Friday, May 6, 2022

First Class Pre-K

In this NY Times piece, David Kirp says "Prekindergarten will only realize its promise when it’s first class." 

A high-quality program, according to early childhood education experts, features small classes and low student-teacher ratios, with well-trained teachers, an evidence-based curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning, not eat-your-spinach instruction in the ABC’s or coloring inside the lines, and lots of time for play. The focus is on kids’ physical, social and emotional growth as well as their cognitive development. In that setting, youngsters, preferably from different social backgrounds, are solving problems together, while their teachers talk with, not at, them.

In other words, a good preschool is a place you wish you had gone to when you were 4 years old.

While a host of studies has shown that the impact of high-quality preschool can reverberate years later, only a minority of pre-K programs meet this standard.

Is anybody surprised that few programs meet that standard? Or how about this, from another expert:

Children in preschool typically spend much of their time in routine activities, including waiting or getting ready to do something and little time learning new concepts, getting feedback from teachers, and learning to plan and reflect on their actions and experiences.

Does anybody know a reliable method for getting humans of any age to reflect productively in their actions and experiences?

But I don't really want to mock Kirp's program; it sounds great. If there had been such a place near me, I would have sent my kids there. But it also sounds very expensive, and I can tell you flat out that Biden's $10 billion won't get us there. I also doubt that America holds enough pre-K teachers with that level of motivation and skill. 

At a deeper level I want to ask this: has there ever been anything in the history of the world for which the average example was first class? It seems to me that when you launch any government program you have to assume that the average employee and the average institution will be mediocre, and you should only go ahead if you think that mediocrity will be sufficient to achieve something worthwhile. The studies showing that mediocre pre-K doesn't help kids much ought to give us pause about forcing all our four-year-olds into these classes.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Is anybody surprised that few programs meet that standard?

In America? No.

But there are countries where such programs are essentially universal across the nation. Finland comes immediately to mind. The difference being that they have laws which guarantee high quality education to their citizens, and they actually bother to spend government funds on making such programs work, rather than simply funneling ever more money into the world's most expensive (but far from most effectual) military.