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“Rigorous Pre-Schools” Prove that We’ve Learned Nothing from “Reform”

May 31, 2017

“Free Play or Flashcards? New Study Nods to More Rigorous Preschools”, Dana Goldstein’s article in today’s NYTimes, made me want to scream. The article describes what should be self-evident: the more information a child absorbs before they enter school the better they will do once they enter school. That well-known reality is the basis for providing more preschool opportunities for children raised in poverty, children whose parents often have less education than children raised in affluence, whose parents work long and unpredictable hours at low wage jobs, or who are raised in single parent households. The idea behind these preschool opportunities is to compensate for the lack of nurturance and intellectual stimulation they receive at home as compared to that offered by better educated parents with more time.

Ms. Goldstein’s article described a study comparing  “rigorous” or “academically oriented” preschools with traditional prekindergarten programs. She wrote:

The study defined “academic-oriented” prekindergarten programs as those in which teachers reported spending time most days on activities like sounding out words, discussing new vocabulary, counting out loud and teaching children to measure and tell time.

Having raised two children and witnessing the upbringing of five grandchildren, I do not see this as anything different from what my wife, children, and step-children did or are doing with their preschoolers. While neither my wife nor my daughters and stepchildren intentionally taught their offspring how to read, they ALL read to their children frequently and visited the library regularly to keep their children stocked with new and interesting books. My grandsons all knew more about dinosaurs, sharks, and large equipment than I do and they all continue to pursue in depth study of topics that interest them. This is the kind of encouragement that ALL children need, because given the opportunity children have a desire to learn and to train their minds to think about the world they live in and the activities they have done or plan to do.

As an educator who worked in districts with high numbers of children raised in poverty, though, I know that not every parent takes the time to help their children enunciate words properly, learn how to count, learn the alphabet and the sounds associated with each letter, or tell time. The parents are all doing the best they can given the circumstances they find themselves in, but in some cases they have neither the time nor the wherewithal to provide the intellectual stimulation that their children need and desire. In some cases, children raised in poverty do not have the structure in their lives that my children and grandchildren have. When parents have an irregular work schedule, or are working multiple jobs to provide food, clothing and shelter, or when one parent is absent, it is difficult to eat at regular times, set a standard bed-time, establish daily routines, or engage in “play dates” or other structured play activities. By entering school at an early age, these children receive the structure and intellectual nurturance that is a “given” for more affluent and educated families.

Looking at my upbringing, my children’s upbringing, and my grandchildren’s upbringing to date, it is evident that we all grew up in a child-centered environment…. and that is what children want and need from schools in the early years. When “rigor” is measured by standardized tests, the focus on the developmental needs of each individual child will take a back seat to the needs of the adult teachers to “get those test scores up” at all costs. We’ve witnessed this for over a decade in schools thanks to NCLB and RTTT. I hope “reformers” can learn from that lesson… but fear that the lure of the bell curve will pull them away from the need for children to receive the intellectual stimulation they need.

  1. Abigail Shure
    June 7, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Many of the parents of my ELLs are illiterate in their native language. As one father stated, “I don’t know if my son is doing his homework right or wrong because I never went to school.” His son is in first grade. In contrast, my parents hovered around my brother and me at the kitchen table as we completed our homework assignments.

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