Archive for January, 2014

PreK and TK

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Four years ago, with no votes to spare and signed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar on the last day of the legislature session, the 2010 California Kindergarten Readiness Act passed into law. The act led to programs instituted all over the state. Schools had a solution for those youngest kindergarten kids who may know their letters and numbers, but not be socially developed to withstand the time spent in a school day: Transitional Kindergarten.

As of January 8, 2014, a new proposal, SB 837, is lighting up the news media. Ahead of any state in the country, legislators are advocating Pre-Kindergarten for all four year olds in the state. Higher high-school graduation rates, less crime, and a better workforce caught the attention of the California legislators. Perhaps these results from studies; the reasons for scores on PISA (discussed in the previous post); speeches by the current president; and more money in California coffers have led to the bill. The San Jose Mercury News suggests that if passed, the legislation would take effect in 2019 and serve 350,000 young children by 2020. The bill, if passed, will open 8000 teaching slots, 12000 aides, and classes of 20 students.

In addition, the final delivery of a federal budget and a spending bill agreed to with bipartisan Congressional vote, helps pre-school legislation take a front seat. Head Start will get $612 million more than the pitiful amount after 2013 sequestration which sent 57,000 children home for the year. The bill also creates a $250 million grant program to foster state-devised pre-school legislation.

Examining data country-wide, the date of kindergarten entry is not the same in all states: in Indiana the child must be five by July 1, in Colorado by September 1, in California not until December 1 until  2012-2013 when California kids must have turned five by October 1. In 2014-15 California youngsters must be five by September 1 (like Colorado). If not, students are offered a transitional kindergarten with one year of readiness and social development and another year of traditional kindergarten.  Organized by every school district, the idea is to enter first grade, which is mandatory at age 6, ready to learn.

Whether or not you advocate for Transitional Kindergarten or universal pre-school for 4 year olds or both, be aware of glitches that have turned up. Chronologic age and developmental age may or may not coincide. What about school infrastructure to provide space for the classes? Are there enough students for a transitional kindergarten since most schools expect 30+ kids per class? The purpose is defeated if transitional students are combined with regular kindergarten students. That serves the long-time complaint of teaching 2 grades in a class. The original legislation did not provide funds to address the issue of materials purchase. Pre-K teachers will teach a morning and an afternoon class. And what about changes needed to regulations for immunization?

The Gesell Institute of Human Development is a good source for alternative strategies for the youngest students. Stanford’s Deborah Stipek has researched the evidence for and against transitional kindergarten. Early Edge blog keeps track of news about all types of education for the young.

Early childhood education teachers can say, “Finally! The times are a-changing!”

Small Steps To Good Schools

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

What to do for the two-thirds of the school year to go? Keep a stiff upper lip? Put on rose-colored glasses? Dip a finger into the cup half-full?

What if your school was one of those that volunteered to have students take the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment test (PISA)? The test of math, science, reading is given to 510,000 fifteen year old students in 65 countries every three years. Since the results came out this past autumn, the hurtles for U.S. students to overcome in order to stifle the cries of failing public schools has filled pages of education articles.

The United States education community does want students to perform well in math, language arts and reading, as well as science, history, art and music. One hopes experts look to find the evidence of success anywhere on earth. For example, countries doing well promote early childhood education and champion the teaching profession.

Of course, the number of school-age children in the U.S. (about 6,000,000) is far grander and more diverse than most countries against which we are compared and so requires strategies that education experts don’t see in many countries. However, there are also policies carried on in U.S. public schools that should be expelled.

For instance, fast-track certification for teachers should not be the norm for the profession. Countries with students who do well on PISA spend much money for high-grade teacher education programs.

Incentives like salary bonuses for teachers who have students that perform well on state tests, a tool that supposedly makes students and teachers succeed, is not a world-wide standard. Nor should vouchers to move students from low-achieving schools be the answer to upgrade U.S. student success.

Countries held up as the best do not penalize struggling schools by allowing the in-and-out procession of principals and teachers, a major problem for low-achieving U.S. schools.

There is not a constant uproar in high-ranking country governments over education funding. In Costa Rica, for example, 8% of GDP is budgeted for education. See “Letters to the Editor” in the New York Times, Monday, December 23, 2013.

To raise student performance level in the United States, curriculum based on the Common Core State Standards suggest a coming together in 45 states on acceptance of robust norms for student progress. Rather than complain about poor results on tests, attention to a school’s climate invites the community to find ways to have open communication, give teachers an opportunity to make decisions, create a positive ambience among the adults.

Last, but certainly not least, rich and poor countries that have high scores every three years on PISA address the issue of poverty. U.S. students will perform better when this factor is pursued country-wide, the recommendation of Dennis Van Roekel from the National Education Association (NEA). All of these qualities are difficult to maintain and can’t be assessed by an exam, but benefit students.

Think about the rest of 2014’s school days. There’s still time to look up, not down, and take a few small steps for a positive year.