PreK bill focuses on training

SB 468 Stargel will provide funds for training for early learning program teachers, principals and reading coaches.  These are the Voluntary PreK programs for four-year olds.  Children will be screened for pre reading and math skills and will be eligible for repeating the VPK program if the parents agree.  Parents will be given pre and post readiness test results.

N. Y. Times: Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like This!

Ask children, teachers, and parents about time.  They will likely say:  “There’s not enough time in a day to do what needs to be done”.    There are ways to do something about it.  We in Alachua County have been talking about how to reorganize the day to fit in pre school, hands on academic programs, school activities, and after school activities in a semi rational way.  We are asking if it is possible, without large influxes of money, to make an 8-5 school day.  Could all of these activities happen in one place without driving teachers to distraction??  Our local league will study examples of how this could be done.

Professor David Kirp, University of California, Berkeley, already has some successful examples.  In Tulsa, Oklahoma the  Union school district has implemented a community-based school program that has defied the demographic odds. School attendance has soared, achievement has risen, and suspensions have plummeted.  We need schools like that here.

We have one school, Howard Bishop, that has been identified as a community school.  It is just starting in that direction this year, and has not expanded to the full eight hour day.  The community social services support, however,  are centered not in various offices in town, but in the school.  They have a ways to go to catch up with the Union school district, but the Children’s Home Society is helping them.

We all need to help community schools make progress.  If nothing else, you can help financially.  It is not all about money, though.  Oklahoma has lower per student funding than Florida, and this district has found a way to expand the day and still make ends meet.  Let’s find out how.

With community support we can begin to dream of a world where the lack of time does not manage us; we manage time!  Let’s see if we can make our public schools the envy of the world of choice.


Talk to Little Children: Don’t dehumanize them

by Susan Bowles

This article was written in response to a Gainesville Sun commentary about pushing math skills on preschoolers to raise U.S. PISA scores.  Bowles is a kindergarten teacher who calls attention to the need for age appropriate teaching and learning strategies.  Simply pushing the mastery of high level skills on younger and younger children is ineffective and unfair.

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PreK Quantity or Quality?

child speakingPreK children miss out on needed funds.  In this Orlando Sentinel article, you will read that for the third year in a row, state funds for little children remain stagnant.   There are 169,000 Florida four year olds in VPK.  This is about 78% of eligible children.  The budget is $394 million or $2,437 per child.  This is one of the largest number of children who receive state support for VPK in the nation, but it is one of the smallest amount of money per student.  As  you might expect, standards are low, and many teachers have no college education.  Programs that can raise money in their communities, but the reality is that quality varies widely.

In 2014, Representative Marlene O’Toole sponsored a bill in the legislature to raise standards and improve quality.  It died in session.  Maybe next year will be a preK year.  It is up to the voters to help the legislature set priorities.  The League needs to get the word out.

What Matters in Early Childhood Education

teacher-590109_1280It is no secret that early childhood is important, under staffed, and under enrolled.  Where do you start in recommending improvements in standards and staffing?  How is quality measured?  Which are the most critical priorities to improve care?  The Florida Association for the Education of Young Children did a survey.  We also compiled some legislative initiatives.

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PreK to Third Grade: To Play or Not to Play?

baby-84626_1280Should we test babies?  How else do you get the message across about the importance of preschool for brain development?  Even if you do test toddlers, there is disagreement over what to do about delayed development.  Some researchers argue persuasively that instructive play is the most effective strategy.  Others focus on the need to develop language skills in prescriptive ways.  Regardless of philosophy, where this learning occurs matters.

The Center for American Progress report  Examining Quality Across the Pre-school to Third Grade Continuum finds that gaps in learning are apparent at nine months and significant gaps are noticeable at 24 months.  By kindergarten , forty-eight percent of poor children meet school readiness levels while 75% of moderate to high income children are ready.  Children from low income families do attend preschools, but a study of these schools revealed quality gaps.

Five types of programs were evaluated using a 7 point scale from the Early Childhood Ratings-Revised.   The study found that access to high quality early childhood education is limited and varies by type and by racial and socio-economic background.  On average, all programs were above the minimal quality level (rating of 3).  None of the programs, however, achieved an average rating of five to qualify as ‘good quality’.

Even within the same type of program, there is a range of quality.  For example, the quality of Head Start programs for blacks on average, tends to be of much lower than for Head Start centers which enroll primarily white or Hispanic children.

  • public school centers (4.64)
  • private school (4.33)
  • child care centers (4.20)
  • Head Start programs (4.85)
  • Preschool and nursery programs (4.58).

The classroom experiences of children from preschool to grade 3 differ.  Children from low income families and children of color are less likely to receive instruction in crucial literacy and numeracy skills.  In order to close achievement gaps in the early grades, preschoolers need support to develop not only basic skills but also appropriate higher order thinking and problem solving skills.  In early elementary grades–kindergarten through second grade teachers appear to spend less time developing the higher order thinking skills that are critical for school success.

“By the end of kindergarten, children are expected to gain knowledge in letters, print recognition and phoneme awareness, recognize words, begin to read, spell, and write; and demonstrate increased vocabulary and knowledge of the world.” 

The report concludes that “Academic skills alone may not help students develop the skills they need …Standards such as sharing, self control and building relationships with peers and adults have generally been left out for elementary, middle and high school students”. 

The solutions are obvious but not easy.  Children from deprived backgrounds need access to high quality early education.  This will require greater investments at federal, state, and local levels.  Standards should be aligned and include consistent metrics and data systems to track access to quality between preschool and third grade.  Teacher preparation programs and professional development programs must incorporate information about children’s development in all domains to support higher order skill building.

The debate in the media challenges the critical thinking and problem solving standards introduced through the Common Core.  Supporters, however, decry the limitations of didactic teaching and learning strategies.  The operative words are ‘what children should know and be able to do’.  Not all children may reach any given standard, but the objectives for instruction and access to quality must be clear.  Instructional strategies will and should vary.  Teacher preparation and development programs must focus on teachers’ content knowledge, developing effective problem solving and and higher order skills teaching strategies along with the methods to  develop the social and emotional skills children need to be successful.

The problems are obvious.  The learning goals are clear.  What is missing are consensus and commitment.  Change must be possible without imposing arbitrary standards and punitive measures.  A commitment to changes in funding priorities at federal, state, and local levels must be made.   If parents believed that a coherent strategy, well implemented was possible, their suspicions about the intrusive collection of data on children and the profiteering motives related to private sector involvement in curriculum and assessment might diminish.