Florida schools make play for scholastic chess curriculum
BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
FORT LAUDERDALE Fla. Sat Aug 30, 2014 7:06am EDT
(Reuters) – Leaning over chess boards in the middle of classes, seven- and eight-year-olds in one of Florida’s largest school districts furrow their brows as they plot moves toward a checkmate.
It isn’t just play. The chess games are part of a weekly lesson given to all 34,000 second- and third-graders in Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-biggest district in the nation, in one of the largest such curriculum experiments in the country.
“Chess is the means to an end,” said Mark Strauss, Broward’s director of school performance and accountability, explaining that it teaches analytical skills disguised as a game.
“To a child, learning is not work,” he added. “The act of sitting and filling in a bubble sheet is work.”
The initiative builds on growing numbers of school-age children playing chess in the United States. Along with Florida, thousands of students in New York City and Chicago are learning chess in school, also taught in major districts in Texas, Michigan and Washington state, among others.
From pre-school through college, scholastic memberships in the United States Chess Federation have increased for the past two years, officials say. Players under the age of 20 make up about 60 percent of the leading national chess organization.
“The more kids that are playing, the more people take notice,” said Marley Kaplan, president and chief executive of Chess in the Schools in New York City, whose program has reached a half-million children in high-poverty schools since 1986.