Alfie Kohn on Universal ‘high-quality’ Pre-K

early

But here’s the catch: Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be “high quality.” And that phrase is often interpreted to mean “high intensity”: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as usual, tend to get the worst of this.

Seattle Mayor Murray and Councilmember Tim Burgess’ “quality” pre-school programs are to open in 2016. Many of these classes will be taking valuable classroom space within the Seattle Public School system but I’ll save that for another post.

From the post Universal Pre-K in Seattle: Reasons to be cautious I wrote:

In the Mayor’s Preschool Program Action Plan, “quality assessments” will be linked to funding: “The efficacy evaluation will provide valid estimates of the effectiveness of the program in achieving its goal of improving children’s preparedness for kindergarten with sufficient precision to guide decisions about the program” (Mayor’s Plan page 18)

And there is to be a “prescribed curriculum” that the assessments will be based on. What these assessments are has not been clearly defined but up to this point, in the drive for the corporate makeover of our educational system, that language refers to testing.

While researching for an article, I came across this from the Washington Post and find it relevant to what is planned for young children in Seattle whose parents cannot afford private preschool programs.

Originally posted at the Answer Sheet on February 1, 2014:

The trouble with calls for universal ‘high-quality’ pre-K

By Alfie Kohn

Universal pre-kindergarten education finally seems to be gathering momentum. President Obama highlighted the issue in his 2013 State of the Union address and then mentioned it again in this year’s. Numerous states and cities are launching or expanding early-education initiatives, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made this his signature issue. Disagreements persist about the details of funding, but a real consensus has begun to develop that all young children deserve what has until now been unaffordable by low-income families.

But here’s the catch: Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be “high quality.” And that phrase is often interpreted to mean “high intensity”: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as usual, tend to get the worst of this.

It doesn’t bode well that many supporters of universal pre-K seem to be more concerned about economic imperatives than about what’s good for kids. In his speech last year, for example, the president introduced the topic by emphasizing the need to “start at the earliest possible age” to “equip our citizens with the skills and training” they’ll need in the workplace.[1] The New York Times, meanwhile, editorialized recently about how we must “tightly integrate the [pre-K] program with kindergarten through third grade so that 4-year-olds do not lose their momentum. It will have to prepare children well for the rigorous Common Core learning standards that promise to bring their math, science and literacy skills up to international norms.”[2]

The top-down, test-driven regimen of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiatives in K-12 education is now in the process of being nationalized with those Common Core standards championed by the Times — an enterprise largely funded, and relentlessly promoted, by corporate groups.[3] That same version of school reform, driven by an emphasis on global competitiveness and a determination to teach future workers as much as possible as soon as possible, would now be expanded to children who are barely out of diapers.

That doesn’t leave much time for play.[4] But even to the extent we want to promote meaningful learning in young children, the methods are likely to be counterproductive, featuring an emphasis on the direct instruction of skills and rote rehearsal of facts. This is the legacy of behaviorism: Children are treated as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few opportunities to investigate topics and pose questions that they find intriguing. In place of discovery and exploration, tots are trained to sit still and listen, to memorize lists of letters, numbers, and colors. Their success or failure is relentlessly monitored and quantified, and they’re “reinforced” with stickers or praise for producing right answers and being compliant.

This dreary version of early-childhood education isn’t just disrespectful of children; decades of research show it simply doesn’t work well — and may even be damaging.[5] The same approach has long been over-represented in schools that serve low-income African-American and Latino children; indeed, it was described by the late Martin Haberman as the “pedagogy of poverty” and it continues to find favor in inner-city charter schools.[6] If we’re not careful, calls to expand access to preschool will result in more of the same for younger children whose families can’t afford an alternative.

***
Consider the basic equity argument. Proponents of universal pre-K cite research about the importance of early-life experiences, arguing that children in low-income families are at a real disadvantage in terms of intellectual stimulation, exposure to literacy, and so on. That disadvantage, they point out, can reverberate throughout their lives and is extremely difficult to reverse.

It is true that, on average, children in affluent homes hear more words spoken and have more books read to them. But, as Richard Rothstein points out, it’s not just a matter of the number of words or books to which they’re exposed so much as the context in which they’re presented. “How parents read to children is as important as whether they do, and an extensive literature confirms that more educated parents read aloud differently.” Rather than “sound[ing] out words or nam[ing] letters,” these parents are more likely to “ask questions that are creative, interpretive, or connective, such as, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ ‘Does that remind you of what we did yesterday?’ Middle-class parents are more likely to read aloud to have fun, to have conversations, or as an entree to the world outside. Their children learn that reading is enjoyable.”[7]
To oversimplify a bit, the homes of advantaged parents look more like progressive schools, while the homes of disadvantaged parents look more like back-to-basics, skills-oriented, traditional schools. It makes no sense to try to send low-income children to preschools that intensify the latter approach, with rigorous drilling in letter-sound correspondences and number recognition — the sort of instruction that turns learning into drudgery. As Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford’s School of Education, once commented, drill-and-skill instruction isn’t how middle-class children got their edge, so “why use a strategy to help poor kids catch up that didn’t help middle class kids in the first place?”[8]

Alas, that is precisely the strategy that tends to follow in the wake of goals offered by most politicians and journalists who hold forth on education. If schooling is conceived mostly an opportunity to train tomorrow’s employees, there’s a tendency to look to behaviorist methods — despite the fact that behaviorism has largely been discredited by experts in child development, cognition, and learning.

Lilian Katz, a leading authority in early-childhood education, once observed that we tend to “overestimate children academically and underestimate them intellectually.”[9] This is why a school that is exceedingly “rigorous” can also be wholly unengaging, even sterile. If those who favor prescriptive standards and high-stakes testing equate rigor with quality, it may be because they fail to distinguish between what is intellectual and what is merely academic. The rarity of rich intellectual environments for young children seems to leave only two possibilities, as Katz sees it: Either they spend their time “making individual macaroni collages” or they’re put to work to satisfy “our quick-fix academic fervor.”[10]

Happily, these do not exhaust the possibilities for early-childhood education. One alternative is sketched out in a wonderful book by Katz and her Canadian colleague Sylvia Chard called “Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach.” Here, teachers create extended studies of rich themes that resonate with young children, such as babies, hospitals, or the weather. Children might spend a month learning about such a real-life topic, visiting, drawing, discussing, thinking.

And there are other, overlapping educational models, including two with Italian roots: Montessori education and the Reggio Emilia approach, where “young children are not marched or hurried sequentially from one different activity to the next, but instead encouraged to repeat key experiences, observe and re-observe, consider and reconsider, represent and re-represent.”[11] Educators who have been influenced by Jean Piaget’s discoveries about child development, meanwhile, have built on his recognition that children are active meaning makers who learn by constructing reality – intellectually, socially, and morally. One of my favorite practical resources in this vein for early-childhood educators is “Moral Classrooms, Moral Children” by the late Rheta DeVries and Betty Zan.
All of these approaches to educating young children offer opportunities to learn that are holistic and situated in a context. They take kids (and their questions) seriously, engage them as thinkers, and give them some say about what they’re doing. The trouble is that current calls for “high-quality” universal pre-K are unlikely to produce learning opportunities that look anything like this — unless political activists begin tp educate themselves about the nuances of education.
_____________________________________________________________________

NOTES
1. See http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/remarks-president-state-union-address.

2. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/pre-k-on-the-starting-blocks.html.

3. Some sample headlines in Education Week over the last year: “Business Executives Push Common Core Hard,” “Business Groups Crank Up Defense of Common Core,” “Chamber [of Commerce] President Calls for Support of Common Core in 2014.” In 2009, Bill Gates defended the Common Core, a significant proportion of whose start-up costs have been paid by his foundation, for its capacity to eventually produce a “uniform base of customers.” (See http://ow.ly/pxALx.)

4. Note I say “for play” – not “for opportunities to learn by playing.” The point of play is that it has no point, and children deserve the opportunity to engage in it even if it doesn’t teach skills or anything else. See http://ow.ly/ta2uT.

5. Alfie Kohn, “Early Childhood Education: The Case Against Direct Instruction of Academic Skills.” Excerpted from The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), and available at http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/ece.htm.

6. Alfie Kohn, “Poor Teaching for Poor Children…in the Name of Reform,” Education Week, April 27, 2011. Available at http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/poor.htm.

7. Richard Rothstein, “Class and the Classroom,” American School Board Journal, October 2004, p. 18.

8. Stipek is quoted in David L. Kirp, “All My Children,” New York Times Education Life, July 31, 2005, p. 21.

9. Lilian Katz, “What Can We Learn from Reggio Emilia?” In The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education, edited by Carolyn Edwards et al. (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1993), p. 31.
10. Lilian Katz, “The Disposition to Learn,” Principal, May 1988, p. 16.

11. Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman, Introduction to The Hundred Languages of Children, op. cit., p.

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Universal Pre-K in Seattle: Reasons to be cautious

Annelieses

 

I was looking through a memory book that I had put together when my daughter was a small child and came across her pre-school schedule. It goes like this:

8:30-9:00 AM: Free time: Blocks, books and coloring

9:00-9:30 AM: Circle: French, Spanish, German and sign. (The children and teacher would sing songs in different languages and one teacher would sign while she spoke to the students. They would rotate languages each day.)

9:30- 10:00 AM: Outside: In the garden.

10:00- 11:30 AM: Classes: Art, Listening Comprehension, Music, Large Motor Activity, etc.

11:30- noon: Lunch: Manners and Language Development.

The children in my daughter’s pre-school also learned the alphabet, their numbers and how to write their names. The rest of the time they were absorbing new experiences, exploring their world,  learning how to work together and get along with each other and having fun in the process. Having fun at school during that time was very important to me. I wanted my daughter to equate learning and school to a positive experience.

Is this the same experience that Burgess and other fans of Universal pre-K envision for all children?

First, let’s take a look at the money. Funding for the Universal pre-K program in Seattle is to come from the levy that recently passed and by way of an increase in property taxes. The cost of Universal pre-K in Boston is $10,000 per student so this effort will be costly.

In the Mayor’s Preschool Program Action Plan, “quality assessments” will be linked to funding: “The efficacy evaluation will provide valid estimates of the effectiveness of the program in achieving its goal of improving children’s preparedness for kindergarten with sufficient precision to guide decisions about the program” (Mayor’s Plan page 18)

And there is to be a “prescribed curriculum” that the assessments will be based on. What these assessments are has not been clearly defined but up to this point, in the drive for the corporate makeover of our educational system, that language refers to testing.

A friend and I were discussing the idea of assessments recently in terms of pre-K and she brought up the fact that if middle class families think there will be testing involved of any sort, they will not have their children participate in the program. One of the goals of this Universal pre-K program is to have a more diverse group of children which would include low income and middle income students.

Needless to say, assessing students in any way at preschool age to see if they are kinder-ready is absurd and abusive.

Regarding the curriculum, “Programs (are) required to adopt approved curriculum, (with a) waiver process considered after 2018”.

This requirement for a specific curriculum could discourage participation of current programs that use a different approach to preparing children for Kindergarten. Programs such as Montessori and the school my daughter participated in where the focus is on social-emotional learning as opposed to academic training could be excluded.

For this reason, we should not see “Universal” pre-K as a silver bullet as charter schools were deemed to be.

But getting back to the money, let’s take a closer look at that aspect of Universal pre-K.

From Education Week:

Growth in States’ Early Childhood Spending Opens Business Opportunities 

“Estimates of the return on investment of high-quality programs for low-income children range from $4 to $7 for every $1 spent.”

Judging from a Markeplace K-12 review of the report, more opportunities for businesses that serve the youngest children may emerge next year, and beyond, in the following areas:

  • Providing preschool programs
  • Educating preschool teachers
  • Developing assessments of preschool children
  • Enhancing reading/literacy
  • Creating home-visit programs
  • Parent education and support programs
  • Providing quality rating or improvement systems

In May, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs interested in influencing public policy, issued a call to action for states and the federal government to provide more early childhood education. “Estimates of the return on investment of high-quality programs for low-income children range from $4 to $7 for every $1 spent. However the research is clear: the return on investment is linked to quality; simply increasing participation without ensuring program quality will not produce positive results.”  

“Quality” these days is determined by “assessments” which means testing.

As I stated earlier, funding for Universal pre-K in Seattle, according to the ordinance to be voted on by the Seattle City Council on Monday, is to come from the levy that was recently passed and by raising property taxes.

Using levy money is how we support public schools in the Seattle school district. There is no income tax so we rely on the state sales tax, property taxes and levies to pay for public programs. The one caveat about this funding is that the money could easily go into private hands and to investors in pre-K who stand to make a profit off of our investment.

City Council members have referred to a  “mixed delivery system” for a Universal Pre-K program in Seattle.  In other parts of the country where Universal pre-K has been established, the term “mixed delivery system” refers to offering Universal pre-K in public schools, in for-profit charter schools, by small private businesses and community based organizations.

That needs to be carefully watched.

And then there is the  data-sharing which is another piece of Universal pre-K. The requirements for Race to the Top money and the Common Core Standards have created a large and virtually untraceable trail of data, private student and family information, that is vacuumed up and shared with any third party.

There is to be data sharing between preschools involved with the Universal pre-K program and the Seattle Public School district. There is not only the risk of categorizing children before they begin Kindergarten but we also know with the Race to the Top money that Seattle “won”, we are to share any and all information with the Federal Government which in turn, thanks to the revision of FERPA by the Obama administration, makes student information available to any third party.

According to Politico:

PRE-K DATA VARIES ACROSS STATES: Thirty states say they’re securely linking early education child-level data from some programs to their state’s K-12 data system, but 49 states say they aren’t connecting that child-level data across all early childhood programs to the K-12 system. Pennsylvania is the exception, according to a new study released by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative. Twenty states are linking early childhood data to social services data and 12 are linking that data to state health data. The report also finds that 36 states collect state-level childhood development data across early childhood programs and 29 are collecting kindergarten readiness data.  If a bipartisan congressional preschool expansion titled the Strong Start for America’s Children Act were to become a reality, states would have to tie early childhood data to their state’s K-12 systems.

Other troubling aspects of the Ordinance are as follows:

The Mayor is to appoint four members to the Universal pre-K Oversight Committee. How will that be done? Who can qualify to be one of his appointees? This aspect needs to be transparent and anyone who has an interest in preschool for all children should be able to apply. This should not be a time to appoint favorites or recycle the usual few.

The other four members of the Oversight Committee will be from the levy committee. There also needs to be on the ground, in the trenches Seattle educators with experience in early child learning as part of this committee.

The city expects Seattle Public Schools to be a vital partner in this program and yet the school board does not have the ability to oversee the program at all.

There are still many unanswered questions about this ordinance and a vagueness that could provide loopholes for charter schools and others to use and abuse.

Let’s be careful what we wish for Seattle.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

A big thank you to all of the people who have contacted me with their concerns and additional information about this program.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Race to the Tots: Universal (for profit) Pre-K, DFER, KIPP and the suits

Money (2)

First, a bit of background about my family and why I am concerned about preschool and what “Universal pre-K” really means.

As I have mentioned before, my family is African-American. My mother grew up in South Carolina in the early 1900’s with four siblings, a mother who was a music teacher and a father who was a train porter.

In my family it was understood that the way to succeed was to have as much education as possible.

My mother received her Master’s Degree in Child Psychology and Early Childhood Development from the University of Southern California during the Depression. Something that to this day puts me in awe.

My dad, Brice Taylor, was the Director of Head Start for Southern California. He came from a very difficult background in Seattle. He played on the football team at Franklin High School where his coach saw his talent and supported his efforts to get into college (Thank goodness for teachers!). My dad went on to become the First All-American in football at the University of Southern California. Sometime after graduation, he became President of Bishop College in Texas until folks there decided he was too outspoken… for a Black man. (And moi didn’t fall too far from that tree.) He and my mother moved to Los Angeles where my dad became a teacher and the football coach at Jefferson High School, a school in a neighborhood called “Watts”. He worked seven days a week. When not teaching and coaching during the week, he kept the school gym open on Saturdays so the students would have a safe place to be and on Sundays, he was a minister at the First African Methodist Episcopal church in Los Angeles. After retiring as a teacher and receiving the Golden Apple award and other honors, he was appointed Director of Head Start for Southern California by Governor Reagan. My dad believed in Head Start and the benefits of the program. It was a place where children received at least one hot meal each day, learned their ABC’s and colors and played. They learned how to work together and get along with each other, sometimes termed “socialization”. My dad believed Head Start made a difference in the lives of children and so do I.

These kinds of programs are essential in providing young children with an opportunity to start out on as level a playing field as possible.

With this understanding of my background and beliefs, let’s take a look at the Universal pre-K program that we’re hearing so much about these days.

Red flags began to wave for me when I went to a Seattle City Council meeting in February regarding Universal Pre-Kindergarten. Before the presentation began, in filed a line of men and women in business suits with laptops in hand. It wasn’t surprising to see people in business attire prepared to make a presentation to the Seattle City Council. What was surprising to me were the number of suits in the audience and the size of the audience. Even Council President Tim Burgess remarked at how many people were attending the meeting. I looked around and saw no familiar faces. I didn’t see any educators or concerned parents or community citizens as I had expected to see. No, this was a different crowd, well-heeled and looking very serious, almost business-like. Who were all of these (white) people who were so interested in Universal pre-K for minority children?

That was my first red flag and I had a lot of questions such as, who paid for these consultants and their trip to Seattle? Where is the money coming from to set up these proposed centers in Seattle? Why isn’t this called preschool rather than pre-K? And, who paid for a total of 40 public employees including council members to visit Boston and tour examples of Universal pre-K centers?

In terms of funding for this trip, the Seattle Metro Chamber had something to do with paying expenses although it is not clearly spelled out in the article Chamber coordinates with city leaders on trip to study high-quality preschool education.

Here is a blurb about the Seattle Metro Chamber in the article:

Education remains a top priority for the Chamber, which has repeatedly supported investments and reforms at both the City of Seattle and state levels. In 2011, the Chamber supported reauthorization of the Families and Education Levy, and in 2012 it supported the successful passage of Initiative 1240, allowing for the implementation of a limited number of charter schools in the state. In addition, the Chamber’s President & CEO, Maud Daudon serves as chair of the Washington Student Achievement Council, which provides strategic planning, oversight and advocacy for the state’s education system.

And so it goes.

Of course we need to have pre-school for all children but so many questions come to mind. Why not fund Head Start? What’s so special about this particular idea that Burgess, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and “business leaders” have been touting about “Universal pre-K??

The presentation made to the Seattle City Council on Universal pre-K was a slick package similar to the NCTQ presentation made to the public several years ago but without the sandwiches. There were about 10 staff members flown in from Boston for this presentation which included a limp power point presentation and a video with, of course, smiling happy children. The presenters used the word “quality” so many times you could have a good drinking game just on that word. Then the other words started to tumble out like “evidence based programs”, “evidence based curricula with periodical coaching”, “regular monitoring of children’s progress” and “assessments”. This sounded more like pre-K boot camp to me than the pre-school my daughter experienced, but let’s see where this goes.

My other concerns were that the Head Start program was being downplayed during the presentation and didn’t seem to be a part of this program and the cost in Boston for Universal pre-K program was stated as being $12,000 per student per year.

Boston was being compared to Seattle because the size of the populations and the demographics were similar.

I was beginning to pay attention to what was being said about Universal pre-K and by whom after the presentation but still wasn’t sure about what was happening and why until I received an e-mail with an attached pdf. The title was Achievement Gap: How Charter Schools Can Support High-Quality Universal Pre-K and authored by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Second red flag. This one waving wildly in the breeze.

What stood out in this Policy Briefing Memo, besides the blurb at the end thanking KIPP charter schools for all of their input, was how the terms Universal pre-K and charter schools co-mingled many times in this report, so I took a closer look at the relationship.

This is what I found thanks to information that was sent ot me from various sources.

Frist of all, KIPP is already on the money trail.

Preschool primer: Porter-Leath, KIPP partner to add early education at old Caldwell site

Porter-Leath will open a free preschool for 100 children in North Memphis this summer, but won’t provide busing.

“That’s by design,” said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath president. “We like our families to come every day and speak to the teacher.”

Porter-Leath, which started in Memphis as an orphanage, is partnering with KIPP Memphis to reopen the former Caldwell Elementary at 230 Henry.

“It will be first-come, first-served,” Lee said. “We are hoping to serve all low-income families but if someone applies and we have openings, they will get accepted.”

Hmmm, no transportation provided, they want parents to talk to the teachers every day and it isn’t really about minority students because it’s first come, first served. How about parents who work and can’t visit the school every day? No busing? Just what fairy tale world are they living in? Or, do they think we’re going to believe this fairy tale ourselves?

And this in Education Week: KIPP’s Entry Into Pre-K World Takes Some Adjustment:
A Model Built on Rigor, Structure Adapting to the Schooling Needs of a Younger Group of Students

At LEAP Academy, a public charter school in Southeast Washington, a roomful of 4-year-olds hunched over tables, quietly practicing their writing skills. Most can’t actually write entire words yet, so they scrawled the first letter and supplemented their stories with pictures.

When one boy instead covered his page with fierce black scribbles, Principal Laura Bowen leaned over his shoulder and told him to stop. “I don’t want any more scribbles,” she said. “I want a story.”

LEAP is part of the nonprofit KIPP chain, which started with just one middle school in Houston 15 years ago and now is the largest charter operator in the country. LEAP is among dozens of D.C. charters now offering preschool and pre-kindergarten classes.

And this letter to the Editor in the New York Times written by JACK McCARTHY, president and chief executive of the Apple Tree Institute for Education Innovation, which runs several charter schools with preschool programs, Allow Pre-K at Charters

Then there is the negation of Head Start:

Per the article regarding the City Council meeting I described earlier, Council Starts to Move on Universal Pre-K:

Among the researchers’ conclusions: 
• Head Start and pre-K programs that are sponsored by the city or state, as opposed to private interests, are only of “average” quality, and “only [a] small minority of programs [are] of excellent quality”; 

Am I starting to hear the drumbeat of Universal pre-K privatization here?

Burgess never did take a stand on charter schools. In fact, he seemed oddly silent on the matter particularly since he is the Chairman of the Education Committee for the City Council.

Tomorrow there is to be a vote by the Seattle City Council on approving an Ordinance regarding Universal pre-K.

As per the ordinance, much of the money is to come from a city Levy. Quite frankly, I don’t want to see public money used to support charter chains such as KIPP. There is little to no oversight of any charter school at this time in the country even though tax dollars are used to fund the schools and pay the CEO’s salary.

Here are additional concerns that several of us have:

  • The Seattle Public School district is listed as a crucial partner for this program but given no oversight.
  • Oversight, instead, is given entirely to a department within the City of Seattle. The bureaucracy would be horrendous and is starting to sound too much like mayoral control.
  • There is an emphasis on assessments (testing).
  • There is wording that implies a waiver for teachers who aren’t fully certified. KIPP uses Teach for America, Inc recruits to staff their charter schools, is this what is meant in the Ordinance about non-certified “teachers”?
  • There is frequent reference to “partnerships”, implying private enterprises will be running the pre K’s.
  • There are references to using Head Start funding as well. Will that divert federal funds from existing SPS pre-k s to this new project?
  • Data sharing mentioned.

About that “data”, which is another word for private student information, from Politico:

PRE-K DATA VARIES ACROSS STATES: Thirty states say they’re securely linking early education child-level data from some programs to their state’s K-12 data system, but 49 states say they aren’t connecting that child-level data across all early childhood programs to the K-12 system. Pennsylvania is the exception, according to a new study released by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative. Twenty states are linking early childhood data to social services data and 12 are linking that data to state health data. The report also finds that 36 states collect state-level childhood development data across early childhood programs and 29 are collecting kindergarten readiness data. If a bipartisan congressional preschool expansion titled the Strong Start for America’s Children Act were to become a reality, states would have to tie early childhood data to their state’s K-12 systems.

This is a time to research and reflect on what we want preschool/ pre-Kindegarten to be for children in Seattle.

Valerie Strauss posted an article by Alfie Kohn on Universal pre-K recently in the Washington Post:

The trouble with calls for universal ‘high-quality’ pre-K

Whenever policymakers talk about universal preschool — and that is happening more frequently these days — they always say that it must be “high quality,” but they never explain what that actually means. Here author Alfie Kohn explains why the absence of definition may be troubling. Kohn is the author of 13 books about education and human behavior, including “The Schools Our Children Deserve,” “The Homework Myth,” and, due out later this spring, “The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting.” He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at http://www.alfiekohn.org.

By Alfie Kohn

Universal pre-kindergarten education finally seems to be gathering momentum. President Obama highlighted the issue in his 2013 State of the Union address and then mentioned it again in this year’s. Numerous states and cities are launching or expanding early-education initiatives, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made this his signature issue.

Disagreements persist about the details of funding, but a real consensus has begun to develop that all young children deserve what has until now been unaffordable by low-income families.

But here’s the catch: Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be “high quality.” And that phrase is often interpreted to mean “high intensity”: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as usual, tend to get the worst of this.

It doesn’t bode well that many supporters of universal pre-K seem to be more concerned about economic imperatives than about what’s good for kids. In his speech last year, for example, the president introduced the topic by emphasizing the need to “start at the earliest possible age” to “equip our citizens with the skills and training” they’ll need in the workplace.[1] The New York Times, meanwhile, editorialized recently about how we must “tightly integrate the [pre-K] program with kindergarten through third grade so that 4-year-olds do not lose their momentum. It will have to prepare children well for the rigorous Common Core learning standards that promise to bring their math, science and literacy skills up to international norms.”[2]

The top-down, test-driven regimen of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiatives in K-12 education is now in the process of being nationalized with those Common Core standards championed by the Times — an enterprise largely funded, and relentlessly promoted, by corporate groups.[3] That same version of school reform, driven by an emphasis on global competitiveness and a determination to teach future workers as much as possible as soon as possible, would now be expanded to children who are barely out of diapers.

That doesn’t leave much time for play.[4] But even to the extent we want to promote meaningful learning in young children, the methods are likely to be counterproductive, featuring an emphasis on the direct instruction of skills and rote rehearsal of facts. This is the legacy of behaviorism: Children are treated as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few opportunities to investigate topics and pose questions that they find intriguing. In place of discovery and exploration, tots are trained to sit still and listen, to memorize lists of letters, numbers, and colors. Their success or failure is relentlessly monitored and quantified, and they’re “reinforced” with stickers or praise for producing right answers and being compliant.

This dreary version of early-childhood education isn’t just disrespectful of children; decades of research show it simply doesn’t work well — and may even be damaging. The same approach has long been over-represented in schools that serve low-income African-American and Latino children; indeed, it was described by the late Martin Haberman as the “pedagogy of poverty” and it continues to find favor in inner-city charter schools.[6] If we’re not careful, calls to expand access to preschool will result in more of the same for younger children whose families can’t afford an alternative.

That doesn’t leave much time for play.[4] But even to the extent we want to promote meaningful learning in young children, the methods are likely to be counterproductive, featuring an emphasis on the direct instruction of skills and rote rehearsal of facts. This is the legacy of behaviorism: Children are treated as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few opportunities to investigate topics and pose questions that they find intriguing. In place of discovery and exploration, tots are trained to sit still and listen, to memorize lists of letters, numbers, and colors. Their success or failure is relentlessly monitored and quantified, and they’re “reinforced” with stickers or praise for producing right answers and being compliant.

To read this article in full, go to the Washington Post.

And if you’re still not convinced that the direwolves are circling preschool education, see the list of folks participating in the Mayor’s Conference in Austin this year on Education and Pre-K.

Italics are mine.

Educational Excellence Task Force
Chair:
MICHAEL HANCOCK
Mayor of Denver
(There was a school board trip to Denver a few years ago to look at charter schools.)

SPECIAL PLENARY SESSION: EDUCATION EXCELLENCE
Presiding:
MR. KEVIN (I’ll do anything for money) JOHNSON, Mayor of Sacramento (And husband of Michelle Rhee)
President, The United States Conference of Mayors

MAYORS AND BUSINESS LEADERS PLENARY BREAKFAST
Sponsor:
Bezos Family Foundation

Building an Early Learning Nation
Remarks:
KEVIN JOHNSON Mayor of Sacramento
President, The United States Conference
of Mayors

THE HONORABLE ARNE DUNCAN
Secretary United States Department of Education

MICHAEL B. HANCOCK
Mayor of Denver (Denver, where the Seattle School Board traveled to a few years ago to see the wonders of charter schools)
Chair, Education Excellence Task Force
The United States Conference of Mayors

JACKIE BEZOS (huge financial supporter of Initiative 1240 which is now the charter school law in Washington State)
President
Bezos Family Foundation

PLENARY SESSION

Remarks: Education
ANTONIO R. VILLARAIGOSA
Former Mayor of Los Angeles (2005-2013) (and Eli Broad’s man in LA)
Past President, The United States Conference of Mayors (2011-2012

Let’s be careful where we tread when it comes to pre-school in Seattle.

Dora Taylor