Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back to School

I always feel like I must add a disclaimer before I write this type of post.  I LOVE teachers!  I feel they are underpaid, overworked, disrespected by our government.  They are expected to teach, fill in gaps, be counselors, miracle workers and do it tirelessly while expecting little in return.  I LOVE learning.  I think learning is the backbone of our society, our economy, our relationships, our future.  That being said, I really don't like back to school season.  It's the time of year when all kinds of nonsense gets passed around and most of us just accept it as fact, when actually nothing could be further from the truth.  Take for instance, a ridiculous article on Kindergarten readiness published in our local newspaper.  The article states,

"Research shows that a high-quality preschool can help students make large gains in school readiness."

What research shows this, they do not state or mention. This is followed by:

'“If they go to preschool, data shows they’ll be successful,” said Meera Kreitzer, Salem-Keizer’s elementary education director.'

From reading the article I know that Ms. Meera Kreitzer is referring to success in elementary school.  The data she is referencing is not noted or listed anywhere in the article.  I for one would love to read THAT data!

I have some data that I will share with you and I'll even give you the links, so that you don't have to take my word for it.  In an abstract published in 2002 in the Early Childhood Research and Practice Journal, Rebecca A. Marcon of the University of North Florida states the following:

"By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children's later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children's developmental status"

Then there is this article by Christopher Clouder in which he states:

“If you start formal learning early on, you can actually
damage formal learning later on.” He went on, “Some people believe that the earlier you
start children reading and writing and doing formal instruction the better. All the evidence
we took, from every side, goes against that argument.” Tricia David of the Professional
Association of Nursery Nurses commented, “Over-emphasis on formal education and
abstract concepts of literacy and numeracy before the age of five can result in a sense of
failure. Early failure can lead to long-term underachievement, disaffection and even truancy...

In this article, it does suggest that preschool is important if it "focuses on social and physical development."

What leads me to believe that the preschool program that Salem/Kiezer is offering is inappropriate and not focused on the development of social and physical skills?  This quote:

"Whetzel also sees concerning trends at the preschool level. More and more students have a difficult time sitting and paying attention, getting along with other students and following directions."

It's not concerning if it's at a preschool level!!!  It's completely appropriate!  I'll even go out on a proverbial limb here and say it's appropriate for most children to have a difficult time sitting and paying attention until age 7 or 8!

And then of course there is this quote by Ralph Wisner, principal at Grant elementary school:

"Wisner hopes to create a seamless connection from preschool to kindergarten that will eliminate the achievement gap.  'What if that gap never happened,” he said. “What if they were prepared when they walked in the door?' The seamless transition from preschool to kindergarten is the type of outcome the Early Learning Council hopes its preschool to 20 plan will create in the future."

 On the surface there seems to be nothing wrong with this statement.  Who wouldn't want ALL the children ready for kindergarten on the first day of school?  This is where we, as parents, as educators, need to stop and really think about that statement.  Why does the state of Oregon feel it has the authority or even the knowledge to declare what is developmentally appropriate for my child, let alone for EVERY SINGLE child in the state?  Who does that?  We do not develop in petri dishes.  Every aspect of our development cannot be rated, qualified, quantified and deemed acceptable or discarded for "lack of readiness."

Every child, indeed every person (because a child is no less a person than you or I) develops at their own pace, even when there is parental involvement, even when they live in an enriching environment, even when they come from upper levels of the socio-economic spectrum, even when both parents live at home in a loving nurturing relationship.

Just because a child cannot sit still does not mean he is not ready to learn.  Just because a child cries and clings when his mother gets ready to leave does not mean he is not ready to learn.  Just because a child cannot tie his shoes or zip up his jacket, does not mean he is not ready to learn...although I know teachers love it when they can do this.  Just because a child of five cannot read or count or write his name does not mean he is not ready to learn.  I have news for the Salem/Keizer school district, children are born learning.  We do such a disservice to our children, parents and our communities when we promote early learning programs as if they are the cure to all of societies ills.

Early learning programs are just that; programs.  I find no fault in exposing children to something new, something different, but not with the expectation that they will perform well on an assessment.  A good, quality program will be based on the knowledge that children learn and we should not impede their learning.  It really is that simple.  Is your child ready for kindergarten?  That's a silly question.  The question should be, what experiences will my child have in school that will encourage his already curiously enthusiastic love of learning?