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Should Public Education Tackle Early Childhood? Not if Standardized Tests Are the Metric!

August 8, 2016

In an op ed piece for Newsweek writer Maryanne Kane argues that public schools should start before age five in order to provide children with the basic skills they need to succeed in the subsequent grade levels. To make her case, Ms. Kane analogizes public education to a car:

Imagine a car sitting in your driveway—without tires. You love this car and continue to improve upon the exterior with new head lights, tinted glass, shiny chrome, a paint job. You continue to improve upon the interior with a state-of-the-art sound system, complete with GPS navigation and Siri. The engine, of course, is efficient, saves on gas, and is environmentally friendly. People in the neighborhood stop by often. Some neighbors are harshly critical, declaring your work has no value. Some neighbors are in awe of your continual, never ending dedication and attention to this car. But guess what? Other than simply looking good, without tires, your beloved car is going nowhere. You can continue to pour hundreds and hundreds of dollars into improving the look, but without tires, your efforts are unproductive.

Of course, it is obvious, a car without tires goes nowhere. What is not so obvious is the following analogy: the car represents elementary education. The exterior improvements to the car represent the various educational interventions, i.e.: PBIS or RTI. The interior improvements to the car represent the various educational/social programs, i.e.: responsive classroom or morning meeting. The well-oiled, environmentally friendly engine represents the hard working, highly prepared teachers, teaching assistants, and principals. The various types of reactions from the neighbors represent those who are critical of education and those who are not critical of education. To continue with this analogy, the tires represent quality and appropriate early childhood education. Just as a car without tires is going nowhere, elementary education without early childhood education is immobile, stagnate, dead.

Let me extend this metaphor to describe the real problem. This tire-less car exists only in neighborhoods where parents are struggling economically. Not only that, the tire-less car lacks the amenities Ms. Kane describes. It has been decaying because no one bothered to maintain it well. Technological advances like “…a state-of-the-art sound system, complete with GPS navigation” are completely absent because parents and neighbors are unfamiliar with them and couldn’t take full advantage of them if they were in place.

In affluent neighborhoods and communities, the car not only has tires, it has steel-belted radial tires… and all-wheel drive. It can function in all kinds of weather and all kinds of terrain because parents and neighbors understand the need for that kind of durability and flexibility. It has more amenities than “…a state-of-the-art sound system, complete with GPS navigation”. It has video screens for passengers and all the latest safety features to ensure accidents will not happen. It also has experts on hand to help parents and students understand the latest developments in auto technology.

In both neighborhoods the basis for determining the effectiveness of transportation is identical: it’s miles travelled over the course of a year. And guess what? The owners of tire-less cars do far worse than the owners of the high-tech cars with steel-belted radials… and the owners of the cars with tires can’t see the reason to spend more money on tires for the dilapidated vehicles sitting on cinder blocks because they need so much more improvement before they can move at all. Their engines are worn out from trying to move a tire-less vehicle and need to be replaced. The rusting bodies need to be replaced too, and they need windows that open and close, AM/FM radios, a new set of paper road maps, seat belts, … you get the picture. So why spend money on tires until you get the vehicle fixed… and why spend ANY money on the vehicle when all you’ve spent so far hasn’t moved it an inch?


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