By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - There's a hilarious episode of the sketch comedy show "Portlandia" where two hipster parents give their preschool age kid a presentation about his future.
The kid, Grover, half-watches as mom and dad pull up two stock market-style charts: One shows his fortunes going up and up if he attends Shooting Star preschool; the other shows what happens if he fails to get in: a plunge into violence, shoplifting and poverty.
"The last thing I want is you out there, you know, shooting squirrels and birds for dinner," says the mom. "If we don't get you into that Shooting Star private preschool, you're gonna end up at a public school with a bunch of riffraff."
She adds: "We're gonna get you into preschool. We're gonna get you into college. We're going to get you some money. And we're gonna get you whatever you want!"
The skit is great because it's based in truth.
Yes, elite preschool admissions are perfectly absurd, but the benefits of preschool are seriously significant. Researchers in North Carolina and Michigan have spent decades following kids who attend preschool and comparing them with control groups of kids who didn't. While preschool, of course, does not single-handedly determine whether a kid will be successful and happy or end up shoplifting with the riffraff, on the whole the studies suggest the early schooling can reroute lives for the better.
The "Portlandia" charts are kind of real.
By David L. Kirp, Special to CNN
Editor's note: David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of "The Sandbox Investment" and the forthcoming book "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools."
(CNN) - Kudos to the president - his call for preschool for every 4-year-old, in the State of the Union address, is a bold and visionary idea. It’s what those who understand the power of early education to unlock children’s minds have been urging for years. It’s what I promoted when I served on the 2008 presidential transition team. But - and it’s a very big but - whether universal prekindergarten really makes a difference in children’s lives or turns out to be a false hope depends entirely on the quality of what’s being offered.
The plus-side first: It takes nothing away from the president’s boldness to note that early education, which used to be derided as baby-sitting, now enjoys widespread popularity. Scientists have learned how rapidly the brain develops during the first years and how much those early experiences build a foundation for later learning. “Skill begets skill,” as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman puts it, and studies of marquee prekindergarten programs show its potential for lifelong impact. Economists have calculated that every dollar invested in high-quality preschool returns $7 - a figure that would make Warren Buffett envious - with greater educational achievement, higher earnings, fewer unwanted pregnancies, lower welfare costs, even lower crime rates.
Parents get it. They are voting with their feet by increasingly enrolling their toddlers in preschool. Voters get it, too. Polling done by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization for children, shows that conservatives as well as liberals support early education. The biggest naysayers are the Republicans on Capitol Hill, but as with immigration reform, gun control, marriage equality and raising the minimum wage, they’re on the wrong side of history.
But expanding preschool isn’t enough. The research shows that if it’s going to have an impact, preschool must be good. Quality costs money, though, and lawmakers have often been loath to underwrite it.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
(CNN) - Arguably the most important and innovative idea proposed by President Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night was his call for high-quality, universal pre-school education.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” Obama said. “In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
He’s right. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the United States now does worse in terms of social mobility than many European countries – especially those in Scandinavia – as well as Canada. What does this mean in practice? It means that a poor child born in the United States is much more likely to remain poor than one born in Canada or Denmark.
The Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project found last year, for example, that “more than 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle.” OECD research, meanwhile, found that while “at least 40 percent of the economic advantage that high-earnings fathers have over low-earnings fathers is transmitted to their sons,” the comparable figure for Nordic countries, Canada and Australia was less than 20 percent.
The main reason for this, I believe, is that many of the countries with higher mobility invest a great deal in children of all backgrounds, early in their lives, in terms of daycare, nutrition and education. And what the research increasingly shows is that if a child has missed out in the first few years of life in terms of nutrition, in terms of attention that adults pay to them, in terms of cognitive stimulation, then it is very difficult for them to catch up because they have been so disadvantaged – some of them neurologically. Countries with strong programs for the very young, in contrast, tend to have an advantage.
(CNN) - For a second straight day, President Barack Obama touted proposals from his State of the Union address at a campaign-style event outside of Washington, this time visiting a Georgia preschool where youngsters still on winter break showed up to mimic a regular day.
Obama's visit to the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, in the city of Decatur just outside Atlanta, followed his call in Tuesday night's speech to Congress for investments in high-quality early childhood education programs.
The president spent time in a classroom where he hugged some students - who told him they saw him on television - and praised the teachers he said were giving their students a boost into the educational system.
"This isn't baby-sitting," he said. Children who take prekindergarten classes are more likely to read at their grade level, graduate from high school and hold a job down the road - but fewer than 30% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in prekindergarten programs like those at College Heights, he said.
"Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works," he said. "If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here. That's why, even in times of tight budgets, states like Georgia and Oklahoma have worked to make a preschool slot available for nearly every parent who is looking for one for their child."
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - To guess the education plans in Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, look no further than the guests in first lady Michelle Obama's box.
Obama's action points often reflected their stories: an undocumented college student who took part in Obama's "deferred action" plan; a 16-year-old winner of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; a recent community college graduate who now works on wind turbines; a young machinist who laid the foundation for his manufacturing career at his Kentucky high school; a first-grade teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; an early childhood educator from Norman, Oklahoma, and a NASA Mars Curiosity rover team member who volunteers to mentor students in FIRST robotics.
Yes, another rating system: the "College Scorecard"
There was talk of money-crunching "scorecard" last year, but Obama announced during his speech that it would be released Wednesday - it's up now at whitehouse.gov/scorecard. The "College Scorecard" will show which schools offer the best value, "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck," he said. That wasn't all: Obama also asked Congress to change the Higher Education Act to attach schools' federal aid to their "affordability and value."
Preschool for all kids
Obama said investing in high-quality early childhood education saves money later, boosts graduation rates and reduces teen pregnancy and violent crime. “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," he said.
He gave a shout-out to Georgia and Oklahoma, states he said make early childhood education a priority. Obama will be visiting a pre-Kindergarten school in Georgia this week, and Susan Bumgarner, an early childhood educator from Oklahoma City, watched the speech with Michelle Obama.
Higher rewards for high-tech education
Some states and schools have discussed charging students less to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and more for majors like English or anthropology. Obama wasn't so specific, but he said he wants to "resdesign America's high schools" to gear-up grads for a high-tech economy.
“We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs," Obama said.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Think back to the age before GoldieBlox, before gender-neutral Easy-Bake ovens, before “My Princess Boy" or “It Gets Better.” Way before apps for infants, TV networks for toddlers or even "Schoolhouse Rock" on Saturday mornings.
That’d bring you to the early 1970s, when an album in a bright pink sleeve was passed among teachers, parents, librarians and kids. It was called “Free to Be … You and Me,” and record players around the country spun songs such as “William’s Doll,” “Parents are People” and “It’s All Right to Cry.”
When it debuted in 1972, there was nothing else like it - at least, nothing so popular. It was feminist and multicultural; an early childhood education in empathy; multimedia before anybody used the word. There was the gold record album, a best-selling book and in 1974, an Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV special that starred its creator, Marlo Thomas, “and friends” - literally, her formidable list of famous pals, including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carl Reiner, Rosey Grier and young Michael Jackson.
More than 40 years later, there's nostalgia in its opening chords and a legacy that still courses through classrooms.
“Children memorized every lyric and asked their parents and teacher to play the record over and over again,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a Ms. magazine co-founder, wrote in the 2012 book "When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made."
“It challenged teachers to face up to their entrenched, often unacknowledged, gender biases and to cast a more critical eye on the books they were assigning, whom they called on most often in class, whom they allowed to dominate the block corner or the dress-up box.”
by John Martin, CNN
Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community. Some comments have been edited for space or clarity.
(CNN) - Donna McClintock, the chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. wrote last week's op-ed on redshirting kindergartners. You may have heard the term applied to college football players, but this isn't a sports story. Academic redshirting means holding a child back from school until he or she is ready. In the U.S., most kindergartners are five-year olds, so a redshirted kindergartner is usually six. McClintock says that when asking whether to redshirt a young child, "parents and educators must determine what that answer is by considering his individual needs and development and not by blindly following a trend."
Some readers questioned whether any child should ever be redshirted:
Rob Breisch: I can honestly say by my own example that it's far better not to redshirt your children – you are causing a life of issues from being not good enough for anyone's standards,and your children will face ridicule all their lives about it. So do them and yourself a favor – advance them and if required spend more time helping them learn.You can destroy a child by just setting them back like it's no big deal. Your child is not a toy nor a rat – so treat them with more respect and dignity and reach out and help them along – but don't make them repeat any grade!
Scott B: I know holding my kid back would be a very last resort. Regardless of what the article says, I went to school and remember how some of those held back kids were treated. About the only time it was a good thing was when they had a car before most of the class. Also, unless the kid simply can't cut it, I'd rather they be in a learning environment that challenges them more than I would want them to get better grades.
Amy: Everyone says "each child is different," and that's certainly true to some extent; however, there is a tendency for some parents to think that their child is particularly unique, different, special, etc. and must be treated differently (i.e. holding him/her back) because of that dazzling uniqueness.... With respect, I think some parents (especially moms) need to stop obsessing about this. Kids are more capable than many parents give them credit for.
Jeanne: What really annoys me is the parents who hold their kids back, so their kids are more than a year older than my kid, and then they claim that the curriculum isn't challenging enough. That is because your 7 1/2-year-old is supposed to be doing second grade work, not first grade.... So then the kid needs differentiated instruction, special trips to the library, and reading enrichment. Meanwhile my age appropriate 5-year-old summer birthday learns at the pace of the curriculum, because that is the age it is designed for. No, she's not special or advanced like your kid, but hey, she's a year and a half younger, and would have gone nuts being stuck in preschool another year. I still think my kid is getting the better end of the deal.
By Donna McClintock, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Donna McClintock is the chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. She has served in a leadership role in early childhood education for more than 29 years and has been in a senior executive leadership role for more than a decade. She has authored several books on the topic of early childhood education, including “The Heart Connector Series.”
I often read materials that approach a subject as if there were only one solution. Such is the case of “redshirting” children for kindergarten, which is the practice of holding a child back from school until he turns six. There is certainly a best answer for each child, and parents and educators must determine what that answer is by considering his individual needs and development and not by blindly following a trend.
No matter WHAT you decide to do, we know for sure that parents must understand that a child’s brain cannot be redshirted or held back. The child’s experiences during the fifth and sixth year of life are extremely important because the brain continues to develop and form synapses, and learning is at an all-time high.
It is the responsibility of parents and educators to challenge, nurture, inspire and ignite in our children a love of learning and exploration during this critical time. How do you do this when formal education in a school system begins as an individual choice for each child? There are several key factors to consider, but the child’s individual needs are the trump card in this decision.
Most research clearly shows that any gaps in levels of success between younger and older children are usually bridged by the third grade. This leaves parents to wonder if there is an advantage to holding their child back. I offer the position that the type of program your child is in during the first year of formal school is really the key to success.
Each child deserves a developmentally appropriate setting that understands how children 5 to 6 years of age learn, whether that is a formalized kindergarten program, the home environment provided by parents, or another alternative.
By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) - During the average school day, teachers are with children as many waking hours as parents are. But many educators believe there’s a short in the communication lines between themselves and parents. When asked what they’d want parents to know about education, not all of the teachers we spoke to wished to be named - but they did share many common concerns from the classroom.
1. We're on the same team
First and foremost, teachers want students to thrive in the classroom, and they could use your help.
Jennifer Bell, a 7th grade social studies teacher in Tennessee, suggests that parents do all they can to ensure that students are doing their homework, exercising, eating well and sleeping. Whether students come to class tired or ready to learn can hinge on parents’ involvement. “We need their support,” she says. “We can’t do this on our own.”
In the words of an elementary school teacher from Georgia, “We are professionals. Teaching children is our area of expertise. Your child benefits more when you support me.”
And while educators expect students to make mistakes, Mississippi teacher Beth Wilbanks Smith asks parents to help them learn from those mistakes. “They will grow to be productive citizens if we all work as a unified force,” she writes.
By Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nancy Carlsson-Paige is professor emerita at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the University’s Center for Peaceable Schools. A strong advocate for public education, Nancy speaks and writes on a variety of education and parenting topics. Her most recent book is ”Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids.”
(CNN) - Here’s what I would say to the presidential candidates (in case they ask me) about what we need to do to give the best education possible to our nation’s youngest members.
I would start talking in a pretty loud voice to make sure they can hear: You are going in the wrong direction with policy-making for early childhood education! Please back up and start over.
And this time, put early childhood educators at the head of the policy-making table.
Most classrooms for young kids today are driven by a myriad of developmentally inappropriate standards-based tests and checklists. Policy mandates are causing a pushdown of academic skills to 3, 4 and 5 year olds that used to be associated with first-graders through third-graders. Young kids are expected to learn specific facts and skills at specified ages, such as naming the letters and counting by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s.
This has led to more teacher-directed “lessons” and a lot more rote learning by kids who try to learn what’s required but don’t really understand.