"The head teacher and I exchanged pleasantries, and then she laid it out. My daughter, who commonly invokes the Mandarin word for little brother and usually wins at the game of hangman, has a significant "learning gap" when compared with her British peers — especially in literacy."
"An e-mail from the school followed. It politely spelled out exactly what the kids in that school were expected to master by Olivia's age: telling time; fractions — whole, half, quarter and thirds; counting in 5's up to 50; reading books (something called the pink new level) and starting to write "news" independently.
I thought about Olivia's school experience over the past year. She planted basil seeds with her beloved pre-K teacher. She learned about insects, drew a fantastic picture of Saturn and definitely mastered the monkey bars.But she does not know how to tell time, isn't reading books on her own, and fractions — even American kids well into middle and high school are having massive trouble with those, according to a recent federal report.
Olivia went to a public school in Washington, among the few cities to offer free public pre-K. But even her friends who went to the city's most selective private schools aren't reading, telling time or doing fractions."She goes on to explain:
"Britain has a national curriculum with specific goals, and schools there are rigorously inspected and evaluated. Most kids enter school at 4 instead of 5, as is the case here, and prekindergarten programs tend to be more academic than in the United States, where standards vary widely from state to state and between public and private settings.
It's not an open-and-shut case as to whether one country's approach is better than another. On a recent international reading test, U.S. fourth-graders and their peers from England had the same results. They weren't all that impressive. Students from the two countries posted lower average scores than students in Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy and Sweden, along with several Canadian provinces.
In math, kids in the United Kingdom, which includes Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, outperformed their American peers on an international test given to 15-year-olds."Nothing new, students in the U.S. are not in the top ranks internationally.
What made me pause on this story, because we are in an election year, is that we need to do better, as a city, as a state, as a country, for kids ages 1-5. We need universal preschool. We need to close the gap that exists as kindergarteners walk in the door on day one.
Sure, there's always kids who are "ahead". My older son read at 3 1/2. Both my kids had Montessori pre-school and knew the continents and how to read a map at 4. (I consider my sons' Montessori teacher probably the finest teacher they ever had.)
Could they tell time, do fractions (well, simple ones, probably), read AND write like British kids? No.
In Sweden, they spend a lot of time on socialization and getting kids to think cooperatively and to learn at their own pace. Is that better?
I think as a district or as a country, we can (and should) decide what are the basic learning blocks we want our kids to start out with. Many would say in a competitive world, the sooner they start reading and writing the better. Some would say we rob children of their childhoods.
I vividly recall doing checks for my older son's kindergarten teacher. I took each student out to the hall. I was to give them a pile of disks and ask them to count them as high as they could. Most kids got to 20, a couple just to 5 and a few past 50. Then, I was to show them a box of 8 crayons and ask them the colors. One child only knew blue. At 5 years old, he knew one color (and he wasn't colorblind). And so on. It was painful to know, for kids at the bottom and kids at the top, how difficult the year might be.
The kids at the bottom might lose their self-confidence and happiness in going to school if they couldn't catch up. The kids at the top get to be bored while the teacher plays catch-up. And what of the teacher? Does she or he teach to the middle? What if the class size isn't an ideal 15-18? What if there are 25 kids?
It's one thing to have a few early bird learners and maybe a child who wasn't read to but it's another thing to have a classroom with equal amounts of both and then wonder what it does to the whole class.
We need universal Pre-K. It is better to invest in our children on the front end then try later on.