The Phony War In Pre-K

Deborah Kenny is back with another op-ed, this time on pre-K kindergarten in The Washington Post.  Same format as last the time: A criticism that causes reform critics to swoon (she even cites Matt Damon’s mom!) then a pivot to a solution that leaves them aghast….the audio version sounds like this.

Kenny makes the point that in early ed (and this is true in education generally) standards don’t inexorably lead to the kind of practices that everyone thinks are counterproductive and bad for kids. They are the result of other issues (teacher quality, support for teachers, curriculum, training, etc…). There are plenty of evidence proofs for this idea, as well as research showing not surprisingly that richer teaching produces better outcomes on standardized tests than drilling. If you’re in D.C., go have a look at Appletree’s early-childhood work for one compelling example in the pre-K space. You’ll see kids learning a lot, and having a lot of fun doing it and it’s the kind of place most parents would be excited for their child to spend time. Charles Chieppo takes a look at what they’re up to for Governing.

Two bigger takeaways.  First, the capacity issues here are huge, and that’s going to come to a head with Common Core and the temptation to shoot the messenger could prove – again – irresistible.  Second, this field has a disconcerting fetish for false choices.  As Kenny argues, the right over standards in early-childhood is a phony one.  It’s also an incredibly poorly timed one coming at the very time the country is about to debate a landmark investment in early-education – and investment that faces an uphill fight for many reasons, including concerns about program quality.

3 Replies to “The Phony War In Pre-K”

  1. Like a clever infomercial, Kenny’s column leaves out the relevant information and winds up being totally misleading.

    Everyone knows these national standards are just Act I. They will be followed by national tests and associated curricula, and many of the latter will teach the standards in a very linear and boring way. Administrators of public schools who can’t push slower kids out as Kenny’s school does, but who nonetheless get publicly compared to such schools, will feel under the gun to raise scores. They will mandate the use of these linear texts, and they will do so because while play and DAP and “good teaching” are as effective in the long run, rote drill raises scores faster in the short run, and coercive pressure narrows people’s thinking.

    Furthermore, the tests will narrow teaching far more than the standards themselves, which have no “teeth.” It’s safe to assume that the standardized test won’t have children marching around the room or playing at all.

    It is easy to make up one fun way for kids to learn one standard.

    What happens to teaching and learning when the MANY standards are rolled out for all the subjects and when these are operationalized through linear texts and high-stakes tests is something entirely different.

    Let’s face facts: Standards and High-stakes testing have driven play out of most early childhood (K-3) classrooms, as happened in the school up the block from us.

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