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.”
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.
EarlyStories has for years followed the missing saga of pre-kindergarten education in South Dakota, one of 12 states with no publicly funded program. Efforts to fund any kind of pre-k program in this rural state have hit more than a few roadblocks . It would be fascinating to spend some time traveling around and speaking with residents — and legislators — about what has been some adamant opposition to spending public money on early childhood education. Pilot programs in the state have enjoyed some success but the opposition is still adamant; much of it focused on a feeling that parents — and not schools or government — should take charge of a child’s early education.
It appears now that South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds may apply for some federal funds for a program, after two difficult legislative sessions, where proposals have been narrowly defeated. The South Dakota Family Council has been a big opponent, as have many legislators. By the way, a good site for following local developments in the state can be found here.
What would it mean to South Dakota to get a pre-kindergarten program up and running?
Dr. Susan Randall, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Children, told Public News Service it would be a major step forward. “It could do nothing except be positive in enhancing coordination, and enhancing opportunities for addressing unmet needs,” she said.
In the past, task force reports and other efforts have failed to sway the legislators, bucking a national trend toward the realization that a solid early childhood foundation can make a profound difference, not just in the life of a child but in a state’s economy.
At a time when advocates for early childhood education have suffered a few setbacks, it was refreshing to see our colleagues over at Early Education Watch present an ambitious plan to start publication education in the U.S. at the age of three.
The new set of ideas comes despite obstacles that exist to obtaining federal funding for early childhood education and as states are cutting budgets for publicly funded pre-kindergarten.
Bold ideas aren’t always presented in the midst of an economic crisis, but the New America Foundation went ahead with a fascinating discussion of what they are calling “a new social contract for education,” yesterday with top education officials in Washington, D.C.
EarlyStories would have loved to be there, but like others interested in this topic instead is listening to the remarks via webcast.
As the only state in the south without a state-supported pre-kindergarten program, Mississippi’s children start behind and often stay there, according to a new report by the Southern Education Foundation.
Some staggering figures in the report: Some 22 percent of the state’s adults have no high school diploma, and Mississippi spends more than $2 billion educating students who need to repeat a grade.
The state’s education lapses are documented in the report, which concludes that Mississippi will remain poor if doesn’t invest in education and high-quality pre-kindergarten. The report comes as Mississippi’s fragile economy is struggling to recover, and as Gov. Haley Barbour has already made five rounds of cuts.
Teacher preparation is high on the list of top qualities for pre-kindergarten teachers, so it was interesting to see a story highlighting one state’s efforts to improve its teaching force.
Turns out Nevada developed licensing requirements for teaching students from birth through kindergarten in 2005. The spotlight on Nevada comes at a time when pre-k advocates are noting that any success in kindergarten can be enhanced by the education that comes beforehand.
“Having educated, prepared teachers is the single most important factor of having pre-K quality,” Marci Young, project director of Pre-K Now, is quoted saying in the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The story followed a Pew Institute report that advocates raising the salaries of pre-k educators and providing both uniform training and measures to retain teachers.
According to Education Week coverage of the report: “Teachers with bachelor’s degrees and specialized training in early education are more effective than those educators who don’t hold such credentials. In other words, it’s not enough to be good with kids or to like working with them; teachers benefit from specific training,” the Education Week story noted.
The report also found that states vary widely when it comes to how much training is required of early childhood teachers — some require only high school.
What makes Nevada stand out? The state requires a bachelor’s degree and early childhood education certificate or endorsement, and has a federally funded grant of $3 million to help train its pre-k teachers.
It would be interesting to spend time in classrooms there and observe the trained teachers. What have they learned, and how are the children doing once they get to kindergarten? Do the children respond differently to a better trained teacher? What does the training consist of and how does it build a better teacher?
At the end of a lengthy Associated Press story on a battle for pre-kindergarten funding in Virginia, a quote stood out that begs for an answer and a response.
Republican Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, who is a member of the legislative panel working to finalize the state’s budget, said that Virgina has more than doubled funding for its pre-K program in recent years.
“It’s not a core function of education,” Cox is quoted as saying. “Every dollar you put into pre-K is a dollar you take out of the classroom.”
The quote came at the end of a story similar to one being written by statehouse reporters all over the U.S., as states are under pressure in a weakened economy to slash budgets and make painful choices.
The story detailed how teachers and advocates for a program that puts low-income children in Virginia testified before lawmakers and urged them not to cut the Virgina Preschool Initiative.
They described how the program helps get children ready for kindergarten and helps level the playing field with those from more advantaged homes. There were plenty of clear arguments quoted about the value and benefits of of pre-kindergarten, an issue the state continues to debate even as the new Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has urged that pre-k programs not be cut.
So what about the “core function,” quote? It’s important to hear from both sides in any debate about education spending, but EarlyStories still would like an explanation of what is a core function. How exactly would funding pre-k take other dollars out of the classroom? What specifically would have to be cut?
Those making arguments on the other side have to be ready to answer and defend the role of pre-k as “a core function,” at a time when every dollar spent on every program is coming into question. Rhetoric isn’t helpful. Facts and explanations are.
Some fascinating findings came out of a comprehensive survey of U.S. teachers, released this morning at Scholastic headquarters in lower Manhattan. The results of a questionnaire on American education sent to some 40,000 teachers found many teachers have doubts about the ability of their students to succeed after high school.
Nine out of 10 teachers said that not all of their students could leave high school prepared to succeed in college. The teachers had lots of ideas and recommendations about how to better prepare them, and the 100-page report that came out of a collaboration between Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is filled with strategies and ideas for moving forward.
The report should be required reading for all education journalists, but EarlyStories was particularly interested in what the findings mean for the way the U.S. does — or does not — educate children well before they even set foot in a classroom. Beth Prince, a kindergarten teacher at Hearst Elementary School in Washington, D.C. was on hand to share some of her thoughts on the topic.
“If you get it right in the early years, from pre-kindergarten to third grade, and look at early learning styles, you can get that spark and love for learning going early on,” said Prince, who has worked with young children in private child care and public school settings for over 19 years. Prince said she always notices the difference when children arrive in kindergarten without having attended a pre-school, nursery school or a Head Start program.
“They don’t have that letter and number recognition, or that sense of having been read to,” she said, adding that children who start kindergarten without any formal sitting have particular difficulty sitting still.
Francie Alexander, Scholastic’s chief academic officer and a former kindergarten teacher, noted that the findings of teachers confirm the importance of establishing trust with parents early on. “It really starts in kindergarten,” she said. “Parents really want to know how my child is doing.”
One finding that supported that view came from teachers, who said family support is a critical part of keeping students engaged in school. Teachers cited a lack of encouragement from family and friends as a major obstacle to student success.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was on hand to hear the results of the survey and called it “one of the most reveting conversations I’ve experienced. Teachers will tell you their real world experiences if you listen.”
While the survey was anonymous, excerpts of their remarks appear throughout the report from both elementary, middle and high school teachers that provide insight into their thinking on everything from student achievement to standards, performance pay and retention.
Harris Interactive conducted the survey, which also provides an in-depth look at state-by-state data that show how teachers in different states view the issues.
Vicki L. Phillips, the director of education, College Ready at the Gates Foundation, said the findings show that teachers support a stronger curriculum that relates to the establishment of clear academic standards and reliable data on student learning.
“The survey tells us that what’s good for students and student achievement is good for teachers too — in fact, it’s what they want,” she said.
One other interesting note about what teachers think is important to keeping good teachers in the classroom: good leaders. More teachers say it is absolutely essential to have supportive leadership (68%), time to collaborate (54%), and quality curriculum (49%) than it is to have higher salaries.
It was interesting to hear Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania kick off The Campaign for Educational Equity,” symposium at Teachers College, Columbia University this week. Rendell didn’t actually attend the conference, but his words — captured on a live video feed — conveyed a passion for boosting education and a commitment to education, including pre-kindergarten, that not everyone in the state shares.
Rendell likes to tout how Pennsylvania has morphed from one of the nine states in the country that failed to fund pre-kindergarten to a national leader in early childhood investment, including full day kindergarten programs. He’s also clear that this comes a tough time for the state economically.
This week, Rendell proposed a $29 billion spending plan for the state that would devote more money to schools, prisons and health care for the poor but would also increase the sales tax on some goods and services. His budget relies on nearly $2.8 billion in federal stimulus money, some of which has yet to be approved by Congress.
It will be interesting to see how much continued support there will be for his education agenda while the state’s fiscal difficulties are so real. Rendell has been praised for his leadership on pre-kindergarten; but can the funding continue?
Not if you ask Steve Miskin, spokesman for Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), who told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Rendell’s “only solution [for improving education] is money, money, money. . . . There comes a time when Pennsylvanians have to say, enough is enough.”