Re splits - I love them. Very few kids fall into the range of so called average or progress through at the same rates. Some will be slightly or even way ahead while others struggle. The key to a split is making sure your child is on the right end of the split - in the lower grade for the gifted child or for a child who is more advanced and mature who can then benefit from the upper grade and the upper grade for a student who struggles or who may not be as mature and who can benefit from the review of the lower grade. I don't agree with having the same teacher for both years and in fact, am quite opposed to it for a number of reasons - part of education is learning to deal with change and exposure to different teachers with different teaching styles provides a host of benefits not the least of which is learning to adapt - a very necessary life skill.
My bigger concern is with the so called "balanced day" . This is a disaster for most kids and fails to take into account the role recess plays in classroom management. The idea of recess was never as a nutrition break...it was always a break to run off steam. Boys especially tend to be gross motor oriented. Those of us who are well into our twenties remember when exercises such as jumping jacks, running on the spot, toe touching etc were part of O Canada, God Save the Queen and announcements. By the time we sat down we were so tired we didn't want to move - this held till recess when we got out and ran around - enabling us to sit until lunch. The balanced day fails to address the biological need to burn calories and offering a nutrition break as opposed to a physical one will only exacerbate classroom management issues. Decreased physical activity in schools is a major problem from what I have observed and I suspect at least a connection between decreasing physical activity ( be that recess or gym) and childhood obesity as well as the increasing incidence of ADD and ADHD. Sitting in chairs at desks for hours on end is not a natural activity for kids and I firmly believe they need the physical activity and breaks that came with recess and lunch and that the classroom management benefit of recess has been disregarded in the development of the balanced day.
It is a problem not just confined to the classrooms or schools. And, while I agree with the premise, that boys need more periods to "burn calories" and to shine in sports (gross motor skills), I think this falls not just on the educational system, but also on parents and society at large. If the spelling system was not such a challenge in English (an unphonemic language that makes reading and learning much more difficult and delayed compare to other languages) and grammar such a challenge in French (which makes writing such a pain), kids would not have to sit in classrooms and learn all those spelling rules (English has 91 compare to half of that for many languages. Of course, it has too many exceptions [about 4000 for 7000 common words]) or all those conjugations! But, the populace does not get that ... still they are paying for it through their nose! When adults will look at how many unnecessary hoops kids have to go through (emphasis on unnecessary), then society will move forward. Check the various pages on http://reforming-english.blogspot.ca/ for the issues and their proposed solutions. I know, I know, change is hard, but kids must deal with the mess that past generations have left. Maybe it is time to revisit the mess?
This is the first I have heard of a SK/1 split....given the full day Kindergarten programme has it's own curriculum outline and overview, I am surprised that a split of this kind even existed.
Splits are not likely going to go away, so it might be better to look at how we can turn the negative situations out there around so that there is some positive energy and outcomes happening for the students in those classes - acknowledging the workload teachers face with a split grade.
Parents can do a lot to help their children deal with the challenges of a split grade - and working with the teacher to find out what his/her long range plans are and where your child is "at" currently with the academic work at his/her grade level is a good first step I think. I'm sure creative solutions can be found to help students who appear to be falling behind.
I have taught split grades myself and I have children in the school system - one currently in a Grade 2/3 split. I haven't found the experience to be all that bad for my son - but then again, I know the curriculum well ( I have to) and have a good sense of where my children are at academically in all areas and what they need to do to progress. I also read with my kids every day , do a little math with them, encourage journal writing and play all sorts of board games / card games that help to consolidate literacy and numeracy skills because I know the extra they do at home helps them at school. The ratios certainly are better for them at home.
All curriculum documents are available for the public to read on-line - just go to the Ministry of Education website. Read these over - particularly the Science and the Social Studies since these are the curriculum documents that vary in content a great deal - unless of course your split is at the divisional level (e.g., Grade 3/4 6/7...) - It would be wise to look over the Language and Mathematics curriculum documents as well, just to get a sense of HOW MUCH is expected to be covered in each grade for each subject area.
No question there are challenges inherent with split grades but I have seen schools approach them in terrific ways - with teachers working collaboratively together with administrators and parents so that each "grade" is well-covered and each student has what he or she needs to succeed.
The ministry originally said they would not allow SK/1 splits and they said they would under special circumstances but they do not ask boards to report on what those special circumstances are so... they are existing in many boards! I taught one and it was a disaster for gr.1 - 12 Sk's and 8 1's, no ECE, no new Kindergarten materials and I was told I did not have to deliver the ELKP program. The ministry pretend this is not happening and when my teachers union tried to discuss it with the superintendent he shrugged it off, said there were only " a few" SK's in these classes and that parents loved it because they thought it meant they're kids were smarter - yes he actually said that! We should definitely be questioning why more and more splits are existing today - there are school systems that do not have them at all and we shouldn't always accept things because they "are not going away" - a few is one thing but now for example, they are making 3/4's intentionally to pull down their junior averages - my former school were told this year to make two 3/4 splits instead of straight classes for that reason - not a good one!
I agree that splits need to well planned out - and they should not just be used to deal with caps on class sizes ! That being said, the reality is that they are being used for that reason, despite assurances to the contrary.
So, what to do? Parents NEED to educate themselves on curriculum expectations and it's easy enough for them to do that. Armed with what they should be able to expect from their schools - they can then ask meaningful questions of their childrens' teacher(s) and administrator(s) should their child/children be placed in a split grade:
"Who will be covering the Social Studies and Science curriculum material with each group ? " Often I find, these groups are divided - sometimes pairing with another same-grade class so that the homeroom teacher only works with one grade while another teachers works with the other grade.
Ask to see the timetable. Inquire about itinerant teachers (e.g., "How often will my child be taught by someone other than their homeroom teacher?)" - I think this one is important. Parents don't often realize that their child may have many teachers and so it would be helpful for them to know about this. Not every student handles transitions well and so if there are problems that arise, it may have less to do with curriculum content and more to do with just coping with the differing teaching styles, philosophies or physical changes that may be happening in their school day. Caught early, students can be helped in a myriad of ways to cope with such transitions, including the use of visual schedules or a buddy system. If parents know ahead of time about these then they can work to help out where they can.
Grade 3/4 splits and 5/6 splits can be problematic primarily because these are EQAO years and we all know how preparing for this assessment can become the priority. Students NOT in the testing year may feel that they are not getting as much of the teacher's attention as they need or would like - so - ASK how that kind of a split is going to be handled. How is the teacher going to be supported so that he/she can be there for both groups as the homeroom teacher and how are the students going to be supported in the ways that they need?
Good points and parents should also be questioning the boards for each school to justify the splits and prove that there is no other way, as opposed to accepting the existence of more and more of them. Don't make it easy for them - if their decisions were made more public and they were called on them some of the splits would most likely be eliminated, the ministry should put into place some restrictions (perhaps a percentage?) of allowable splits and should be more insistent that board's justify going beyond those restrictions. For example as I mentioned before, the ministry will tell the public that ELKP/1 splits may only be allowed in "extreme circumstances" they have not put any measures into place to examine the "circumstances". Boards can do as they please despite the fact that ministry officials "think" that they won't. (They told my provincial teacher's union that a board would "never" take 40 ELKP students and turn them into one class and another K/1 split and that's exactly what was done at my school and the split was the class I taught!)