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John M. Eger : What to Do About the 4th-Grade Slump

What to Do About the 4th-Grade Slump

By John M. Eger

"Principals and teachers around the country," according to Newsweek magazine, "are growing increasingly concerned with what they call the 'fourth-grade slump.'"

The malaise, which can strike children between the end of the second and the middle of fifth grade, is marked by a "declining interest in reading and a gradual disengagement from school."

There are many reasons suspected for this decline in reading and comprehension difficulties.

Too many tests, some suggest, thus increasing the concern over the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative — is still on the books by the way — which requires annual assessments and testing.

Others say the abrupt shift from "learning to read to reading to learn," requiring comprehension of expository material, is the cause.

E. Paul Torrance, a professor emeritus of educational psychology also known as the "Father of Creativity," argues that by the time kids are in the fourth grade, they are "less likely to take risks, less playful or spontaneous than in earlier years."

This period, he says, is characterized by a decline in creativity, which continues throughout the school years into adulthood.

Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally known author and expert on creativity and education, agrees. He says that by age 8, the present day system of education has squeezed the creativity out of our young people.

Often using a chart titled, "The Decline of Genius," Robinson illustrates the point that schools don't promote creativity; rather they educate it out of children.

1968 Study Still Relevant

Although based on a 1968 study by educators George Land and Beth Jarman, the findings are relevant today.

In the study, the two gave 1,600 3- to 5-year-old kids a creativity test used by NASA to measure thinking in engineers and scientists. They retested the children at 10 and 15 years of age.

While 98 percent of children 3 to 5 years scored at the genius level, only 32 percent did so at ages 8 to 10, and then only 10 percent did at 13 to 15 years old.

The researchers gave the same test to a large group of adults over the age of 25 and only 2 percent of those participants scored at the genius level.

Arne Duncan, Obama's secretary of education, has more than $4 billion to open the doors for more charter school — much of which he has awarded — but states have to agree to this.

Whether Duncan believes that the charter path, and increased teacher accountability, is the best way to get education back on track is not clear.

What is clear is that we cannot continue to ignore the fourth-grade slump or the failure to put creativity at the center of education. •

© 2010 John Eger. All rights reserved.

John M. EgerJohn M. Eger is the Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative. More »

10/3/10