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kids in kindergarten

What is Kindergarten Ready, Really?

Once upon a time, children walked into kindergarten as blank slates for their teachers to write upon. They might or might not know their ABC’s, how to hold a pencil and how to read. Now, though, it seems that more and more is being asked of students before they are ever even taught in school. Children are entering school already behind. So what is "kindergarten ready", really? What does it mean? Students who are kindergarten ready are more than three times as likely to be reading on grade level in third grade, thus making kindergarten readiness a huge indicator of outcomes for students. In Texas, a child is eligible to start kindergarten if they have turned five years old prior to September 1 of the school year they would be enrolling in. Other states have a later cutoff, but generally speaking, most students begin kindergarten at around five years old. It’s assumed that students will enter school with some specific skills; however, there is no specific list of kindergarten-ready standards. According to research compiled into a policy brief from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEE), teachers cite factors such as overall child health, ability to communicate thoughts and needs as well as curiosity as important factors indicating kindergarten readiness. Recently, teachers are emphasizing the importance of nonacademic readiness skills over traditional measures of readiness like knowing names of colors, recognizing the alphabet and counting. However, NIEE acknowledges that studies indicate a higher focus on academic readiness in studies focusing on perceptions of low-income children. Parent perception of skills needed to be kindergarten ready also varies based on socioeconomic status but tends to focus on academics. From 2001-2004, the School Readiness Indicators Initiative joined 17 states to try to develop a workable list of readiness factors to include in policy proposals. Maryland has created the R4K— Ready for Kindergarten, a comprehensive early childhood assessment system that builds upon the state assessment system used until 2013. In Texas, Little Texans, Big Futures drew on expertise across the state to set early learning goals. The American Federation of Teachers offers a kindergarten ready checklist online that draws on factors that some states utilize to assess incoming students. Still, without a tailored list of what skills a school is expecting, a parent is challenged with how to best prepare their child for school. Additionally, according to NIEE’s policy brief, "children from low-income or less-educated families are less likely to have the supports necessary for healthy growth and development, resulting in lower abilities at school entry.” The biggest challenge, though, is that no one system exists that defines what kindergarten readiness is. Each state may or may not define readiness; sometimes readiness is defined differently at different schools in the same city. A national standard of readiness would assist both preschools and parents in preparing students to meet the challenges they will face in today’s classrooms. Is there a written kindergarten ready standard where you live? Drop us a note in the comments, and tune back in as...

It’s free childcare. So why aren’t more children in pre-K?

Pre-K enrollment is one of the hot button issues in education today. An early start can make a huge difference in educational achievement for children, whether that is reading at home with parents or organized education through Head Start or public pre-K programs. And best of all, early education programs are often free. So why aren’t more children enrolled in them? There are a variety of issues that may explain low pre-K enrollment in Dallas. The first issue is knowledge— many parents are unaware that public pre-K programs exist, and that they are free. The second issue is buy-in. Many parents simply don’t understand what the value of pre-K is, and why they should make it a priority for their child. This is especially prevalent in Texas, where even kindergarten isn’t required; first grade is the first required grade in the state. This leaves many parents confused as to the advantages of a pre-K education. Studies have shown clear differences between students who went through pre-K and students who did not, and students who had pre-K had a distinct academic advantage as they continued on in school. Valuable as these studies may be, they typically are utilized by the professional education world, rather than by parents. Finally, access can also be an issue— spots for eligible pre-K students aren’t necessarily available in the exact area or school where they are needed. There typically are not as many pre-K spots offered at a school as there are kindergarten and first-grade spots, and some schools have more pre-K spaces than others. This can be challenging for parents who already have children enrolled in other grades- since pre-K does not include busing, the parent would have to drive to two different schools, sometimes in entirely different neighborhoods. If a parent does not understand the value of pre-K this can seem too challenging, and even parents who may be planning for pre-K might not have the resources to manage two separate drop-offs. So how can we, as non-parents and perhaps even non-community members, impact pre-K enrollment? Education, education, education. Parental education is key in terms of informing parents that pre-K is an option, that it is free, and that it is valuable. This spring and summer a dedicated group of people in the South Oak Cliff community went door-to-door, knocking and distributing fliers and answering questions about pre-K. At the back to school fairs in the fall, which tend to focus on older students, pre-K fliers will be distributed. Community nonprofits and businesses have posted pre-K fliers, and pre-K enrollment in South Oak Cliff is increasing. Parental education will remain key for years into the future. It’s a sustaining loop- parents tell other parents about programs they find valuable, so getting in the door now and knocking on as many as possible is worth the time and effort. Longer term, matching spots to students will be important. Whether that means busing pre-K students to different schools until a spot opens up where their siblings attend or hiring more teachers,...

The trickle down effect of school turnover

For educators and parents alike, there can sometimes seem a great divide between what happens in an actual school building and what’s going on behind the scenes at a leadership level. School boards, superintendents- even working within a school it’s easy to forget that these levels are operating out there independently. In Dallas these worlds crash together more often than not, as for the past three years the city has had a superintendent who is very hands on and often the source of change....

kid in handcuffs

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Within the last decade, mass incarceration has risen exponentially in the United States. With four percent of the world’s population and almost 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. This is a 400 percent increase since 1984. However, the most affected individuals are youths. According to The Prison Policy Initiative, 41 percent of juveniles have been arrested by the time they turn 23, sometimes serving life sentences. This trend is called the "school-to-prison pipeline", wherein students are pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice system. Through juvenile courts, the United States incarcerates its youth more than any other country in the world. In 2002, approximately 126,000 youths were incarcerated in youth detention centers, while almost 500,000 are brought to these facilities in a given year.      “We are addicted to incarceration. We are addicted to the profits that come from incarceration. We are addicted to free labor, cheap labor…” -Mychal Denzel Smith In an interview with the Inside Out documentary, Mychal Denzel Smith noted that Americans are "addicted" to incarceration. Smith is a fellow at the Nation Institute, a non-profit organization focused on the protection and expansion of free press. Smith found that the prevalence of committed crimes has actually gone down in the last decade, but the rate of incarceration has risen. Smith explains that this inverse relation is caused by school-level practices. Educational researcher Christine Christle published evidence connecting the rising incarceration rates with these practices in The Journal of Special Education in 2005. Christle and her colleagues found that practices such as excessive policing, high-stakes testing, and zero-tolerance policies correlate with juvenile delinquency.  Community Coalition published a similar study highlighted in this info-graphic, depicting the school to prison and foster care to prison pipelines. A 2011 study done by the National Education Policy Center found that zero-tolerance policies such as the use of suspensions and detentions to punish students for minor offenses like dress code violations or cell phone use has “redefined students as criminals.” Furthermore, a student who is suspended three or more times before his or her sophomore year is five times as likely to drop out, while students who do not graduate are eight times more likely to be convicted felons and sent to prison, according to the National Juvenile Defender Center. In addition, Smith finds that the issue of race plays a much larger role in the incarceration of youths than previously thought. According to the same study done by the National Juvenile Defender Center, black and latino students are 3.5 and 1.5 times more likely to be suspended compared to their white peers, respectively, and collectively make up 70 percent of all arrests made in schools. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, police presence and security around schools have increased; however, schools still rely heavily on teachers, administrators, and poorly trained officers for discipline. With the incidence of school violence on the rise over the last 15 years, schools have been policed more heavily than...

Only two issues with Standardized Testing…

A debate has raged on for decades about standardized testing. Ultimately I feel there are only two issues with standardized testing; the standards and the testing. edu|FOCUS is going to produce a series on the topic of standardized testing and its affects on achievement nation-wide. This article is the first in that series. The "Standards" One of the biggest issues with the standards used in standardized testing is that the testing takes a quantitative approach instead of a qualitative one. A child’s ability to remember facts, figures, and formulas is what's being tested, not the depth to which they understand concepts or comprehend the material they've learned. By failing to test depth and comprehension, standardized tests miss the mark on assessing whether or not a student understands a concept well enough to use it in the real world. And forcing teachers to test the memorization standard removes their ability to encourage students to think critically and challenge assumptions. Another issue that must be addressed is the standard of assumed equality. All students are not the same. They learn differently, live amongst different cultural and social realities, and process information differently. As such, standardized testing needs to assess children where they are – not where they should be, and utilize the different cultural realities that exist in our diverse country rather than ignore them. Rather than create tests for different communities, it is possible to use test answers to determine comprehension. As an example, imagine a question that required the student to match the most appropriate word with cup, and the choices included wall, table, coaster, and window. A culturally balanced test would accept both coaster and table as correct answers recognizing that certain children may have never been exposed to the use of coasters under cups, or even know what coasters are. The impact of assumed equality in standardized testing also affects children for whom English is their second learned language. Lastly, the standard of single dimension assessment is an issue. Depth and comprehension aren't part of the testing battery, meaning that students are assessed on their ability to select the most correct answer, not show their depth in a subject matter. Because of this, standardized tests often fail to provide constructive information that educators and parents can use to improve learning outcomes down the road. A good test should have layers of depth around a concept to determine a child’s mastery of that concept or subject. This can help guide educators to students who are in need of stronger support over those who are easily absorbing the knowledge being shared with them. The "Testing" I've already alluded to a major issue with the testing aspect of standardized testing. Educators are being evaluated on the performance of their students through standardized testing instead of standardized testing being leveraged to guide learning outcomes and assess the individualized needs of students. This is one of the biggest failures around standardized testing. Here you have the potential to gather a wealth of information that could easily improve the educational experience...

In York PA education will be all about profit

In York PA education will be all about profit thanks to the Corbett administration who asked a judge to grant receivership of the district to a local businessman who intends to "sell" the district to a for-profit charter school corporation. Believe it or not, this all happened December 1st, and a PA judge granted the request on the 26th which is when the news broke, leaving parents caught completely off-guard. Unfortunately with all that has been going on in our communities and in the world some stories, even the important ones, fly completely under the radar. The district's Chief Recovery Officer, David Meckley, was appointed to his post by now outgoing governor Tom Corbett in 2012 to fix fiscal issues within the district. 2 years later, the best suggestion he could come up with was to sell the district and the futures of York's children out to a for-profit venture. This move now gives Mr. Meckley sole authority to make York, PA the first city in the nation to turn it's entire school district over to a for-profit education entity called Charter Schools USA. You can read the article on PennLive.com by clicking here. Mr. Meckley is not an educator, does not operate under the counsel of educators, and is able to act unilaterally without the support of the elected school board, administrators, or parents of the children being served by the district. My issue with this is two-fold. First, as a father of two I am bothered by the idea that my children's education can be decided by a person I did not elect to hold that decision in his or her hands. Recognizing that the York school district has had serious budget problems for sometime, we have to admit that many school districts have had a similar issue; and the use of political force to push an agenda here smacks of cronyism. York's parents simply aren't being given a choice - or even a say in what happens to their children's educations...

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