In the days of high-stakes testing, it’s hard to imagine the stress for parents who want nothing better than to send their progeny to private school, starting in kindergarten or even earlier. Actually, it’s not at all hard to imagine: the insanity of the process in New York City was documented brilliantly a few years back in the documentary “Nursery University.”
Taking an expensive intelligence test known as the E.R.B. is tough enough, but now the New York Times reports that some well connected pre-schoolers (well at least their parents) are finding ways for them to take the test twice, just in case they had a bad day. The test, along with letters of recommendations and interviews, are all part of deciding who gets admitted.
In the overall scheme of parents-who-will-do-anything to get their kids in, finding a way for them to get a second chance at the E.R.B., an intelligence exam, isn’t as extreme as say, bribing a nursery school director or offering to build a gym, pool or a playground. (which would come as no surprise).
Still, it raises issues of fairness, say some education consultants and parents who object to the idea that some students are quietly getting a do-over to boost their chance of success. And those students tend to be connected to the school (via an alumni or sibling) or perhaps are offspring of a celebrity, the Times notes. adding that the second test can provide an edge because “more often than not, children fare better.”
The mandatory $510 exam “is among the most nail-biting experiences in a parent’s life, ” and it’s already under attack “because of widely available preparation materials,” the story notes.
Some might argue that charging $510 for an exam that helps a child gain admission to a school that will ultimately cost as much as $35,300 annually is already unfair.
The best solution, of course, would be to offer more free, high-quality pre-kindergarten to all children, regardless of income, with a fine public school system to follow. But in New York City’s public system, as in the private system, the number of seats in the most coveted schools does not meet demand. And so the testing and the gaming continues.
Private school consultant Amanda Uhry is spot on when she tells the Times: “These are private schools – it’s their rules.”
EarlyStories examined some suggested new rules for Head Start recently, and now a leading expert on early childhood is lauding the Obama administration in a Washington Post op-ed for proposing a new system he says could force much-needed improvements to the $8 billion program for 3- and 4-year-olds. The op-ed makes it clear that what happens before children set foot in a public-school classroom is an integral part of the national debate on education.
“A substantial number of Head Start programs are so ineffective that they do little or nothing to boost child development and learning,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families, co-authored the op-ed with Barnett.
Center leaders have not entirely welcomed the proposals. Some are worried that competition would be costly, and could create more uncertainty and possibly chaos. Large centers have expressed concerns that they’ll be singled out simply because their size could lead to more problems.
The Post piece comes as a new, must-read collection of papers assessing federal policies for early childhood education and child care was released by NIEER, entitled “Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy.”
To create an educated workforce, you have to start with high-quality educators. In the field of early childhood, the issue has long been debated. High quality programs tend to be taught by teachers with four-year degrees and specific training in early childhood education. Yet teachers may be poorly trained, or not trained at all. Only 27 states require a lead classroom teacher to have a bachelor’s degree, for example.
All this is one reason why EarlyStories is taking note of a new report that calls for increasing the compensation of early childhood workers and providing bonuses, earned tax credits, and loan forgiveness programs. The Boston Globe wrote about the report, sponsored by the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children, a Boston nonprofit that works to improve early education, especially for disadvantaged students.
The report comes at a time when the majority of child-care workers in Massachusetts earn less than $25,000, and as the state — like many in the U.S. – confronting a compensation crisis, causing many child-care workers to leave the industry. How are states and municipalities handling this crisis? How can we improve education at all levels if we don’t start with our littlest learners and those who guide them?
It might seem as if the push to get into one of New York City’s most prestigious and pricey nursery schools is an old story, but quotes like these remind readers that it’s not just the city’s übercompetitive parents who are keeping the frenzy alive: “I will interview parents all night if I need to,” Wendy Levey, the director of the Epiphany Community Nursery School, told The New York Times.
The school has just 150 students ages 2-5. Levey and her school became well-known to viewers of the hilarious “Nursery University,” a documentary that a New York Times reviewer wryly noted would be well-received by those who “thrill to the sight of a preschool teacher bringing an investment banker to his knees.”
Levey’s comment about interviewing parents came in a story that described an “annual rite of Manhattan education … the crush of applicants to private nursery schools and kindergartens” that won’t take applications or even phone calls requesting them until the day after Labor Day.
One look at the competition and the prices — the 92nd Street Y, for example, will set parents back just under $15,000 for a three-day-a-week program for 2-year-olds, and just under $26,000 for a five-day program for 4- and 5-year-olds — might drive more reasonable parents to move to, say, Brooklyn. They might hope to live near a free public pre-kindergarten program.
Turns out, that is easier said than done. A story in the New York Daily News last week proclaimed getting into public school prekindergarten in certain Brooklyn neighborhods to be “harder than getting into Harvard,” while another noted that a record number of children were squeezed out of Brooklyn’s most popular — and crowded — pre-k programs.
Lesson? There’s a huge need for more high-quality pre-kindergarten programs — both public and private — to serve the many New Yorkers who want to raise their children in the city and give them the best possible start. Supply does not come close to meeting demand.
The little things young children do and say can be so amazing that it’s hard to imagine not thinking of all children as gifted. The very word is fraught, though, and has led to years of debate about what constitutes a gifted child. How should the quality be measured and how should the littlest learners who seem to show special talent or promise should be isolated? Or should everyone learn together?
Joan Franklin Smutny, the founder and director of the Center for the Gifted at National-Louis University, said gifted children express creativity and a unique problem solving ability, and said she believes giftedness can be determined easily in the early years. “It’s very important to nurture their nature….there are so many expressions of giftedness.”
Smutny maintains that no test scores are needed to identify a gifted child, and said they are hungry for new challenges. She said giftedness should be identified early so special attention can be paid to their education, while Clara Hemphill, an author and editor, argued that there is no need to test and isolate gifted children.
Hemphill said the focus should instead be on educating all children while giving them additional opportunities. Hemphill had an interesting piece on the topic recently in the New York Times. “What happens to gifted kids is what often happens to all kids that don’t fit the mold,” Hemphill said. She said it’s most important “to work harder,” to provide opportunties for all children.
It will be interesting to see whether Arizona is a winner in the second-round of Race to the Top for many reasons (the state into the finalists’ circle in the second round after scoring 40th out of 41 slots in the first round), but one is to see if all the cuts Arizona is making to early childhood education hurt its chances to win.
In its application, Arizona touts its investment in early education for young children, including its Quality First! program, which “implements a rage of strategies to enhance preschool performance.”
Yet as Arizona was putting together its new-and-improved application this summer with the help of the nonprofit, WestEd, it was also cutting funding for full-day kindergarten and completely eliminating its publicly funded pre-kindergarten program, which serves 5,500 children.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan often repeats that the Obama administration is committed to early education, and just this week, he said that Race to the Top first round winners Tennessee and Delaware won in part because they had strong early education proposals. We’ll see if the same holds true for the second round winners when they’re announced next month.
The headlines about kindergarten out of Victorville, California are particularly disturbing because they have involved a school on lockdown, an alleged brawl and misdemeanor charges — against parents.
And all of this bad behavior took place at a kindergarten graduation, the kind of event that usually inspires hugs and possibly tears of joy or nostalgia. Kindergarten graduations are where grown-ups get to haul out the video cameras and the Kleenex.
Instead it appears a disparaging remark about the Los Angeles Lakers on Facebook led to a brawl at the Puesta del Sol Elementary School kindergarten graduation. This week, prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges against two women whose argument apparently caused the brawl. They could face up to six months in jail.
EarlyStories can’t help wondering, once again, how parents can be allowed to model this type of behavior in a school. Parents behaving badly always means irresistible headlines and lines like “someone needs a time out.”
But it also sets a lousy example for our littlest learners.
The recession is taking its toll and jeopardizing expansion of early childhood in some states, so it was interesting to read this week about effort to ramp up the quality of current programs.
The issue of quality is a huge one for child care and early education programs. Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan of Teachers College consults with early childhood programs around the world, and when she speaks about the U.S. she often points out how few programs are of high quality — meaning well-funded, with trained staffs and teachers, a well thought out curriculum and clear standards.
In California, there are some new efforts to create a child-care rating system based on the education of staff, the way adults interact with children and parental involvement in a program, according to a recent story.
And Massachusetts this week moved a step closer to creating a system to evaluate the quality of programs and provide incentives for them to approve, according to a story in the “eye on early education,” blog, which notes that 21 states are piloting a program that defines standards for four levels of quality. Creating such a system is important for Massachusetts, where 92 percent of all children under the age of 7 are regularly cared for by someone who is not a family member, according a recent brief.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released the Child Care Quality Rating System (QRS) Assessment: Compendium of Quality Rating Systems and Evaluations, a helpful document for journalists or anyone who is looking at the critical issue of child care services and programs.
EarlyStories had a chance to participate in a fascinating radio discussion recently that looked at the role stress plays in the lives of young children and how it impacts their brains and their learning.
Turns out too much of it can lead to learning disabilities and a range of problems. The experts on the BAm!radio broadcast spoke about ways to both prevent and manage stress. Guests included Dr. Regalena Melrose, a school psychologist, Dr. Regina Lamourelle .
You can listen to the show here:
One of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of early childhood education — and child care — in the U.S. is the lack of quality. Advocates and academics alike have called for all kinds of ways to improve pre-school programs with higher standards . They’ve called for better teacher training and higher standards for day care and other programs. Last week, a federally funded study shed light on why the issue is so important: The study found that low-quality care in the first few years of a child’s life can impact learning and behavior all the way through adolescence.
The study tracked more than a thousand children from birth through age 15, and suggested that more time in child care outside the home meant more risky behavior by the age of 15, among other things. The children in higher-quality care scored higher on tests of cognitive and academic achievement than peers in lower-quality care.
It’s not always easy for journalists — or the public — to understand how high quality child care centers and givers differ. so here’s a helpful quote from Margaret Burchinal, a senior scientist involved in the study who did a Q and A with The Washington Post to discuss the findings.
“High quality child care included caregivers who were responsive and sensitive with the target child,” Burchinal said. “They talked frequently with that child, and provided learning experiences that were fun and appropriate for children that age.”
Low quality care “involved a setting in which the caregiver did not interact often with the children and, when he/she did, tended to be harsh and critical.”