Which of these two kindergarten classes would you want your 5-year-old child or grandchild to be in? Option one is a classic kindergarten classroom, rich with tactile art and full of color, energy and happy noise. Some kids are fingerpainting with intense concentration, while others are bubbling over with curiosity and cheer. No modern technology–just chalk and blackboards–that I could see.
The other kindergarten classroom, your second option, is a carbon copy–with one striking difference: some children are using a mechanical toy to help them learn consonant blends. These kids have small devices (about the size of an adult’s hand) that looks like a bug, and a 3’ x 3’ chart with consonant blends in different squares (‘ist’, ‘int,’ ‘alt’ and so on). Rather than simply find a certain blend on the chart, the child has to program the ‘bug’ (actually a small computer) to move to the square with that blend–say, three spaces across and five spaces up. The teacher moves around the room guiding and monitoring the individual learners.
(By the way, the teacher in the second classroom told me that in a week her kids would be Skyping with a kindergarten class in Mexico, part of their study of Cinco de Mayo. The teacher is a 37-year-veteran who has just embraced digital technology in her teaching.)
I’m guessing that, in the digital-free kindergarten, the children will learn consonant blends as a group from the teacher, perhaps in a mix of a game and direct instruction. Is one approach to teaching consonant blends superior to the other? I have no clue, but being in the two classrooms raised a question in my mind: what’s the right age to introduce digital technology to schoolchildren?
Some would argue that, because most children become familiar with digital technology as toddlers, the schools ought to stay current. (“After all, who hasn’t seen toddlers manipulating an iPad or tablet?”) Others take the opposite view–”Enough, already! Let’s make classrooms tech-free zones where young children can concentrate on human interaction and social skills.”
How about you? Which kindergarten would you choose?
Unfortunately, this is a purely hypothetical question for many of you, because, depending on where you live, you may not have any choice at all. Believe it or not, six states — Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania — do not require school districts to provide any kindergarten at all, according to a report from the New America Education Policy Program. In fact, only 11 states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide free full-day kindergarten (.pdf), even though public education is a state responsibility.
Do the math: In 39 of our 50 states, politicians and other (so-called) leaders have chosen to ignore the fundamental needs of the young. Whether these adults are ignorant, cheap, selfish or inflexibly ideological is not clear; but what is obvious is that, by failing to provide kindergarten, these decision-makers have decided to keep the playing field tilted in favor of the economically comfortable. It stands to reason that failing to close the opportunity gap is a good way to insure that the so-called ‘achievement gap’ will remain wide.
Most states do require that school districts provide a free half day kindergarten program and then allow districts to go full-day if they wish. However, at least 12 states make parents pay for the second half of the day (that uneven playing field again!).
You may have heard about the kindergarten in Elwood, New York that cancelled its annual play so the 5-year-olds could spend more time becoming ‘college and career ready.’ That outrageous decision by an interim principal, and the ensuing furor, should not be allowed to obscure another harsh truth about that system: parents have to pay for the second half of the day. Sixty of the 80 families have coughed up, the article says, and one wonders what the other 20 kids are feeling.
According to the New America Foundation, somewhere between 23% and 42% of our kindergarten-age children are not in full-day kindergarten; worse yet, apparently some of those ‘full-day’ programs last only 4 hours, significantly short of actually being full-day. And budget crises in recent years have led some states and districts to reduce full-day programs to half-days.
It’s not all bad. The study points out that, “In recent years some states—including Minnesota, Oklahoma, Washington, and Nevada—have begun to expand the provision of full-day kindergarten.”
The Obama Administration is doubling down on pre-school , as we recently reported, and that’s commendable, but I think we need a public shaming of the state political and educational leadership that doesn’t care enough to provide free kindergarten programs. These policies are short-sighted and harmful. Kindergarten, done well, is enormously beneficial to young children. It also allows more parents to enter the workforce (.pdf), which poor families are finding difficult to do because resources for early childhood education and care are scarce.
What would our Pledge of Allegiance say if it were factually descriptive, rather than aspirational? “One nation, under God, with educational opportunity for some…..”
- 1. The Administration’s proposal would allow states to use pre-school funds to expand kindergarten programs.↵