“Kindergarten classrooms today have been scrubbed of many of the essential ingredients including freedom for dramatic play, creativity, and conversation. Gone are blocks and dress-up corners and dedicated play time. Artwork has been replaced with word walls promising a “print-rich” environment that few five year-olds can, in reality, actually understand. Drill and kill worksheets are the norm. Many kids can’t handle the pressure: suspensions in the early years have increased dramatically since the 1970s, even trickling down to preschools where children are expected to be “ready” for a kindergarten curriculum that would have been more appropriate to a 1st or second grade classroom 20 years ago. Parents who can afford it are now extending preschool by a year to alleviate some of this stress. We’re now seeing six-year-olds entering kindergarten, which can create even wider gaps in a classroom and the appearance of failure for the less advanced children.
If states continue of this wrong-headed path, there’s no reason to believe President Obama’s laudable proposal won’t inflict the same high-stakes testing climate on even younger kids. That would be a disaster because a disproportionate emphasis on academic skills in the preschool years violates everything we know scientifically about healthy child development: that three- and four-year-olds learn best when learning is embedded in social relationships, real life experience, and unhurried exploration. In short, young children, like all other mammals, learn through play.”
Early childhood advocates were elated by Obama’s State of the Union proposal to vastly expand our infrastructure of early childhood programs. Economists like Nobel laureate James Heckman have long argued that early childhood education is the best financial investment a society can make. Gaps in ability that predict future life outcomes tend to open wide at an early age, so the call to level the playing field for young kids is both welcome and overdue.
The cornerstone of Obama’s proposal is a plan to make preschool education available for all four-year-olds at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. Pre-K funds would be distributed to local school districts and much of the programming would likely be placed in existing elementary schools. States would have access to federal dollars if they met “quality benchmarks,” including…
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