Sunday, October 4, 2015

Our Youngest Learners Deserve Our Support

First quarter ended for us on Friday, and we have a week off for Fall Break. It's not a break for me, though, and as is the case in years past, I look forward to catching up and getting ahead during this off-week. This year, I will be attending a 2-day Digital Leadership Academy with Eric Sheninger along with several of our staff. Then on Thursday, we have a John Hattie Visible Learning conference. I've been waiting for an opportunity to attend a conference here in Hawaii because I've heard so much about his research and studies about what really impacts student learning.

These breaks are also welcome because it is a time for me to reflect and to share my thoughts. Today, I'd like to reflect about a topic that is near and dear to my heart - early childhood education and its impact on those who need it most.

Those who know me are aware that I began my teaching journey as a Head Start teacher. I believe that my core values about education are a direct result of my experiences working in this program that targeted children and families who qualified based on their poverty status. I loved teaching with Head Start! Those kids were eager to learn and soaked up everything school had to offer them. They were curious to explore and discover new concepts and information. They sat enraptured when we read them stories and raised their hand to ask and answer questions. They were so open to share their ideas and their thoughts, and with patient guidance, they learned to express themselves clearly. Parents were encouraged to volunteer in the classroom, and they observed and replicated what we were doing in school so they could help their child at home. Literacy and language was an area we targeted because studies showed that when children of poverty entered school, they were at a disadvantage with a vocabulary that was much lower than their peers.  Recent studies confirm that children in lower socioeconomic status continue to lag in language development. Because I am such a proponent of early interventions especially for those students who need it most, I am concerned with articles such as "Does Preschool Make Any Difference?" that  policymakers use to justify the lack of funding for early education. I strongly believe that by "forcing" students to sit and learn pre-reading, pre-math, or pre-writing skills before they are developmentally ready can be detrimental in later grades. Perhaps this explains the results of studies that show the gains from preschool are not lasting .

This is why quality preschools do not necessarily focus on teaching the alphabet or numbers. Instead, students discover knowledge and work with others in their classroom to make learning come alive. These students learn to communicate by asking and answering questions and through pre-writing and drawing skills, and teachers focus on literacy as well as social-emotional development and fine and gross motor skills. Check out this exciting project coordinated by Harvard's Project Zero, "Children are Citizens" and read how kindergarteners in Finland learn through play. A language-rich environment that encourages students to work and discover together and to share their learning with others - in their classroom or globally through the use of technology - can create the kinds of students who are excited and motivated about learning new ideas and new skills. Reading, writing, and math will then have a purpose for them, and students will be ready to practice and apply those skills to share their learning.

Voters in our state turned down a constitutional amendment last year that would have created preschool experiences for all four-year-olds. I was disappointed with the shortsightedness of our people to make a statement about the importance of creating positive learning experiences for our littlest learners. Hopefully, our policymakers will realize the importance of providing a free quality early learning experience for all four-year-olds, especially for those who need it most.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jan. Some really good points. My kids were lucky in that they had a great pre-K experience, which, I feel helped them in the real world. The teacher and learning environment really do make a difference. The NYT article was schizophrenic and also talked about the success of programs in Boston, NJ and nationwide Headstart... but there were caveats, money and learning environment being a big part of the success:

    Money doesn’t guarantee good outcomes, but it helps. It pays for well-educated, experienced teachers, small classes and one-on-one coaching. “There are no easy routes to preschool success,” says W. Steven Barnett, a Rutgers economist and the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. “It takes time, money and a relentless focus on quality — but it has been done.”

    Even as more 4-year-olds attend pre-K, many states are delivering it on the cheap. While Boston spends $10,000 for each preschooler, in 2014 the average expenditure, nationwide, was $4,125. That’s $1,000 less (adjusted for inflation) than the 2002 average — and a third of what’s spent for each K-12 student. In education, as in much of life, you get what you pay for.