Align PreK and Elementary Ed Standards

by Alice Wiggins
April 22nd, 2009

So far this week, I’ve discussed two ways to improve U.S. early childhood education—changing the way we evaluate preschools (and preschool teachers) and establishing clear and specific preschool learning standards.  The third item on my wish list is aligning preschool and elementary school standards.

Creating a seamless PreK to elementary school system is also the No. 1 item on the “to do” list of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).  In a paper titled Promoting Quality in PreK-Grade 3 Classrooms by Dr. Mariana Haynes, NASBE’s research director, argued for aligning not just standards, but curricula, assessment and teaching practices for Pre-K through grade three, to reflect what research tells us about learning environments on children’s developmental outcomes.  “This is an important foundational step to creating the infrastructure for a coherent, evidence-based early learning system,” Haynes wrote. “States may want to examine how to create incentives for school districts and early education providers to partner in building a seamless prekindergarten through grade three system,” she concluded.

A New America Foundation report by Kristie Kauerz also makes a strong argument for advancing the alignment of PK through grade 3. Lack of availability of high-quality preschool for all children (we’ll talk about this later this week!) coupled with the absence of alignment between PK and subsequent grades results in classes that include some children who have the background knowledge and academic gains for preschool and some children who do not. As a result, Kauerz notes “teacher must focus on those children who do not have the relevant and necessary cognitive or social skills, thereby being forced to slow and level down the curriculum and pedagogy in order not to leave behind less well prepared children.”  The result?  Children who arrived well prepared are often hindered in their continued progress.

Kauerz goes on to cite a study of elementary school in California that “analyzed why some schools score substantially better on the state’s academic performance index than other schools with similar students. Practices found to be associated with higher performance included school-wide instructional consistency within grades, curricular alignment from grade-to-grade, and classroom instruction guided by state academic standards (Williams, Kirst, & Haertel, 2005).”

It’s safe to say that one unambiguous victory of the standards-based education movement has been a general rise in expectations, especially in schools serving low-SES children.  Clear and specific preschool learning standards would ensure that children transition more smoothly to kindergarten bringing with them social skills and foundational skills and knowledge for ongoing educational achievement.  Aligning those standards with a state’s existing K-8 standards would be better still.

Cassandra Warns the Trojans About Merit Pay

by Robert Pondiscio
April 22nd, 2009

If you remember your Greek mythology, you’ll recall Cassandra, tragically blessed with the gift of prophecy but cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe her.  Think of her while reading Diane Ravitch’s latest over at Bridging Differences

Here is my prediction: Merit pay of the kind I have described will not make education better, even if scores go up next year or the year after. Instead, it will make education worse, not only because some of the “gains” will be based on cheating and gaming the system, but because they will be obtained by scanting attention to history, geography, civics, the arts, science, literature, foreign languages, and all the other studies that are needed to develop smarter individuals, better citizens, and people who are prepared for the knowledge-based economy of the 21st Century. Nor will it identify better teachers; instead, it will reward those who use their time for low-level test preparation.

“Is it possible to have an education system that mis-educates students while raising their test scores?” Ravitch asks. ”Yes, I think it is. We may soon prove it.”

Cassandra is speaking.  Are you listening? Do you believe her? 

I do.