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Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's time to transform education: Step 1

US schools are on the wrong side of an international achievement gap, and perpetuate gaps between students based on race and class. Together, these gaps deprive the US economy of as much as $2.3 trillion in economic output annually. Our ability to fix the problem is stifled by the contentious exchange between advocates of more effective teaching as a part of education reform and those who insist wealth determines student performance and those who say otherwise have dubious intentions.

Yes, childhood poverty in the United States is the second highest among developed nations. And yes some kids fall victim to drugs, gangs, mental illness, abuse, ineffably bad choices, or lost hope. But poverty is not destiny. Value-added data helps identify effective teachers by looking at test results for diverse collections of students, and specific subpopulations of learners over a number of years. The debate over whether or not this component of an educator’s evaluation incentivizes “teaching to the test,” is less important than the National Bureau of Economic Research finding that students assigned to classrooms led by ineffective instructors earn $250,000 less over their lifetimes. And certainly less important than the reduction—if not elimination—of a number of educational inequities we would realize if we fully addressed disparities in early learning and development.

Those frustrated by the state of public education need not wait to engender transformational change. Act to create incentives to send babies, toddlers, and young children to new spaces designed for school readiness.

Academic success through fifth grade is attributable to the cumulative vocabulary children are exposed to by age 3. There’s a debate over establishing standards for preschool quality, despite the fact that state after state has seen reductions preschool funding, and subsidized childcare programs have been cut as well, despite the expansion of already lengthy applicant waitlists. Since the official pre-kindergarten enrollment rate has not exceeded 26.7%, and improving public financing for early learning programs, requires overhauling the Rube Goldberg funding formula currently in place, we need to steer parents toward daycares designed for school readiness like Blythe’s Garden.

Poverty is linked with deficits that inhibit the production of new brain cells, alter the path of maturation, and rework the healthy neural circuitry in children’s brains, because living hand-to-mouth robs caregivers of the resources needed to provide a predictable environment, as well as the time required to provide consistent guidance and support, engage in the 20 hours per week of attunement (reciprocal interactions) researchers recommend, and facilitate ongoing, personalized, increasingly complex, enrichment activities. Daycares designed for school readiness like Blythe’s Garden eliminate these deficits by meeting the emotional developmental needs of infants and toddlers while concurrently guaranteeing young children will learn the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and colors. This is not a guarantee Head Start or public school pre-kindergartens make. And this, as researcher Nicholas Zill notes, is a fact that should prompt soul-searching among early childhood education policymakers.

Philanthropists, advocates, and stakeholders your marching orders are clear: Seek funding from Pampers, Huggies, Luvs, Seventh Generation, gDiapers, Earth’s Best, Enfamil, Similac, Gerber, Enfagrow, EleCare, Neocate, Babies R Us, etc., to bring a Blythe’s Garden to every block, and give parents free goods and/or cold hard cash for sending their babies, toddlers, and young children to a certified and licensed, home-based daycare, designed for school readiness, or to a certified and licensed, child care center, staffed by teachers who are both responsive to their children’s developmental needs, and guarantee learning.


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