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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Early Education for All?

So many public education advocates were very disappointed when Governor Gregoire, in signing the basic education bill, deleted the section on early education. The Times weighed in with an editorial about it today supporting her stance.

Basically, she deleted it because (this from a Times article) :

"The governor vetoed two sections: one mandating preschool for at-risk children and the other concerning money for gifted education in districts that can't afford it. She said both ideas need more development and that all children deserve preschool, not just at-risk kids."

She also said there was no funding which is also true.

Now the Times goes out of its way to give many, many reasons why this is okay. To wit:

"Nothing will be lost. Gregoire established the state Department of Early Learning and promises it will retain a focus on early learning, including broadening access and improving academic quality.

At both the federal and state level, spending and efforts on early learning are unprecedented. About $1 billion is targeted to the federal preschool program, Head Start, for the next two years. Gregoire boosted funding and enrollment for the state equivalent in 2007. This budget year, she made only incremental cuts despite one of the most challenging budgets in state history.

Other federal funds can be used for early-childhood education, including hundreds of millions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for programs that served disabled children from infancy to kindergarten age.

The recent economic-stimulus package included $13 billion for schools with large populations of children from low-income families. The money can be used to pay for early-childhood programs."

They continue by saying that these efforts are ramping up and everything will fall into place. Well, that remains to be seen.

I'm not sure I know enough to decide who's right. I do know from my own experience that the start of the academic divide starts right on that first day of kindergarten. I recall with my younger son that the kindergarten teacher asked me to do assessments individually so that she had an idea of where each child was. All the kids seemed finProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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socially. But I had, thankfully, just a few kids who were not able to count to 10, did not know the last book read to them and did not know colors (there were 8 colors). This is not advanced pre-school education. This is just basic talking to your kid. I also had kids (my own included ) who could read. What was this kindergarten teacher going to do? So there were a lot of volunteers and I hope we tried our best to get kids up to speed. (There were several assessments within the testing, not just the ones I listed.)

I actually bring this up because I had a bell go off in my head when I read the editorial. Oh yeah, that's right, at the last Board Work Session on the Assignment plan, a director asked about why the planning was only for certain schools to have built-in pre-school. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson brushed that question aside saying they were the only kids who needed it. Not that kids in poverty need it more - that they were the only kids who needed it. (It's in my notes.) Huh? I would get saying, "We start with kids in the struggling schools but we hope to expand it to ALL schools."

I'm sorry but between working class parents who may not be able to afford pre-school (and you don't have to be poor for that to happen) and the very few parents who aren't good at parenting, we need a goal of pre-school for ALL. And that's only because to close the achievement gap we need to start sooner. We need kids on a level playing field (or nearly so) so that the gap that may be manageable in kindergarten doesn't get crater sized by middle and canyon sized by high school.

29 comments:

anonymous said...

Interesting. I understand why early childhood education is important, but am not entirely convinced that it is necessary? I can only go by my own experience, so please feel free to contradict me with your own experiences.

My kids went to a Waldorf preschool where the philosophy is that absolutely no academics are taught during the preschool years. None. Waldorf believes that this stage of childhood should be reserved for play, social interaction (with minimal adult interaction), exposure to the outdoors via daily walks in all kinds of weather, singing, storytelling, and some art (using only primary colors).

Both of my kids started kindergarten not knowing how to count past 30. And they certainly couldn't read or write. In fact they didn't even recognize their ABC's.

Did it hinder them? No. Not at all. Both of my sons were among the first kids in the class to learn to read and write. And math came very easily to them in early elementary too. Today my eldest in taking a full load of honors classes and doing very well!

So, I'm not so sure that children need to be exposed to and taught academics at very early ages. Especially, when we can't fund teachers for students in K-12 (current Rif's), are closing buildings, and are dependent on PTSA fund raising dollars to pay for basic services.

Stu said...

While I certainly understand Gregoire's reasoning for deleting the early and advanced education portions of the bill, the thing that bothers me the most is the way that everyone's always looking for the perfect bill or law. Even without funding, and even without it being perfect, nothing bad could happen if she signed the bill and it might go a ways towards showing that it's important. In the quest for perfection, too many "good starts" get lost.

stu

Sahila said...

The point being, adhoc, that YOUR children DID HAVE the opportunity to go to preschool....

I dont think that its so important what pedagogy the children are exposed to, just that they get the chance to get some exposure to early learning...

Charlie Mas said...

My children attended one of the many cooperative pre-schools around the city that are loosely associated with the community colleges. They, too, like the Waldorf pre-school adhoc describes, had no academic goals - a point we had to periodically emphasize with the families. The schools were focused on getting the kids "kindergarten ready" which was not about academics.

It is at times like these that I have to wonder about the difference between causal relationships and correlations.

Do students who attended pre-school show up kindergarten ready because they had pre-school, or do they show up kindergarten ready because the kinds of families that make their kids kindergarten ready tend to enroll them in pre-schools?

Here's a more significant question: Does providing pre-school improve the kindergarten readiness of children who come from families that do not tend to make their children kindergarten ready?Lots of issues there:

1) Will the families of "at-risk" children send the kids to these pre-schools?

1a) They might not because there can be barriers to participation: It's not a full day; a family member needs to provide transportation in the middle of the day. There are sure to be costs associated with it.

1b) They might not because it just doesn't occur to them to do it or seem advantageous to them or seem attractive to them.

2) Is it really the pre-school or is it stuff that happens at home before and after the pre-school that makes the difference?

When you read studies of the academic achievement gap, lack of pre-school is mentioned, but more as a symptom than as a cause.

3) What would be the consequence of providing pre-school to "at-risk" families only? Would it create two distinct classes of pre-school - one government issued version used exclusively by "at risk" families and the currently available private options used by families with the resources to support them? What would be the consequences from that?

4) Would extending the pre-school option to every family avoid the stratification problem mentioned above, or would families with resources continue to choose and use the pre-school options currently available instead of the government schools?

5) If the government schools attracted the middle-class families, what would that do to the existing pre-school businesses? It can't be good for business for the government to set up a free competitor next-door.

I'm sure solutions could be found for these and a host of other questions, but they all need to be thoughtfully addressed.

If we are to extend the public school entitlement down to Pre-K, then I think the public schools are a good choice of location and structure - they are already in place, they already have broad acceptance by the middle-class and a broad spectrum of socio-economic strata and cultures. Unfortunately the system is seriously cash-strapped, highly institutional/industrial and bureaucratic (who would teach, what hours, what transportation, etc.) and not in a position to provide a lot of what kids now get from pre-school where student:adult ratios are quite low.

I'm afraid it might re-define pre-school into something that will not suit the bill. And, to repeat, I'm not sure if pre-school is a cause or just a symptom.

hschinske said...

I think it's a fallacy to suppose that "non-academic" activities in preschool are unrelated to academic achievement later on. The point is not that children are not supposed to learn anything during preschool, it's that play is, broadly speaking, HOW they learn. If you're just as likely to get that sort of play at home, then there's less difference between staying home and going to preschool, but if preschool is the only place you get that sort of rich environment, it's likely to make more of a difference. After all, Montessori schools started out being for the poor.

Helen Schinske

Sahila said...

I am disheartened that classism and the question of commercial competition (profit and loss) could even enter a discussion about whether all children should have the opportunity to go to preschool....

Schools and preschools are not a business - they are providing a service to society.... its in the economic interests of society to make the investment in education (early childhood right through to completion of undergraduate college) and the profits will come later if the community makes that investment...

Similarly, the losses will come later if the community does not...

Not exactly rocket science...

Melissa Westbrook said...

I concur with Charlie and Sahila. I also think Charlie asks the right questions; the governor said it as well that it needs more study and development.

I didn't mean it had to be academics in pre-school (that's the easiest way to turn off kids). My feeling is that kids that age ARE little sponges and any kind of interaction that is exposing them to new ideas and activities (singing a circle song, planting a garden, tending a fish tank, etc.) helps keep those brains firing on all pistons.

I remember feeling fairly ignorant several years back after I read an article in the NY Times about how kids can have a degree of mental retardation simply by not having enough stimulation during their toddler years. I had just assumed you were born that way. It was a great sadness to learn this because kids who aren't used to the stimulation (beyond video games and tv) don't come to school ready to learn (and may resent it).

I also note that some districts are experiments with different kinds of chairs(!) on the belief that kids need to move more and rigidity in seating equals less learning. So much for sit still in your seat.

anonymous said...

"But I had, thankfully, just a few kids who were not able to count to 10, did not know the last book read to them and did not know colors (there were 8 colors). This is not advanced pre-school education. This is just basic talking to your kid. I also had kids (my own included ) who could read. What was this kindergarten teacher going to do? So there were a lot of volunteers and I hope we tried our best to get kids up to speed."

I read this statement to infer that some kids were not kindergarten ready because they couldn't count, read, write, identify colors. Wouldn't those be academic expectations? or did I interpret this wrong?

Sahila said...

I think a five year old who hasnt had the opportunity to make the connection between something he/she sees with their eyes and a sound that represents that something - learning the names of colours - is severely handicapped before they even get to start what is this 'race' you call education here, where only some get to be winners...

So, if you insist on having a 'race' called education, surely in the interests of fairness, you give all 'horses' in that race the same opportunities - you start them all behind the same start line and you give them all the same weight riders (societal advantages/disadvantages) before you send them off round the track....

Now, you wouldnt have this problem if you changed your definition of education and also moved to a vertical curriculum where each child can learn and move forward at his/her own pace and 'complete' the course at the time most appropriate for him/her, rather than at the time and level dictated by standarisation....

Dorothy Neville said...

I read this statement to infer that some kids were not kindergarten ready because they couldn't count, read, write, identify colors. Wouldn't those be academic expectations? or did I interpret this wrong?.

Honestly, read a little more carefully, k?

The last book read to them is a world of difference from being able to read. Waldorf doesn't believe in teaching to read early, but they are all about story and narrative, yes?

Did you read to your children? It's the sense of story, the increased vocabulary, the rhythm of language, the pacing of narrative, the simple idea of a beginning, middle and end to a story, the repetition, the thinking about and being able to predict the consequence of action. All of that is the important stuff, not the decoding of alphabet.

And knowing numbers to ten and the colors of the rainbow are not academic skills, they come from ordinary interactions with humans. Go to This American Life and stream the episode containing Baby College.

The studies show that a huge indicator of future success is simply being talked to. Some kids start kindergarten having been spoken to 10 or 100 times more often than other kids. Kids get the primary colors through conversation and interaction (do you want the red cup or the blue cup? That pink rose is my favorite, what's your favorite flower here at the park?) and numbers as well (there are four string beans on your plate, you can have dessert when you have eaten them.) and so forth.

Not knowing 8 colors means never having been given a simple box of crayons. Not knowing how to count to ten means never doing finger play or being exposed to the simplest of board books.

I read a book on the history of Head Start a long while ago. IIRC, the original design had the whole shebang, health and nutrition and all that support for poor kids. And it was hampered by its success because then in order to universalize it (because it was proven to have advantages, so now middle class families wanted the advantage as well, although they didn't need it) they only had funding to keep the school aspect and cut out the umbrella approach. Now it doesn't have any proven lasting effect.

owlhouse said...

I have very mixed feelings about "universal" and similar state-run preschool programs.

As a long time early childhood educator/advocate- I know absolutely that the benefits of quality preschool are less about "kindergarten readiness" than life preparedness. Sure, we set the stage with pre-academics and foundational knowledge- but the social practice, sharing, negotiating, evaluating "fair", recovering from hurt, developing empathy, voicing your needs, developing trusting relationships with adult care takers... These, for me, are the components that allow for later success.

State and federal programs (head start, etc) have modeled this type of program for decades. However, the push towards standardization and the need to be accountable for the "investment" is creeping into the early childhood world. One of my biggest fears is that our attempts to ensure access to quality programming will come with strings that dismantle the play-based, developmentally appropriate approach.

Another point. One benefit of preschool that often goes unmentioned is the opportunity for early parent involvement. In many ways, preschool is a "training" for parents as well. It's an introduction to how to communicate with a teacher, how to ensure your child has what she needs for the day, how you might contribute to the school... My experience teaching in co-op, Montessori, Quaker, homeless, and head start programs has me convinced that most parents do want to participate, to be involved. Many don't know how- and need as much help becoming "school ready" as their children do.

Dorothy Neville said...

So, if you insist on having a 'race' called education,Whoa. Wrong metaphor here. It's not just a matter of getting kids ready for the starting gate of a race. It's a matter of permanent damage that may be irreparable. The sort of early exposure to the world, conversation, humans, play, etc is not optional. It's just as crucial as enough vitamin C or D or iron or other nutrients. If a child doesn't get enough of those during toddler years, the child can be permanently damaged. Same thing with early childhood experiences. That's the point. Diagnosing rickets and offering better nutrition will stop the disease, but it won't fix the already deformed skeleton.

zb said...

What strikes me in this discussion is that the objections people are raising to public preschool are no different from the objections that could be raised about public K-12 school (and, I guess that's really 1-12, since K isn't required).

hschinske said...

An email friend of mine has taught for years in a high-poverty district in the South. She says "Our average student entering kindergarten has the language skills of a 2 year old. This is typical for inner city, low SES children who have spent their early childhood years either at home or in very cheap daycare centers.

"Most of our children have never seen a book before entering school-and I mean literally never SEEN a book. The reason why my school is the optional school for this program is because we have so many children living close to
us who need it coming into school."

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

Adhoc, we likely have different ideas of academics. You said,

"I read this statement to infer that some kids were not kindergarten ready because they couldn't count, read, write, identify colors."

I don't consider it academic to read to your child (I didn't say the child was reading - I said last book read to the child), I said count to 10, and didn't mention writing. Colors? Gee, I just consider that part of early childhood to know colors. I don't see anything academic in that but maybe you do. And maybe that's a discussion about what preschool should be.

I agree with Owlhouse:

"One of my biggest fears is that our attempts to ensure access to quality programming will come with strings that dismantle the play-based, developmentally appropriate approach."

Playing IS learning and it can be better learning if there is adult guidance. There are lots of ways to learn without sitting in a chair.

Maureen said...

Recently I happened to read two books during the same three weeks (accident of the library hold process!): Intelligence and How to Get It by Richard E. Nisbett and Whatever It Takes : Geoffrey Canada's quest to change Harlem and America by Paul Tough.

They both dealt (in different ways) with exactly this issue. The conclusion I drew from them is that high quality preschool that contains an element of parent involvement/education can make a significant difference in life long success for poor children.

As many of you have pointed out, the real issue is that many children don't get enough positive adult interaction before they start school so they begin so far behind they rarely catch up.

Two of the (many) items that stuck in my head from these books: (1) Some children come to school never having been asked a question that the adult knows the answer to: "What color is the elephant?" So they are totally thrown by typical kindergarten interactions ("Why is she asking me that? I can see it's grey, but it must be a trick because she must know that already.")

and (2) very low income children hear two negatives ("No", "don't", "shut up," "you're wrong, stupid, bad") for every positive ("yes," "show me", "tell me", "good job"). Middle class kids hear eight positives for every negative.

Think about what that must do to a child's ability to learn.

Sahila said...

Dorothy - I was being kinda facetious/sarcastic about calling education a "race"... I dont believe it should be and I have been very vociferous about that, but that is what we have going on here - a race for special privileges all through life, based on class and one of the ways children can get out of the box created for them by the accident of being born into a particular class is to do well in the race called education... striving for some prized (lifelong) outcomes offered very few of the disadvantaged...

Dorothy Neville said...

The This American Life on Baby College is about Geoffrey Canada. So listening would give you a summary of what Maureen read. And this is the fellow and organization talked about recently by Brooks in the NYT. Someone here referenced that as an essay in favor of charter schools. However, Brooks talks specifically about this particular school with the full spectrum of support. *That* is was appears to be working.

MathTeacher42 said...

Sahila,
Classism is part of ALL decisions - we can either accept it and figure out how to deal with it, or ... ? what?

I think Charlie's questions are excellent, and Dorothy's observations about counting and colors are excellent.

HOW do we prepare our kids for the world that is, AND, more importantly, prepare them to make a better world?

A perfect, ideal way to make sure neither of those questions is close to getting answered is to not figure out the details, the nuts and bolts, of any idea. Opps, oh yeah, and do NOT pay for anything either.

WOW! That is where we are today!

Apparantly people at headstart figured out what to do decades ago, and then the money was cut because those born in the underclass, or those fallen into the underclass, neither should threaten the freedom from competition of the ruling classes.

So, let's continue with duct tape, bungee cords, bandaids, patches - AND then pull everything apart in case we get close to really fixing things!

rmm.

Sahila said...

I think we should figure out the nuts and bolt and we as a society should pay for things also....

the emphasis being on paying as a society for something that benefits all of society - education....

the nuts and bolts thing has already been done in many other parts of the world... no need to reinvent the wheel - take what works, adapt it to local conditions if necessary and make some big changes, instead of this interminable tinkering with a system that is fundamentally flawed ... lots of arse over kite stuff happening, but people too entrenched in old ways of looking at things, or having too much invested (politically) to let go and make change....

Money - lots of money around, recession or no recession.... its all about priorities and choices....how about changing policy on defence and saving trillions of dollars there and reallocating those funds to education and health?

How about changing direction on education administration nationally and saving billions that are now spent on top heavy bureaucracies - multiple school districts in the greater Seattle area, for example - that spend so much on duplication of systems and processes... surely that money would be better spent in classrooms?

How about moving away - either as a state or federally - from funding education based on property taxes and levies and having to go to referenda each time the school system needs money? Where is the belief in and commitment to quality education - which is an asset to society and which society has an interest in seeing succeed - in allowing such a ridiculously inconstant and inadequate funding source to continue?

There are lots of ways to fix the problems without punishing our kids - which we do with school closures, teacher firings, tinkering with bell times... It seems to me that the scarce resource is personal and political will to act for the greater good - too many people wanting to protect their own interests.... and that's because we're living in a capitalist system of exploitation and most people are afraid to lose their footing on the rung of the ladder they're clinging so tightly to.... no fun in a pyramid structure, to be part of the base, having to claw your way up to the middle - stomp on or be stomped on... and the glory goes to the privileged few at the top....

Dont tell me this isnt the education system as it exists here and now.... and dont tell me that all the justifications for it staying the same or the whining about it being too hard and too costly to change are valid....

It exists because someone wins and all the rest have bought into the fantasy that they too can win, if only they are smart enough, work hard enough, play the game well enough...

Its sickening....

Sahila said...

New Zealand has had (nominal fee) universal kindergarten available to all children from the age of three for almost 100 years.

see this link for its history:
http://www.nzkindergarten.org.nz/history.aspx

Kindergarten is preschool in New Zealand and Australia - school in both countries starts on a child's 5th birthday (more or less) with a short acclimatisation period in a new entrants class and then movement into Year One/Primer One (first grade)...

In New Zealand there are also other forms of preschool available - one is Play Centre, another is Kohanga Reo and then there are various preschools based on Montessori, Steiner and other educational models...

Providing early childhood education is not hard to do - IF society sees it as having value and if there is the political will to change the system....

This country is supposedly the richest on the planet, and yet it cant find the money to give each child early childhood education, if not from an altruistic perspective, then from the pragmatic position that what it invests now will pay off later (Return on Investment - ROI) in higher tax revenues, more entrepreneurship, less social and health costs etc....????

Think its called cutting off the nose to spite the face....

Sahila said...

For those of you interested in other ideas about education - its purpose, what works and what doesnt - and how to 'fix'/change the system so that it does work for everyone - or at least give more children a chance at success - here's a link to a debate - with references for the perspectives posited - that highlights possible solutions and schools where those solutions have been implemented....

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=7241

Early childhood education is an integral part of this discussion....

I've posted other links related to these ideas on blog entries relating to the Alliance for Education topic...

Jet City mom said...

Adhoc- I would never have guess that you were interested in Waldorf schools-
( I would have guess Montessori)
I loved the materials and the deemphasis on academics.
I was a big reader of Ashley Montague & Joesph Chilton Pearce

I must have visited Bjorn Lih a couple times a year and we always went to the holiday festivals at the Seattle Waldorf School.

Still, my oldest taught herself to read at three. I was as surprised as anyone & while I didn't brag about it, I didn't hide it either- however the Waldorf programs didn't seem to allow for that.

While I had been a nanny for children who attended Campi preschools on Capitol HIll, I think the funding ran out by the time my oldest was ready & we also found the co-op preschools which allowed for more flexibility than Waldorf and when the local kindergarten teacher suggested we find an alternative to our neighborhood school- we were grateful to find a place at the North Seattle 5's- a program taught by veteran educator Ladell Black.



I think more funding and advertising should be spent on the co-op programs, as well as teacher training. For most kids- the preschools are great- but for instance- the one that my younger daughter was in had probably five kids, including herself, who had something on the autistic/ADD/Tourette's/dyslexic spectrum & while I know the parents were struggling to find help with those concerns, it took years for a diagnosis & in our case- we didn't have money for specialists that insurance didn't cover- but while the School district OT/PT did admit that she had "------issues" they weren't severe enough to warrant the district covering them. ( and she did attempt to teach me how to do therapy on my own)

It took years without essentially any treatment for them to become severe enough to do so.
It goes without saying- that this wasn't just ineffective- but harmful.

Now does that make sense?

Of course not.

The co-op preschools gave an opportunity to evaluate concerns that may cause problems later in the classroom & had an additional benefit of having a parent educator that led developmental discussions and gave parents an opportunity to get some reinforcement.

GiGi said...

Every kindergarten school tour I went on (and even some of the preschool tours before that) someone said “the kindergarten standards are what we used to expect in first grade.” It then follows that teachers have less time to spend on what kindergarten used to be about. When my daughter started kindergarten, I was surprised at the amount of time her teacher has to spend with the two students in the class who didn’t know how to use scissors (which my children learned both in preschool and at home). With all the other requirements she had, it was difficult for her to find the time to help those kids.

I toured many pre-schools with different philosophies and frankly I think the academic vs. non-academic argument is a bit overstated. A school can call the 30 minutes they let the kids at the sand and water table “messy play” or “science and nature” (really, I saw both those labels), but the kids are going to do exactly the same action and the sand and water table.

SolvayGirl said...

OFF TOPIC A BIT
FYI Emeraldkity...and others who are interested:

The university of Washington offers free comprehensive evaluation through their MS program for school counselors and psychologists. I don't have the phone number any more, but calling the department should get you connected. You do have to sign up in advance, and there can be a waiting list, but we had no problem getting in the program. The cover all ages, through high school.

The evaluations are very extensive, involving a number of visits and tests and including a site visit at your child's school. The evaluations are monitored by the student's supervisors. We had the results sent to our school and found them to be quite helpful.

hschinske said...

SolvayGirl1972, are you sure that they still offer free services? The closest I can find to what you're suggesting is http://web.psych.washington.edu/clinic/Idc_faq.html, which does have financial aid for families making under $40,000, but isn't free by any stretch of the imagination.

Helen Schinske

SolvayGirl said...

I think they were free as of last year (I had a friend whose son went through the process). We did it 4 years ago and the Director was Joan Weiss at the time, may still be.

Jet City mom said...

I am sure Joan Weiss is still in charge.
We did begin the process a while ago - however- people who are " on the spectrum" are recalcitrant ( to say the least!) & it didn't really work out

Anonymous said...

great