"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How We Treat Our Young Children

"In one study of extra-year programs, the biggest gains were not for the extra-year children but for the at-risk children who have received extra help in the regular classroom", noted Shepard and Smith in their paper, "Synthesis of Research on School Readiness and Kindergarten Retention". Shepard and Smith had long argued that schools should address the diversity of young children when they enter kindergarten and not focus on applying a common set of standards for all. Sadly, a list for kindergarten readiness, which includes the ability to "identify 30+ letters", is what parents see, for instance, from a county in Ohio.

Above copied from SheKnows
School readiness as well as school entry age are issues difficult to address in research since learning outcomes are often determined by factors other than these two. As a starter, context matters. In addition, how schools respond as Shepard and Smith had shown can easily sway the results simply based on a teacher's perception of what is normal and what is not. Thus, one way to dissect how the effects of school entry age on learning outcomes is to examine a database in which the differences are actually not options. Comparing countries afford this opportunity. In 2006, Suggate had used PISA scores on reading comprehension to see if there are effects of school entry age. In the paper, "School entry age and reading achievement in the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)", no correlation was found between reading scores and the age a child enters school. Yet, if one focuses on one of the countries that score high in this standardized test, one is tempted to arrive at a conclusion similar to the following:

Above copied from NPR
And in Denmark, an older school entry age is seen to correlate with a lower crime rate.

Above copied from The Economic Journal
Clearly, if there is really no association between school entry age and learning outcomes, then something else counts. And my guess is how society responds to diversity is what counts.

Bassok and coworkers, I believe, are sounding an alarm that requires our attention in their paper "Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" We are taking the slippery slope of defining what should be normal and expected from our children.

Above copied from AERA
One simply has to combine the above observation with how parents are spending on their young to realize that there is a poisonous mix brewing in basic education.

Above copied from AERA
School entry age matters when we make it. If school is cast as a way to get an edge in life, and school readiness translates to an edge in school, it becomes doubly toxic. We inadvertently tell a significant number of children that they are not ready when in fact we might be the ones who do not understand how each child really grows and develops.


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