A coalition of groups representing colleges and universities is getting involved in the new common standards movement, which is pushing forward a set of K-12 math and English standards that are meant to set the bar for what students should know to be ready for college.
All of this is part of the so-called P-16 movement, which is trying to connect what happens in prekindergarten and preschool with what happens senior year of college, and vice versa. The standards are in many ways a starting point, and so far, 40 states have adopted them. But adoption is not the same thing as implementation, and that’s what these groups are worried about, particularly as legislatures and governorships change hands and school districts face budget cuts.
Here’s what Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said in yesterday’s press release: “Without extensive and deep postsecondary involvement, wide implementation of more uniform and transparent P-12 standards is less likely, and we all need to insure that high school graduates are prepared to excel in meeting broadly held expectations for college and workforce readiness.”
It should be noted that while states have adopted K-12 standards, “P” standards – for early education – are still in the works, and likely to be contentious.
Oklahoma may win accolades year after year for its state-funded preschool program, but scores on the so-called Nation’s Report Card show the state’s fourth grade reading scores have been falling for the past decade. A recent article by Oklahoma’s News On 6 ponders the discrepancy:
“The most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) fourth grade reading and math scores show that the scores of Oklahoma fourth graders, relative to the national average, have declined over the roughly ten-year period since the state became the leader in early childhood education.
How can this be?
There have been numerous studies (including a 2004 Georgetown University study conducted in the Tulsa Public School district) that show a direct correlation between enrollment in a pre-kindergarten class and improved language and pre-math skills. The studies are unambiguous in concluding that a child who attends pre-school in Oklahoma is more ready to learn upon entering kindergarten than a child who has not had attended pre-school. And yet test scores indicate the benefit doesn’t last.”
It’s a perennial question for early education advocates: How do you combat academic fade-out? The article suggests that one of the problems may be that the program does not reach all kids.
Another issue could be that Oklahoma’s program is not very intense. Fade-out tends to happen even with the most comprehensive pre-kindergarten models, and the state’s universal program only covers four-year-olds and only requires a minimum of a half-day, not the full-day that educators say is more effective. Recently the state has been adding three year olds to the pre-K rolls, but only through a relatively small pilot program.
Digging deeper into the NAEP data shows some reasons to be more positive about Oklahoma’s performance. The state’s minority populations, particularly Hispanics, are growing rapidly, while the white population is on the decline. Yet the achievement gap has gotten smaller.
Although more than half of black fourth grades aren’t proficient in reading (that number crept back up to 59% in 2009 after dropping to 54%, its lowest level ever, in 2007), it used to be that more than two thirds couldn’t read on grade level by fourth grade. The percentage of proficient Hispanic fourth graders has also inched up – 47% were proficient in 2009. Native American students in Oklahoma, a relatively large group, do much better than the national average, with about two thirds above the proficiency level, a number that has also improved.
The gains aren’t huge, but they do suggest that Oklahoma’s early education efforts, while perhaps not a ringing success, shouldn’t necessarily be written off as a failure either based on the state’s NAEP performance.
The latest and most promising education reform in the early education realm, at least according to many advocates, is PreK-3 . The idea is to streamline curriculum and instructional approaches so that the transition from preschool to K-12 is seamless. It’s also to get educators from both sides of the line talking to each other about expectations and pedagogy — something that really hasn’t happened before.
The New America Foundation’s Early Ed Watch blog wrote yesterday about a new Pennsylvania State University study out that looks at how teachers are being prepared (or not) for this new way of doing things. Early ed folks say teachers are not the only ones who need help navigating the new terrain of early education, however.
This week, I met with the staff from Advocates for the Children of New Jersey who are training district administrators — many of whom have little experience with early education — about how to better connect the grade levels. The group held trainings last year and is launching a new set of sessions this year. According to Cynthia Rice, who is coordinating the trainings, administrators have clamored to participate.
One of the potential pitfalls of the PreK-3 model is that it creates more meetings for people to sit through, without necessarily guaranteeing anything will get done. A focus of the trainings is how to make meetings between educators across the grade levels constructive. “It’s setting up time for meaningful conversations about children, classrooms, curriculum and assessment,” says Rice. Another goal is to change mindsets, pushing administrators to think about education as a continuum and to think about what happens to children “outside of their buildings” as their responsibility, too.
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 New York Times Magazine has a story about depression among preschoolers this week, which asks whether depression can be diagnosable among young children, and, if so, where it might come from.
The article suggests that maternal depression can play a role, but is not definitive. The author writes: “Despite the assumption that these kids must have experienced severe psychosocial deprivation, abuse or neglect, Luby says: ‘I’ve seen many depressed kids with nurturing, caring parents. We know that psychosocial stress is an important ingredient, but it’s not the only issue. And it’s not a necessary condition either.’”
I was reminded of some of the research in Ellen Galinsky’s new book, which we wrote about here a few weeks ago, that looked at how maternal non-responsiveness can adversely affect infants. In particular this can be an issue among families living in poverty, where family stress can exacerbate the problem.
The Times story doesn’t really get into what role poverty might play in exacerbating depression among young children; she does write about the connection between anxiety and depression. This seems in part because the research is new, but common sense would say that children growing up in poverty would be more susceptible to early onset of depression and anxiety disorders, or at least would have fewer opportunities to combat it in the ways described in the story. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the future research tells us.
Is nap-time for young students “baby-stuff” that takes away time from learning, or do they need it to help them achieve? On a recent Bam! Radio broadcast, Early Stories joined a discussion with Rae Pica and three experts on early childhood, who reached the unanimous conclusion that naps in preschool and kindergarten aren’t superfluous. They’re a key part of helping the youngest students learn.
Karen Stephens, director of the Child Care Center at Illinois State University, said naptime is a biological necessity for young kids that helps with cognitive development, while pediatrician Meg Meeker said children may need even more sleep during kindergarten than they do at younger ages. Kathleen Hayes, the editor of Highlights High Five, said naptime is important for young children because they are just learning to adapt to life in a classroom, and that “some are overwhelmed by it.”
To learn more, click here and listen to the show.
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.
California educates about 1.6 million, or nearly a third, of the nation’s 5.1 million English language learners, so it is often looked at as a trend-setting state. That’s one reason why it was interesting to read about what happened in Carol Decker’s pre-school class in the Santa Clarita Valley, where the four-year-olds who showed up in September arrived speaking hardly any English at all.
At the beginning of the year, the group scored lower than English speakers in categories ranging from self-care, motor skills and social expression. But by the spring of 2009, almost all of those differences had disappeared.
California was the first state to approve standards known as “learning foundations,” to help preschoolers who are English learners develop language skills, and plans to release more details on how to use the standards this month.
Nationally, much debate remains about how much support students who speak languages other than English should get in pre-school — and beyond. In Illinois, new regulations have been proposed that would give additional support to English language learners, who are the fastest growing group of children in the U.S.
“If approved, the rules would also require districts to give a home-language survey to parents to determine if a language other than English is spoken at home, screen all children from such homes for their English proficiency, and provide transitional bilingual education in preschools where 20 or more pupils with limited English proficiency speak the same native language,” the recent Education Week article noted. “Preschools without a critical mass speaking the same home language would have to provide English-as-a-second-language instruction.”
Some experts are concerned that the new regulations would separate, isolate and possibly marginalize students who don’t speak English when they start school.
It is sad fact of life that in a time of economic crisis, as states are scaling back on promised expansions of publicly funded pre-kindergarten, that a few upscale Washington D.C. parents are whining.
In some ways, it’s even sadder that their concerns have become a story, but indeed they provide a window into the unfounded fears that may accompany thinking about education.
And why are these parents whining, according to the Washington Post? It seems that a blog posting about the new academic focus in kindergarten set off waves of fear about how prepared their offspring might be, according to the Post’s Valerie Strauss.
Strauss writes that parents have been begging school directors to let their 1 1/2 -year-olds into programs for 2-year-olds. In interviews with a few dozen preschool directors, Strauss learned that parents have been, among other things, demanding to know why their 2-year-old isn’t being given the alphabet to copy over and memorize and enrolling their 3-year-olds in so many activities “that the kids are falling asleep on their preschool desks.”
Why all this anxiety? “Unknowing parents see their kids playing at a water table and think they are wasting their time,” Strauss notes.
To her credit, she notes that there is an enormous amount of research showing that play has great developmental benefits.
In this case, it seems like the pre-school directors need to do some educating of parents. Several told Strauss they were afraid of offending them. As educators, they need to be clear about how and why play matters, and if they don’t explain and defend the value of play, they might as well just start assigning homework to two-year-olds.
Two recent articles shed light on some of the pressures our youngest learners are facing, not through any choice of their own. The first was a fascinating piece in Sunday’s New York Times magazine by Paul Tough, the author of “Whatever it Takes.”, which focuses on the Harlem Children’s Zone’s efforts to improve education for children from birth on.
Tough’s piece, entitled, “Can the right kind of play teach self control?” examined a relatively new way of getting little learners ready for the world they will one day face, via a curriculum that addresses a cognitive ability known by the non-child friendly term “executive function.”
According to Tough, the “new buzz phrase has emerged among scholars and scientists who study early-childhood development, ” although he acknowledged that the phrase “sounds more as if it belongs in the boardroom than the classroom.”
EarlyStories enjoyed reading all about the concept, but could not get past the photographs that told their own story: the children looked positively grim, and in some cases deeply unhappy.
On Monday, Meredith Kolodner of the New York Daily News broke a story about an assessment regime for three and four-year-olds in the city’s public pre-kindergarten programs, aimed at getting information about developmental delays.
The story raised questions about the relability of testing for children so young, and included the voices of parents who wonder why their children would be tested.
Reading the two stories comes at a time when the press has been focusing on the need for early childhood education to become more playful, so it set up some interesting questions.
What do we want from our next generation of learners, and what are the best ways to get them there?