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.”

Kids copy: ‘There is no god but Allah’

In Virginia, a World Geography teacher told students to practice Arabic calligraphy by copying script that said: “There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

The Muslim statement of faith “was not translated for students, said the district in a statement. The copying assignment was meant to teach the “artistic complexity” of written Arabic.

I think copying Arabic is a waste of time — kids can tell it’s artsy by looking — but if it’s worth doing, there’s no need to use a religious statement. (Why not “Death to America!”? Just kidding.)

The teacher showed students a Koran, but didn’t provide a Bible because she believed they’d all read or seen one, parents said on The Schilling Show.

Female students were also encouraged to wear a hijab, parents said. School officials said girls were invited to try on a scarf as “part of an interactive lesson about the Islamic concept of modest dress.”

The district closed its schools today because of the outcry. Which is nuts.

In rural Tennessee, where nearly everyone is Christian and few have met a Muslim, parents and school board members are worried about Islamic indoctrination writes Emma Green in The Atlantic.

Seventh graders in the state study world geography and history, including a unit on “the Islamic world” up to 1500.

Beth Burgos, a school board member in Williamson County, questioned why textbook ignore jihad and portray Islam as a fundamentally peaceful religion.

In White County, Citizens Against Islamic Indoctrination advertised a meeting with an anti-tolerance graphic.

It’s not just Tennessee, writes Green. Last spring, parents complained when a history teacher in Union Grove, Wisconsin, assigned her students to write from the perspective of an American Muslim, giving examples of “what you do daily for your religion and any struggles you face.”

“This assignment is problematic because it required the students to adopt and adhere to Islamic religious activity and viewpoints,” argued the American Center for Law and Justice in a letter to the principal.

Study: Teachers bargain, students lose

Teachers’ collective bargaining rights correlate with lower employment and earnings for students later in adult life, concludes a study by Michael F. Lovenheim and Alexander Willén in Education Next.
They compared student outcomes in states that enacted a duty-to-bargain law to outcomes in states that did not change their collective-bargaining policies.

There was no effect on the amount of schooling students completed.

However, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.” Those educated in duty-to-bargain states were less likely to be employed and those with jobs were more likely to work in low-skilled occupations.

Why? They’re not sure.

Perhaps collective bargaining has made it more difficult for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers or to allocate teachers among schools. Or perhaps the political influence of teachers unions at the state level has interfered with efforts to improve school quality.

More than 60 percent of U.S. teachers work under a union contract, but some states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan,  Indiana and Tennessee, have moved to restrict teachers’ bargaining rights.

Pre-K fails in Tennessee

The benefits of Tennessee’s pre-K program for at-risk children disappeared by the end of kindergarten, concludes the TN-VPK Effectiveness Study. By the end of second grade, children who attended TN-VPK did worse on many achievement measures compared to the control group, Vanderbilt researchers found. The pre-K group did no better on non-academic measures.

All the children came from low-income families. The control group was made up of children whose parents applied for pre-K but didn’t get a slot.

preschool

Many of the pre-K grads and the controls attended low-performing schools. Most fell behind in reading and math in the early grades, the study found.

Tennessee rolled out pre-K quickly, said Dale Farran, co-principal investigator. Quality varies. “What might you get from the same pre-K program if you had a common vision and could push the quality up?”

On paper — if not in reality –TN-VPK is a high-quality program, writes Abbie Lieberman on EdCentral.

TN-VPK meets nine out of 10 of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality benchmarks. The state requires teachers to have a bachelor’s degree with specialized training in pre-K, classes are small and have low student-teacher ratios, and the state has comprehensive early learning standards in place.

However, Tennessee spends only $5,895 per pre-K student. Oklahoma’s pre-K program, which spends $7,8678, “has been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Effective preschool programs don’t come cheap,  writes David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, in the New York Times.

Consider what’s happening in Boston. A randomized study showed that prekindergartners there gained between four and seven months’ progress in reading and math, and those gains persisted: 27 percent more of Boston’s preschool children scored “proficient” or better on the state’s rigorous third-grade exams.

Boston spends $10,000 for each preschooler, according to Kirp. “You get what you pay for,” he concludes.

The kind of early childhood education that changes disadvantaged children’s learning trajectories is intensive and expensive. We might be able to afford it for the neediest kids, the ones who are not developing language skills and a base of knowledge at home. But, if it’s not going to be done well, why do it at all?

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.

‘Free’ college won’t help needy students

“Free community college” programs won’t help low-income students because they already pay little or no tuition. Nearly all benefits of the Tennessee Promise and Chicago’s new scholarships will go to middle-class students who aren’t eligible for Pell Grants and other aid.

Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

People who’ve earned long-term vocational certificates and associate degrees start at higher wages than four-year graduates, a Tennessee study shows. After five years, the bachelor’s degree holders have caught up with two-year graduates, but don’t quite earn as much as the certificate holders.

Tennessee seeks college ‘stickiness’

In hopes of lowering high college dropout rates, Tennessee now links some college funding to graduation rates. State universities are trying to improve student “stickiness,” reports PBS NewsHour.

Free college — but will they graduate?

Tennessee, Oregon — and possibly Texas — are offering two free years at a community or technical college to high school graduates. But “Promise” programs are struggling to get unprepared students to complete college credentials.

Kansas OKs hiring non-degreed teachers

Kansas will let schools hire uncertified teachers with experience in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields but no education credentials.

Teachers can qualify with a bachelor’s degree — or “an industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession” — and at least five years of work experience in a STEM field. Schools are expected to use the policy primarily to hire career-tech teachers.

Tennessee is turning welders into career-tech teachers.