and inclusive school communities in which all children can learn and thrive outside the box.

Posted by on in General

Lego robot

This is a journey into the mind of my seven-year-old grandson, who builds amazing Lego inventions like the above robot creation and is interested in many things. Just not what he’s learning in school. In fact, when I asked him if he was looking forward to starting second grade next week, his response was a resounding NO. School is so boring, he claims.

My husband and I had the pleasure of having our grandson all to ourselves as we drove him from his home in Indiana to ours in Evanston, Illinois. The ride took a little over three hours and he shared so many ideas with us that I can’t remember all of them. All I know is he has a lot going on in his head.

This was an old-fashioned trip for him – no headphones or iPad. We started by playing the classic “I spy with my little eye” game. He noticed so many interesting details in what is usually a boring ride across a flat and empty landscape. Of course, he always stumped us so we never got a turn.

Next, he shared details about various Pokemon characters, his latest obsession. He has a vision for how to blend this interest with his other passion, Legos. He is truly a master builder and can construct elaborate kits by himself as well as create his own inventions. So he outlined his plans for new Lego sets that incorporate Pokemon and force fields. Most likely, these already exist, but we were not about to dampen his enthusiasm. Nor did we suggest he reconsider his plan to make his sets not cost too much so all kids could buy them.

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Posted by on in Assessment

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What are we doing to our children? You would think a third grader living with cystic fibrosis who is a competitive swimmer would not be distressed about having to take standardized tests. After all, she handles blood draws, throat cultures, medications, and treatments like a pro. She’s never nervous in a swim meet. Yet the prospect of sitting for hours of standardized tests this month makes her very anxious and worried.

Why would she fear taking a test more than the procedures she endures for CF or the competitiveness of a swimming race? Perhaps it’s because her school and teacher have been prepping her for so many hours. Perhaps it’s because there have been pep rallies encouraging the kids to try hard. Perhaps it’s because notes have been coming home about getting enough sleep, eating a good breakfast, and sending energy snacks to school for testing days. Perhaps it’s because the consequence of failing the reading portion in her state is summer school and possibly retention. The message is quite clear: This is a HUGE DEAL.

parcI recently attended a meeting about opting out of taking the PARCC test in Illinois. It was the same meeting I attended last year. The encouraging news was that over 40,000 children opted out of taking PARCC last school year. Obviously, this caught the attention of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) because the board is conducting an inquiry into why so many chose not to participate. Most likely, ISBE thinks the investigation and interviews of administrators, parents, and even students will discourage folks from wanting their children to refuse the test again this year.

This tactic may be working, as there is much less chatter among parents about opting their children out of the PARCC testing coming up this month. Of course, the state conveniently neglected to pass the proposed bill that establishes a process for parents to do so. Once again, the kids have to refuse every time the test is presented.

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Posted by on in Movement and Play


At her elementary school science fair, my granddaughter explained her poster and experiment with the great fervor an almost ten-year-old can muster. She and her friend, who is in California on a family sabbatical, decided to prove once and for all that recess improves learning, or at least puts students in a receptive mood so they can benefit from classroom instruction.

No doubt they got the idea for their experiment from listening to their parents’ conversations about the importance of recess. The Great Recess Debate has been raging in our community since parents and a school board member asked for a “recess as a right rather than a privilege” policy. You would have thought the sky had fallen given the opposition from administrators, the school board, and some teachers.

The question my granddaughter and her friend decided to explore for the science fair was, “Does the amount of recess affect your mood.” Their main hypothesis was that it does, and as a result it impacts learning. As background, they offered the following facts:

  1. Some schools have cut recess because they think it gives kids more time to learn.
  2. Studies show that after recess kids pay better attention in class.
  3. People have better moods after they exercise.

Their methods may seem naïve, but they decided to compare their moods in the morning, after the child in California had recess while my granddaughter had none, their moods after lunch when both had recess, and their moods in the afternoon when neither had recess. They used a scale that measured moods ranging from alert, excited elated, happy, contented, serene, relaxed, calm, fatigued, bored, depressed, sad, upset, stressed, nervous, and tense. Did I mention three out of four of their parents have PhDs in child psychology?

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Posted by on in School Culture


My husband, who was a math major in college, received this text from our daughter, who is a veterinarian with strong math skills: "If dad is bored, he can think of a word with uppercase letters that has 5 acute angles, 2 obtuse angles and 5 right angles." This is her third grade daughter's homework. It took my husband twenty minutes to come up with LANE. My daughter also thought of VALVE. But here's the point. It was a child's homework assignment and there was no way she could ever have done it herself.

My fourth-grade granddaughter recently asked me what I was thinking to write for my next blog post. She has strong opinions and great suggestions, so I turned the question back to her, and she told me that even with an excellent and innovative teacher that she loves, it is hard to stay focused on the work all day. She shared that sometimes her orchestra music plays in her head when she is supposed to be listening. Many of her friends need balloons filled with material that makes them squishy or balls of play dough to keep them from feeling bored and frustrated. I think we grownups would call those objects stress relievers. This is for nine-year-olds.

But if we really want to see the state of education and what we have done to our young children in school, let's go back to the beginning. I recently led a discussion for parents whose children will start public school kindergarten this fall. I tried to walk a fine line between reassuring them and making them aware of inappropriate practices so they could advocate for all children, including their own.

I cautioned parents that the latest research supports that kindergarten is definitely the new first grade and its goal was to produce readers, regardless of whether children were developmentally ready or not. In the end, however, I encouraged the parents to attend the kindergarten orientation meeting at their local school to form their own opinions.

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Posted by on in Education Policy


Should kids in elementary school have a homework packet to complete over winter "vacation"? Should children in kindergarten, first, and second grade even have homework? A homework packet that was "gifted" to every student over winter break in an elementary school in my community set off a firestorm of controversy as parents took sides in the great homework debate.

What is it about elementary school homework that evokes such strong emotions in parents, teachers, and administrators? Where did we ever get the idea that sending home a weekly packet, starting in kindergarten in some schools, accomplishes anything beyond turning curious and enthusiastic children into homework haters for life?

I just read through a huge thread in my local community's Facebook page about the controversial homework packet. Clearly, it stirred up all kinds of feelings. Some parents wrote about respecting the sanctity of holidays and family time and giving kids an actual break from the grind that is school these days. On the other side were parents who thought homework was important to prepare their children for college and career. And parents who did piles of homework as students and thought this was the way school was supposed to be.

I guess I used to be on both sides of the argument when I was the parent of school children. Circumstances were a bit different then. Homework didn't show up until third grade and wasn't really time consuming until high school. Generally, my children could do the daily assignments on their own and only asked for help with longer reports or challenging math problems. Still, I had my moments of doubt about the value of homework.

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