Tag Archive for 'pre-k'

Science and preschool policy

In “How to Get More Early Bloomers” (New York Times, 30 January 2014), Dan Willingham and David Grissmer argue that policymakers should be more cautious about the benefits of universal preschool and should employ the tools of science to examine policies so that quality can be built into the preschools that states and localities offer.

When New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, went to Albany earlier this week to talk about his program for universal preschool, the discussion reportedly focused on funding, not on whether or how preschool would actually help children. President Obama seemed equally confident when he introduced his plan for universal preschool last year, flatly stating, “We know this works.” But the state of research is actually much murkier. And unless policy makers begin to design preschool programs in ways that can be evaluated later, the situation won’t get any clearer.

You can read the entire editorial on-line. Observant readers might say the authors could have cited some other historical examples of effective preschools (e.g., Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966), but that doesn’t negate their general thrust that policy on preschools should be guided by science.


Bereiter, C., & Engelmann, S. (1966). Teaching disadvantaged children in the preschool. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Is my teaching effective?

How does one know whether one’s teaching is working? That’s a dang important question. Over on myIGDIs, Scott McConnell provides a quick and clear introduction to the answer. In How Do I Know if My Classroom Practices Are Working?, Professor McConnell explains that one needs (a) goals or standards, (b) points of comparison against which to assess change or difference, and (c) trustworthy ways of measuring students’ performance, if one is to assess the effects of one’s teaching.

Although Professor McConnell’s analysis is aimed primarily at early childhood education, it’s base is general enough to be applicable across age groups. He’s talking about Individual Growth and Development Indicators, or IGDIs. Those are important tools in an effective educator’s apron. I’m thinking myIGDIs, which provides research-based, preschool language and literacy measures, looks like a valuable site. These link nicely to RtI, CBM, and other models that align with monitoring progress systematically.

Evidence-based education in Head Start?

Isabel Sawhill and Jon Baron published an editorial in Education Week calling for a new approach to the venerable Head Start program, one founded on evidence about effectiveness. They argue that in the wake of the discouraging Head Start Impact Study reported by US Department of Health & Human Services, it’s time to bring research into the nation’s play pre-schools.

A new approach is needed. One that has been suggested—defunding these programs—would amount to giving up the fight against major social problems such as educational failure and poverty that damage millions of American lives. A far better alternative is to use rigorous evidence about “what works” to evolve Head Start and other federal efforts into truly effective programs over time, and to use sophisticated models to trace their longer-term effects on children’s life prospects.

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PreK pays

According to a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), a study examining the benefits of providing pre-kindergarten programs in New Mexico (US) revealed that there were significant and important benefits for children. Jason Hustedt and colleagues found that there were significant improvements in children’s language, literacy, and math competence associated with attending pre-k programs.

[Their] results show that New Mexico PreK produces consistent benefits for children who
participated in PreK, compared to those who did not, across all three years of the study. Positive impacts of PreK were found in each of three content areas important to early academic success – language, literacy, and math. Findings in literacy and mathematics were statistically significant in analyses for each school year of New Mexico PreK. Findings specific to our measure of early language were statistically significant for the first two years of the study, and using a combined, multi‐year data set.

I had to wonder what curriculum the New Mexico pre-k programs followed. It appears that about half of the sites do not report the curriculum they use. However, one uses Bank Street, nine use High Scope, and the remaining 60-some use Creative Curriculum. Imagine what kind of effects these pre-k programs could achieve if they used more effective curricula!

Hustedt, J. T., Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., & Goetze, L. D. (2009). The New Mexico preK evaluation: Results from the initial four years of a new state preschool initiative. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

The report is available for free. See the Website for the New Mexico PreK program.

Engelmann explains

Zig Engelmann, progenitor of Direct Instruction (DI), has posted a video of a talk he gave earlier this month. The presentation is an explication of the underlying principles of DI, “Theory of Direct Instruction.”

In the presentation (video below the jump), Mr. Engelmann shows some of his chops from his undergraduate degree in philosophy. He starts with philosophers’ fundamental arguments and shows how those correspond (or don’t) with learning and teaching concepts. For example, as he works through John Stuart Mills’ five methods of induction from A System of Logic, he makes clear how each would apply to teaching. I suspect that this particular sequence will show many people why DI instruction (the examples used in the scripts, not the teaching behavior) is structured the way it is.
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English intervention improves Spanish-speakers’ early literacy outcomes

In Child Development Jo Ann Farver and colleagues reported that young children who speak Spanish can learn English early literacy skills better when they receive instruction in English. That finding’s not particularly surprising, but there’s more: There’s a comparison of English-only and “transitional” methods. Children who received instruction in English-only or Spanish with transition to English (both using the Literacy Express Preschool Curriculum) had higher pre-literacy outcomes than peers who had been randomly assigned to receive the High/Scope Curriculum.
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Barbash on pre-k

In “Pre-K Can Work: Needy kids could benefit, but only if we use proven pedagogy and hold programs accountable,” Shepard Barbash of the City Journal describes the conditions he sees as required if pre-kindergarten programs are to benefit the US. Actually, he devotes several paragraphs to describing what’s wrong with pre-k education. Noting that many children from relatively less-advantaged home environments come to pre-k with substantially lower verbal repertoires than their more-advantaged peers, Mr. Barbash indicts the perspective of many early childhood educators about these deficits:

Central to the typical early-childhood educator’s worldview are three ideas: that it’s better for young children to learn through play than through work; that children learn best and are happiest when they can help direct the pace and content of their own learning; and that a child’s mental abilities develop at a natural pace that adults cannot do much to accelerate. If a child fails to learn something, it’s not because the teaching is faulty, in this view; it’s because the child is either “learning disabled” or not yet “developmentally ready” to learn it—a notion derived from the theories of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who believed that mental abilities developed in age-determined phases.

From these premises flow a host of others. Pre-K teachers learn that it’s not “developmentally appropriate practice” to seat children at desks; to give them worksheets; to make them work to master the alphabet, letter sounds, and math; to assess their academic skills (medical, dental, and nutrition assessments are okay); and to group them by skill level for instruction (because all children should receive equal treatment and because children learn as much from one another as they do from adults). Many things that parents would call common sense are, for the preschool professional, high-risk activities.

The alternative, Mr. Barbash proposes, is to provide Direct Instruction. He illustrates with anecdotes from his own observations of pre-k lessons. And he goes further, arguing in favor of consistent, systematic assessment of children’s competence during the pre-k years.

Read Mr. Barbash’s article at the City Journal.

Ready, Set, Leap may not

The ultra-strict What Works Clearinghouse, which seemed like such a good idea 10 years ago, has issued a new statement about efficacy of another early education program, Ready, Set, Leap™, reporting that it does not have “discernible effects on oral language, print knowledge, phonological processing, early reading/writing skills, and math.”

Here’s how the vendor’s Web site describes Ready, Set, Leap™

This comprehensive prekindergarten curriculum provides a full year of instruction and incorporates academic, music, visual arts, and social/emotional development skills to address the needs of all students.
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