Help ‘first teachers’ do better

Parents are children’s first teachers, says everyone. But engaging low-income, poorly educated parents in their children’s learning has proven to be difficult, writes Bellwether’s Sara Mead. We don’t know what works. Until now.

Image result for black parents play with young children

ParentCorps, which trains preschool parents and teachers, is producing long-term results, concludes a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“By 2nd grade, children who participated in ParentCorps had fewer mental health problems and better academic achievement” than non-participants, writes Mead.

Most children came from low-income, black families in New York City.

ParentCorps build children’s academic abilities and supports their “social, emotional, and behavioral regulation skills.” It’s not either/or.

Los Angeles Unified is expanding on-campus parent centers that provide a place for parents to learn English, discuss school issues and do projects for teachers. Engaging parents improves student attendance, school officials believe.

Black pre-K teachers are tough on black kids

Black preschoolers are far more likely to be suspended, according to federal data, mirroring the harsher discipline they’re likely to experience in K-12 schools.

A new Yale study concluded that white and black preschool teachers expect trouble from black boys, reports Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic. However, white teachers tended to go easy on black children, while black teachers were tougher on black students.

Asked to observe video clips of children to spot “challenging behaviors,” teachers more closely observed black boys, an eye-tracking system found.

Then teachers read bout behaviors such as “difficulties napping and following instructions to blurting out answers and taunting other children,” writes Anderson.

Each vignette contained a pre-selected, stereotypical black or white boy or girl name: DeShawn, Jake, Latoya, and Emily. The participants were then asked to rate the severity of the behavioral challenges—the only difference in each vignette was the perceived race and sex of the child—and the likelihood that they would recommend suspension or expulsion.

White teachers appeared to have lower expectations of black children, finding them as a group more prone to misbehavior, “so a vignette about a black child with challenging behaviors [was] not appraised as … unusual, severe, or out of the ordinary.”

Conversely, black teachers seemed to hold black preschoolers to a higher behavioral standard; pay notably more attention to the behaviors of black boys; and recommend harsher, more exclusionary discipline.

Black parents believe they need to be tough to prepare their children for “a harsh world,” says researcher Walter Gilliam, a Yale professor. “It seems possible that the black preschool teachers may be operating under similar beliefs … that black children require harsh assessment and discipline.”

Tracking black boys more doesn’t prove “implicit bias,” argues Kay Hymowitz of City Journal.  Nobody says teachers have “implicit bias” against boys, even though they track them much more than girls, she adds.

BTW, I first heard “implicit bias” from Hillary Clinton in the first debate. Since then, I’ve heard it multiple times a day. I miss plain old “bias.”

Low-income parents are doing more

Image result for black parents children reading
The kindergarten readiness gap seems to be narrowing, according to new research. Children starting kindergarten are better prepared than in the past — and students from low-income families and Hispanics are catching up, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

Poor students kept their gains at least through 4th grade, according to reading and math results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but the gaps did not continue to close after children entered school, (researcher Sean) Reardon noted.

Lower-income, less-educated parents are doing more to prepare their children for school, researchers concluded.

“Parents are more likely to report reading to their kids, playing with their kids, taking them on outings to the library or the zoo,” said Daphna Bassok, a University of Virginia education professor.

Why pre-K fails: Lots of lining up, little play

Preschool students from Nikki Jones' class at Porter Early Childhood Development Center in Tulsa, Okla., line up in the hallway on their way back from outside play.

Preschoolers at a Tulsa child-care center line up on their way back from a play period. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Federally funded pre-kindergarten won’t help poor children catch up, concludes Vanderbilt researcher Dale Farran. The quality of the free preschool isn’t good enough, she tells NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Farran’s research team visited federally funded preschools in Memphis and Nashville.

We know from other research that high quality preschool means lots of choice-based play in centers, small group instruction, and outdoor or gym play so that young children can move their bodies,” writes Kamenetz.

At the Tennessee preschools,  25 percent of the day “was spent in transition time: lining up for lunch, snacks, bathroom visits and switching between activities.”

By far the most common learning activity, between 20 and 25 percent of the time, was whole-group instruction.

Centers, or choice time, happened less than 15 percent of the time.

Kids had outdoor play or gym visits just 3 to 4 percent of the time — 15 minutes in an eight-hour day. In many classrooms, students never had a chance to run and play at all.

Many of the pre-K classrooms are in elementary schools, which are designed for older children, says Farran. “We really should not treat these 4-year-olds as though they are fourth-graders and can do the same things.”

In a large study of Tennessee’s state-funded pre-K, Farran found low-income children were more prepared when they started kindergarten, notes Kamenetz. “But by the second grade, those results were reversed: Children who had never attended pre-K were actually ahead of those who did.”

‘Informal care’ is popular, inferior

Most infants and toddlers are cared for by babysitters in unregulated or very lightly regulated settings, writes Brookings’ Susanna Loeb.

“Over half of all one- and two-year-olds are regularly cared for by caregivers other than their parents but only about half of those, i.e., a quarter of this age group, are in a licensed formal care setting,” she writes. Four-year-olds are more likely to attend licensed centers and preschools, “but still many primarily experience informal, non-parental care.”

Babysitters spend less time on reading and math activities. Kids spend a lot more time watching TV.

“Four-year-olds in home-based, informal care watch an average of almost two hours of television per day, compared with fewer than 7 minutes in formal care,” writes Loeb.

Children in informal care learn significantly less in literacy and math, she concludes. These differences are not explained by differences in family background.

Preschool kids work more, learn less

Preschool won’t close the achievement gap as long as teachers focus on kindergarten prep and neglect conversation, writes Erika Christakis in The Atlantic. “Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less,” she argues.

“A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool,” she writes.

Four-year-olds are asked to sit still and complete pencil-and-paper tasks that are beyond their motor skills and attention spans, writes Christakis. But it doesn’t work.

One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes,” Christakis points out.

A Vanderbilt study found low-income children who attended Tennessee’s publicly funded preschools started kindergarten with more “school readiness” skills than a control group. By first grade, teachers rated the preschool grads as “less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school,” the researchers write. They blame burn out.

The average preschool program “narrows the achievement gap by perhaps only 5 percent,” estimates Robert Pianta, a leading child policy expert. Research suggests higher-quality preschools could cut the gap by 30 to 50 percent, he writes.

Quality preschools “provide ample opportunities for young children to use and hear complex, interactive language,” writes Christakis.

. . . their curriculum supports a wide range of school-readiness goals that include social and emotional skills and active learning; they encourage meaningful family involvement; and they have knowledgeable and well-qualified teachers.

. . . In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.

Conversation is the golden key, she writes.

More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

The article comes from her book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.

If the name sounds familiar, it is. As associate master of a Yale college, Christakis wrote an email saying that college students could pick their own Halloween costumes. Under heavy fire for racial insensitivity, she resigned her teaching job at Yale citing a “climate” on campus that is not “conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems.”

U.S. lags in preschool, college graduation

The U.S. is falling behind the world in college-educated workers, concludes a OECD report on education in 46 countries. “The U.S. hasn’t backslid, but other countries have made big gains,”  OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said.

In the past, the U.S. ranked second in the world in the percentage of adults with postsecondary vocational or academic education. Today, the U.S. has slipped to fifth position.

South Korea leads the world: nearly 70 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are college educated. Only 46 percent of young U.S. workers have earned a certificate or degree.

The U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college-educated workers by 2020. College graduation rates are falling. according to a new report. Among students who started college in 2009, the year Obama launched his college campaign, only 53 percent had graduated in six years.

College enrollment rates have fallen since 2008, especially for low-income students. In 2013, just 46 percent of low-income high school graduates enrolled in two-year and four-year institutions, according to Census data.

More than 70 percent of young children attend preschool in OECD countries, compared to 41 percent of U.S. 3-year-olds and 66 percent of 4-year-olds. “It’s an area where the U.S. trails quite a bit behind,” said Schleicher.

Tantrums in the quad

“Halloween – traditionally a day of subversion for children and young people – is also an occasion for adults to exert their control,” wrote Erika Christakis, wife of a house master at Yale, in an email that inflamed  students.

Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity – in your capacity – to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?

. . . Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.

Writing as a child development specialist, she asked: “What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment?”

She asked: Do you want to be treated like babies? A large number said: Yes, we do.

Nicholas Christakis listened to angry students, but told them he disagreed. “It’s not about creating an intellectual space,” a student shrieked. “It’s about creating a home.”

Overprotective parents are raising “fragile” kids who need an authority figure to settle any conflict, writes Jonah Goldberg.

When kids play, they have to “negotiate rules among themselves,” he writes. Parents or teachers may “short-circuit that process by constantly intervening to stop bullying or just to make sure that everyone plays nice.”

In Japan, preschoolers learn to work out their conflicts, writes author Alan Jacobs (no relation). Teachers watch but don’t intervene, even if children are fighting, unless it’s necessary.

Imagine if university students were “dependent on authorities to ease every instance of social friction,” Jacobs writes. “What a mess that would be.”

Yale’s “idiot children” tried to shout down a panel on freedom of speech, writes Kevin D. Williamson. Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education had said that students hysterical about the Halloween e-mail were acting as though Professor Christakis had burned down an Indian village.

“Genocide is not a joke!” they screamed.

“Yale doesn’t make them into hysterical ninnies,” concludes Williamson. “Their families do.”

Hans Bader’s roundup uses “cry-bullies,” which I think is an apt term.

We Dissent is a gutsy editorial in the Claremont Independent attacking the “spoiled brats” who forced a Claremont-McKenna dean to resign for a well-intentioned but poorly worded email.

|||

‘Pay for success’ preschool gains are iffy


Students in a preschool program in Utah meant to help kindergartners avoid special education. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

A  “pay for success” preschool program in Utah helped 99 percent of high-risk children avoid special education in kindergarten, Salt Lake County officials announced last month. Investors who bought “social-impact bonds” to fund the program received a $260,000 payout, representing a share of the district’s savings on special education. They’ll get more in coming years, potentially making a profit.

Results are too good to be true, early-education experts tell the New York Times.

Even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent.

It’s either “a miracle, or these kids weren’t in line for special education in the first place,” said Clive Belfield, an economics professor who studies early childhood education.

It seems clear that “miracle” is not the right answer.

The school district used a picture and vocabulary test called the PPVT to screen the incoming preschoolers. Those who scored below 70 — 30 to 40 percent of children over three years — were labeled likely to need special education.

“To just assume that all these children would have gone to special education is kind of ridiculous,” said Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

The test rarely is used to screen for disabilities, especially when used alone. Furthermore, 30 to 50 percent of the preschoolers may have scored poorly because they were not fluent in English.

Study: Kindergarten ‘red shirting’ works

Delaying kindergarten for one year dramatically reduced inattention and hyperactivity at age 11, according to The Gift of Time, a Stanford study.

The study was conducted in Denmark, where children enroll in kindergarten in the calendar year they turn six.  Those born in December are 5 3/4 when they start kindergarten; those born in January are 6 3/4.

Children glue leaves on paper for an art project in a Danish kindergarten class.

Danish kindergartners work on an art project using leaves.

Danish children can go to “reasonably good” preschool programs, said Thomas Dee, a Stanford education professor and co-author of the study. Delaying kindergarten may not benefit children who don’t have access to good pre-K.

About 20 percent of U.S. children now start kindergarten at age six instead of age five, researchers found. Most of the increase is due to “redshirting.” Parents want their child — especially a boy — to be more mature.

“It’s not just a question of when do you start kindergarten, but what do you do in those kindergarten classes?” Dee said. “If you make kindergarten the new first grade, then parents may sensibly decide to delay entry.”