Posts Tagged ‘early education’

To have and have not — persuasive revision

March 17, 2008

Who has and who hasn’t?  It’s not easy to tell. 

It’s no surprise to the average American that there is a significant gap between the haves and have-nots in our country.  Because of financial hardships it’s politically risky, bordering on personally foolish, to ask for people to approve higher taxes for schools.  However, the quality of a school district reflects on the quality of a community.  If the community supports its schools, property values reflect that support.  Far too often, however, we look at the schools in our communities and assume they are better off than they really are.

As the economy suffers, so too does the public school system.  Districts all over the country are evaluating and reevaluating programs for their quality and importance.  Many valuable programs face cuts and as programs do, so do the teachers involved in those programs.  As states try to balance their budgets, school funding is cut, and California is just one example.  Michigan, where I live, and Indiana, where I work, suffer their own financial problems, yet meanwhile Michigan’s Governor Granholm and Indiana’s Governor Daniels are pushing for full day kindergarten across their respective states. With the newest tax plan in Indiana, The Indianapolis Star reports that local governments and school districts now face “a reduction of revenue and cuts in services.”  With limited financial resources, how do such programs get paid for, and where should a district focus its attention to best serve those who have and those who have not?

The cover article of the March 2008 neatoday — “Mind the Gap” — addresses the technological gap present in society today.  The article illustrates the clear difference in haves and have-nots.  The opening paragraph of the article describes a family in Virginia with three children who each have their own computer in their respective bedrooms.  The article contrasts the Virginian family with a young man in Mississippi who has no computer access at home and must drive 40 miles every day to research colleges and apply for student loans at a community center. 

The article describes what communities and individuals are doing across the country to help narrow this tech gap, and I applaud the efforts of those like Andrew Rasiej, “who advises members of Congress on the use of the Internet in politics and policy, [and] is an advocate for universal Internet access.”  However, where does supporting universal Internet access put other programs that actually educate children?  While great and useful and an aid to students who would otherwise be left behind technologically, does universal Internet come at the expense of programs in early elementary education that focus on literacy and math skills?   Is it the responsibility of schools to address this technology gap? 

The school district where I teach is, admittedly, technologically wealthy.  The grants that have been written to provide teachers and students with the smart board technology, computers in every classroom, on-line attendance and report cards, and Writing Center could fill a room.  Because of our technology, we are assumed — by those inside and outside our corporation — to be a wealthy school district.  However, our socio-economic demographics have changed over the past decade, and this trend of diversification will only continue.   We prepare ourselves to teach and reach an increasingly socio-economically diverse population while continuing to provide all students with the diverse academic offerings we have always provided.  I think my district realizes that technology is not always the answer to reaching all students.  The gap in education should be bridged earlier, and it is the achievement gap, not the technology gap where we wish to focus our attention.  That is why we are offering all day kindergarten at more elementary schools next, and our goal is to phase in all day everywhere by 2010.

The offerings of all day kindergarten for next year were decided based on the greatest need for early intervention as measured by the schools’ free and reduced lunch percentages.  One school identified as a participant in next year’s all day program faced percentages of nearly 40 to 50 percent free and reduced lunch.  That’s around half of the student population and their families attending that school qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  We may have a hard time meeting our 2010 goal with the new property tax law in Indiana, but there are still things a voter can do to protect his community and his schools.

It’s nearly May, and that means for a lot of you – not just Hoosiers — that you’ll have an election dealing with bond issues and millage requests, and you may even find yourself voting for school board members who value the programs important to you.  When you find yourself at the polls, wondering if you should vote for or against the raise in taxes or millage that will provide for your school, don’t assume that just because the school has written the grants necessary to provide bells and whistles for the children that they are a rich district.  Consider all the information available to you, do your research and decide what’s important, for the future of your community counts on it.      

 

 

To have and have not — persuasion

February 27, 2008

Who has and who hasn’t?  You never can tell. 

The latest neatoday (dated March 2008) for members of the National Education Association arrived in the mail today.  The cover article — “Mind the Gap” — addresses the technological gap present in society.  When it comes to computers and innovative gadgetry, there are clearly haves and have-nots, especially in individual homes.  For instance, the opening paragraph of the article describes a family in Virginia with three children who each have their own computer in their bedrooms, and then proceeds to describe a young man in Mississippi who has no Internet or computer access at home and must therefore drive 40 miles every day to research colleges and apply for student loans at a community center. 

I’m no dummy, this technology gap means I cannot, nor have I tried to, safely assume that any of my high school students have computer access; I can, however, recommend that my students utilize their study hall time (at least 88 minutes every other day) to access the Writing Center at our school, where there are computers galore (at least 90, though should our Writing Center Director read this, she can surely correct me).  The article goes on to describe what communities and individuals are doing across the country to help narrow this tech gap, and I applaud the efforts of those identified in the article like Andrew Rasiej, “who advises members of Congress on the use of the Internet in politics and policy, [and] is an advocate for universal Internet access.”  However, I can’t help but see a double-edged sword to lofty policies offering DSL or high speed in every pot.

Universal Internet access, while great and useful and an aid to students who would otherwise not be able to access MySpace or read my blog, at the same time, what might such universal access mean for the Internet Service Providers?  Sure, the Internet is supposed to be free, but really what boon might such a policy be to Internet related corporate entities.  Maybe I’m just shooting off at the mouth here and there would be no finances filling the coffers of Internet’s big business, or maybe I’m just stuck on my own agenda of attacking the gaps in education at an earlier age.

The school district where I teach is, admittedly, technologically wealthy.  The grants that have been written to provide teachers and students with the smart board technology, computers in every classroom, on-line attendance and report cards, and Writing Center could undoubtedly fill a room.  Because of our technology, we are assumed by those inside and outside our corporation to be a wealthy school district.  However, our demographics are changing, and we are preparing ourselves to face the reality of our increasingly socio-economically diverse population while continuing to provide all our students with the diverse offerings we have always provided.  I think this district realizes that technology is not always the answer, the gap should be bridged earlier, and that is why they are offering all day kindergarten at more schools next year than the current offerings, and their goal is to phase in all day all around by 2010.

The offerings of all day kindergarten for next year were decided based on the greatest need for early intervention as measured by the schools’ free and reduced lunch percentages.  One school identified as a participant in the program faced percentages of nearly 40 to 50 percent free and reduced lunch.  That’s around half of the student population and their families attending that school qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

So, next time you find yourself at the polls, wondering if you should vote for or against the raise in taxes or millage that will provide for your school, don’t assume that just because the school has written the grants necessary to provide bells and whistles for the children that they are a rich district.  Consider all the information available to you, for the future of your community counts on it.      

      

Are the candidates listening?

January 31, 2008

I am a dad.  I am a student.  I also teach high school.  As such, while I can imagine what it’s like to have three children five years of age and under to be vying for your attention, and I can imagine what it’s like to seek the attention of a teacher, and I can imagine what it’s like to monitor and administer to the needs of 32 adolescents, I cannot imagine the patience I would need to occupy, teach and protect five to ten little ones in a pre-school setting. 

With the problems my son has faced in pre-school with what I suspect to be bullying, and the possibility that his bully may be expelled, I’ve dedicated much of my coursework this semester to looking for solutions.  How can I help my son deal with aggressive peers so he does not become a bully.  So he does not perpetuate his own victimhood.  How can I help the bullies in pre-school get the education they need and deserve just as much as my son?  How can I help parents of both victim and bully to become greater advocates for their children? 

USA Today published an opinion yesterday, and I’ve written about this before, that a study was released earlier this year indicating pre-schools with too few teachers and too many students witness higher numbers of expulsion rates.  Is universal pre-school the answer?  Oklahoma seems to think so.  “Oklahoma offers ‘universal’ preschool which means that parents of all incomes have the option of sending their 4-year-olds to a state-sponsored preschool, transportation included. The state also insists that all preschool teachers hold bachelor’s degrees, and they are paid the same as regular school teachers.”  My home state has yet to make kindergarten mandatory, so we lag a bit behind such an offering. 

Oklahoma’s policy is not mandated, it is an option, and I think its being optional is a positive, but what I like best about Oklahoma’s policy is the bachelor’s degree requirement and pay.  I’m curious though as to class size, and the article indicates there are dangers in states seeking to replicate Oklahoma’s success, and Florida is one example of how not to build a universal preschool program:  “Florida rushed its preschool system out the door with seemingly little attention to setting standards. Florida cosmetologists face stiffer licensing than preschool teachers, and preschool operators there are free to pursue a choose-your-own-curriculum policy.”

With early childhood education funding part of the current presidential debate, like my colleague Jeanette’s concerns with health care, where would the money come from?  More importantly, will it be done right? 

Cause for Concern

January 30, 2008

What is the problem?

How do you gather evidence that a three and a half year old is being bullied at pre-school?  It’s not like his memories are clear.  Getting accurate information from one that age is difficult.  Any reference on any particular day could be a reference to an event that actually happened that day, or the kid could be reliving the same event over and over again in his mind.  He threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash on one day, and when you ask him six months later what he did today, he threw a rock in the lake and it made a big splash.   

 

But after this past New Year’s, when Boy returned to school from winter break on a Monday just fine, yet on Tuesday was so upset his mom had to take him home, I started to get concerned again.  A three and a half year old should not be afraid to go to school, but was he afraid?  Maybe he just had a great time at home on vacation.  Heck, it’s not like I was chomping at the bit to get back to work.  When mom picked him up on Wednesday, she found out Boy had nearly pulled a bookcase over on top of himself (where was the teacher, and what was Boy doing yanking on a bookcase), and then on Thursday it all hit the wall.  The ouch report indicated the kids were walking down the hall, holding on to their loops and O___ bit Boy on the hand.  There were no toys involved, so it was not a sharing issue. Admittedly, Boy has the power to annoy, but the kid bit him hard enough for me to see it six hours later when I got home from work.

 

Some folks we spoke with said, “Get him outta there.”  But why should my kid be the one who has to leave?  I want him to be able to learn how to deal with these kinds of problems.  I want him to be able to assert himself.  I also don’t want him to bite, punch, kick or “hurt him’s bones.”  At the same time, no child should be afraid to go to school.  If at three a child no longer wants to go to school, that’s an ugly looking 15 years on the educational road ahead. 

 

Is there a solution?

The next day my wife talked to the director of the preschool center.  They offered to move Boy to another class away from Biter.  He was in the 3-4 group, and they could move him to the 2-3.  Well, that’s something, I thought.  The director also indicated she’d meet with the other child’s parents.  Again.  Last time it seems there was a discussion about violent video games. 

 

The father said to the director, “Oh, you’re one of those people.” 

 

My wife got the impression that they would probably expel the other child.  What do those 15 years on the educational road ahead look like for a kid who gets expelled from pre-school?

 

What are you prepared to do?

When m – - – - r f – - – - r is spewed from the mouth of a child in a 3-4 year old classroom, there’s a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said those words, and I’ve said them in front of my kids, but not as a part of my everyday vocabulary.  We have no video games at home.  But is that the solution?  Yeah, there aren’t any video games, but the kids have way more time in front of the television than I did as a kid.  I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I admit I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t want to tell another parent how to raise their kid, and I don’t think the schools, county, state or feds should raise their kid either, but when your kid bites my kid and there’s clearly a problem, I want you to be willing to find a solution beyond criticizing the director of the center for hating on you because your kid at three or four enjoys shoot ‘em up video games. 

 

Were I the parent of a biter, and evidently an habitual one, I know I’d want to find out what’s going on.  In fact, that’s what I’m trying to do, and I’m taking steps to make the situation a little better for my kid.  What are you doing? 

 

It’s not like there aren’t options, though in early education some of those options are limited.  Look at it this way, if the other kid is at preschool as long as my kid, there’s 2 and a half hours of contact time for the teacher to have with the kid.  That’s not a long time to observe what’s going on.  Plus, when you’re lead teacher for 3-4 year olds, how do you watch a single kid for suspected behavioral issues when you’ve got 5-10 other kids working with permanent colors, glue and simultaneously wetting their pants. 

 

The reason I ask is this: 

MSNBC did a story yesterday morning showing correlations between bullies, victims and ADHD.  As an adult who didn’t know anybody with ADHD growing up, but as a teacher after the diagnostic boom in the early 1990’s I’ve been suspect of some diagnoses in the past, but I must say it’s an issue that holds more water for me.   Regardless, early behavior problems need to be monitored by the school and the parents because the earlier you can catch a problem a kid’s dealing with, the earlier you can help that kid and maybe make her life a little easier. 

 

See, according to the article, kids with ADHD symptoms are “four times as likely as others to be bullies.”  But it gets worse.  “[C]hildren with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms, according to the report in the February issue of the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.”  These aren’t American kids they studied either.  The study was done in Sweden, and I’ve got a hunch the problem is bigger in America than in Sweden.   

 

What does the study mean?  There’re a couple possibilities:  The ADHD kid may just be a jerk, or “it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.” 

 

Linda Carroll interviewed Harvard professor William Pollack for the story, and while he doesn’t necessarily contribute anything a rational adult couldn’t figure out for him or herself, he does point to the urgency of the problem.  First, you have a hard time learning when you’re afraid.  I tell you, after some creep spit on me in middle school it got real hard for a long time for me to want to go to school.  Second, Pollack reminds us that bullied kids often turn into bullies.   

 

So what do we do?  Medication for ADHD, the story reminds us, doesn’t treat aggression.  It helps a person focus, it doesn’t deal with depression or anger.   

 

What am I prepared to do?

More than anything, the story starts to look like every other piece of parenting advice out there.  You’ve got to look for signs.  You have to communicate with your kid (and at three that’s a tall order).  You’ve got to look to the school for help and advice when they let you know your child is a problem, and if they won’t help you, maybe you need to find a new setting for your child. 

 


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