I taught elementary children for almost 15 years. I taught in 'poor' schools and I taught in 'middle/upper-middle class' schools. The disparity between family socioeconomic status in my students was apparent in everything from what they wore, to what they ate and what their homework looked like each morning.
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The book, Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan To Combat Inequality details this divide, and claims that something must be done to combat America's education crisis. Authors Ajay Chaudry, Taryn Morrissey, Christina Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa believe the crisis stems from the difference in early education and care for children in the United States, particularly when compared to students in China, Germany and other first-world countries.
For example, only 55% of American three-and four-year-olds go to a formal preschool, instead often being 'watched' by a family member or neighbor - typically a 'grandmotherly' type. The authors of the book concluded that family income level played a major part in the placement of preschoolers, and ignite the divide between 'haves' and 'have-nots' when it comes to better education. Those who can afford to send their children to preschool do, and their children seem to be better for it, according to the authors.
Those who cannot afford to send children to preschool don't, and thus begins the difference in education levels as many of those children receive "Sesame Street" preschool compared to their peers. The authors claim that the children who don't go to preschool are being 'left behind' and that this is making an impact on the U.S. economy, as they claim research shows gaps in the education of children who do go to preschool and those who don't.
Yoshikawa is an education professor at New York University and claims that a research study following children since the 1940s shows that children who don't get formal preschool are a year behind in both math and language skills than their pre-schooled peers, and that they don't catch up.
They cite the fact that America spends one of the lowest amounts of money on preschool educations in the world, when compared to developed nations, and uses statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to support that claim. Yoshikawa says that early childhood years are the most important and promising for learning and brain development, yet that's the time period in which the United States invests the least amount of money.
In their book, the authors' blueprint for closing this gap is the increase of spending money in early childhood education so that the U.S. offers preschool for every child, regardless of income, for children three-years-old and up. They also believe that a better paid parental leave program will help parents invest more in the way of time and effort in their child's early education as well.
But, as a mother and an educator, I have to say, I'm not convinced.
Yes, I believe that there is a disparity between the preschool education that children from poorer families get and the preschool education that children from 'better off' families get. I saw it regularly.
I don't, however, believe the push for more school, earlier is the answer.
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I believe that we as a nation are seeing a push for children to do things that are simply not developmentally appropriate (in the name of better education) and are losing the forest for the trees. I believe Mr. Rogers said it best when he said the work of children was play, and I believe that wherever children are, whether it's at a preschool or in-home with a relative, allowing our children to learn and grow through play instead of pushing our babies to read is what makes a difference in their education.
More, I believe that supporting parents in poorer families from the beginning - education and access to resources for good nutrition and parenting skills will truly result in 'trickle down' mentality, where children do better because their parents know better and have access to better for them.
Let's start there, and stop worrying about whether our children are reading at three years of age.