Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

The single most notable achievement of Mayor Bill DeBlaio’s eight years as Mayor of New York City was the creation of a free, universal pre-k program.

Marina Toure of Politico reports that new Mayor Eric Adams is cancelling the expansion of the program to include all three-year-olds.

The immensely popular universal prekindergarten program was the brainchild of former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. Three years later, he began expanding it to 3-year-olds. The pioneering education policy remains the single biggest achievement from de Blasio’s two terms in office. It was so successful that it became a national model for other major cities like Seattle and Washington.

Six years ago, New York City hosted leaders from a dozen cities across the U.S. to share lessons learned from its free early childhood education program for over 70,000 4-year-olds.

And yet, in a wildly expensive city where monthly child care costs top $3,500, a staggering 30 percent of free pre-K and “3K” seats were unfilled as of November.

Mayor Eric Adams, who took office in January, is canceling de Blasio’s plan for universal 3K, citing mismanagement of the program that led to the empty seats and budget cuts. Enrollment declines caused by the Covid-19 pandemic combined with a lack of education and outreach led to a striking imbalance where the lowest-income neighborhoods had the greatest number of empty seats and the wealthiest ones had long wait lists.

The result means children whose families are struggling the most will be deprived of a lifeline — a chance at the kind of free, quality education that’s been shown to improve performance in high school mathematics. It could also be a deterrent to other cities looking to replicate New York’s model after President Joe Biden repeatedly failed to get funding for early childhood education in spending bills.

Adams blames DeBlasio for the program’s shortcomings.

Leonie Haimson chimed in on the New York City parents’ blog to say that the program was “horribly implemented.” (Note: CBO=Community Based Organization.)

She wrote:

De Blasio’s preK program was horribly implemented and incredibly wasteful. Under Josh Wallach, the DOE insisted on putting as many kids as possible into elementary schools, including those that were already overcrowded and had waitlists for Kindergarten, contributing to worse overcrowding for about 236,000 students.

Meanwhile CBOs that had been in the preK program for years were starved for students, putting many of them at risk of closing down. There were MANY empty seats in CBOs, who directors begged for more students, to no avail. – despite the fact that their quality is rated more highly in many respects than the preKs in elementary school and provide services till 5 or 6 PM.

The Politico article mentions this [the botched implementation] in passing: “Finally, an application process controlled by the DOE — as opposed to parents being able to enroll their children directly with community providers — has led to access issues.” The CBOs had countless meetings with Wallach where he stubbornly refused to fix these problems

DOE also spent hundreds of millions of dollars in building stand-alone preK centers that stood half empty. The spending included renovating a leased space that previously housed a Dunkin Donuts shop in the basement of a parking garage in Brooklyn, costing six million dollars to create a preK classroom with a capacity of only 18 students, at a cost of $333,000 per student.

I wrote about this in our preK report ; press release here: https://classsizematters.org/the-impact-of-prek-on-school-overcrowding-in-nyc-lack-of-planning-lack-of-space/;

Our full report here. https://3zn338.a2cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/PreK-report-12.17.18-final-final.pdf

Here is an excerpt: “In recent testimony before the New York City Council, Lisa Caswell, a senior policy analyst with
the Day Care Council of New York, a federation of 91 non-profits which run child care programs,
addressed the fact that DOE had diverted students not only from DOE pre-K centers but also
from CBO centers to public schools. She testified that in previous years, the DOE had been
engaged in the “recruitment of children directly from our [CBO] settings to fill UPK seats,” which
added to public school pre-K enrollment while leaving seats empty in CBOs, causing these
centers loss of students.”

This is an example of the danger of mayoral control. The mayor makes decisions that promote his standing in the polls. A program run by professionals would have been better implemented.

A reader who signs in as “kindergarteninterlude” posted the following comment in the discussion about “growth mindset”:

The year I retire, I will have a tee-shirt made. On the front will be the word- big and bold- “RIGOR”, with the NO Symbol on top (a circle and diagonal line through it).


On the back will be the word data with the same NO symbol on top of it.


I’d love to work in “growth mindset “. What a bunch of garbage.


Hopefully my tee-shirt will be a conversation starter and I will be happy to talk to people about my experiences in the kindergarten classroom.

I will explain that rigor is developmentally inappropriate and the desperate attempt to shove rigor into the heart and mind of kindergartners (and every other grade level student) can only hurt them.

As for data- the obsession is destructive on so many levels. What’s worse, it’s meaningless.


Diane, why does this insanity persist? Why are true best practices and proven methods of success in education completely dismissed? I have been shaking my head (and my fist) for 20 years. Nothing changes. It’s just getting worse. What will it ever take to shift this train wreck that is education?

Former Governor Jim Hunt, a Democrat, is one of the most respected figures in North Carolina on the subject of education. As teacher Justin Parmenter explains in this post, Governor Hunt was a true education reformer who cared about students, teachers, and public schools.

Parmenter writes:

Among others, those initiatives include beginning the Smart Start Pre-K program, putting a full-time teaching assistant in every grade 1-3 classroom, establishing the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and creating the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (as a personal aside I’d like to add that I am grateful and proud to have been a National Board Certified Teacher since 2006).

Under Hunt’s leadership, teacher pay in North Carolina rose to 19th nationwide, coming within about $2000 of the national average during the 2001-02 school year. The state currently ranks 39th.

Since 2010, North Carolina has been controlled by Tea Party zealots in the legislature, who devoutly believe in charters and vouchers.

Many educators were surprised when Governor Hunt agreed to join a panel that was planning to change the compensation of teachers and tie it to test scores. Perhaps Governor Hunt thought he could steer the group towards sensible solutions, like raising teacher pay to the national average.

But he announced he was quitting the coalition. He must have realized that the state commissioner and her minions were wedded to merit pay.

Parmenter writes:

Governor Jim Hunt has withdrawn as honorary co-chair of the UpliftEd Coalition, a group which will promote a controversial plan to do away with experience-based teacher compensation and replace it with a system of merit pay.

The Pathways to Excellence proposal, currently being worked on by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC), has proven deeply unpopular with North Carolina educators since it became public earlier this year.

Governor Hunt called on the coalition to draw upon the knowledge of teachers and listen to them.

That’s a novel idea! They are probably listening to the business community, which always complains that teachers are overpaid.

I would recommend that they read my book Reign of Error, in which I thoroughly debunk merit pay. It has been tried again and again for a century, and it has never worked. It’s one of those zombie ideas that never works and never dies.

Dale C. Farran was one of the lead researchers in a study of the effects of an academic pre-kindergarten program in Tennessee. The study concluded that the children who participated in the program eventually fell behind those in the control group who were not in the program.

In an article on the blog of DEY (Defending the Early Years), Farran expressed her views about child development. She used the metaphor of an iceberg.

She wrote:

Years ago, few teachers believed that children should be taught to read in kindergarten; a more recent survey shows that 80% of kindergarten teachers now think children should know how to read before leaving the grade.

As recently as 1993 the great majority of kindergarten teachers did not believe an academic focus in preschool was important for children’s school success.

However, concern for the “fade out” of pre-kindergarten effects has led several researchers and policy makers to argue for a stronger academic focus in those classrooms, including the use of an intentional scripted, academically focused curriculum.

Not only do effects from pre-k classrooms fade, but also results from one study of the longitudinal effects of pre-k attendance conducted by my colleagues and me demonstrated that in the long run the effects turned negative.

A greater focus on academics for three- and four- year-olds is not the solution.

As an author of the recent paper on long term effects and as a primary investigator on the only randomized control trial of a statewide pre-k program with longitudinal data, and, finally, as a developmental psychologist whose career focused on young children’s development, I have thought extensively about what the causes of these unexpected effects might be.

I AM PROPOSING AN “ICEBERG MODEL OF EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL COMPETENCIES.”


The tip of the iceberg, the section floating above the surface, is composed of things that are easily measured.

These types of skills have recently been characterized as “constrained” skills meaning they are finite and definable.

All standard school readiness assessments focus on these types of skills.

But they do so because assessors believe that the skills represent deeper competencies.

They measure these skills somewhat like taking a finger-prick for evidence of the information the assessments provide into other more important characteristics of children.

BOTH THE FOCUS OF CURRENT PRE-K PROGRAMS AND THE PEDAGOGICAL STRATEGIES EMPLOYED FOCUS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY ON THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG SKILLS.

Many who have been in early childhood for a long time testify to the changes in classrooms.

I believe these changes are accelerated by the process of subsuming preschool into the K-12 system.

In many states the department of education administers the pre-kindergarten program, and the program behaves like an additional grade level below kindergarten – the classrooms are open for the school day (5-6 hours a day) and the school calendar (9 months a year).

The classrooms are most often in elementary schools, where the push down from the K- 12 system is almost impossible to avoid.

Many of the elementary schools are older and unsuitable for younger children – no bathroom connected to the classroom, the requirement to have meals in the large cafeteria, and no appropriate playground.

These physical features mean that children spend a lot of time transitioning from the classroom, necessitating a high level of teacher control as children walk through the halls and endure long wait times.

Descriptions from a number of large studies of the instructional strategies used in current pre-k classrooms show them to be dominated by whole group instruction focused on basic skills (the tip of the iceberg).

TEACHERS TALK AT CHILDREN A MAJORITY OF THE TIME, SELDOM LISTENING TO CHILDREN, AND MULTI-TURN CONVERSATIONS ARE A RARE OCCURRENCE.

Learning opportunities that involve other than right-answer questions are almost never observed, and a high level of negative control from teachers characterizes many classrooms.

This content focus and the teaching strategies, I argue result in a detachment of the tip of the iceberg from the deeper skills under the surface.

Thus, children can score well on school readiness skills at the end of pre-k – especially on those related to literacy – but not maintain any advantage by the end of kindergarten when all children attain these skills with or without pre-k experience.

The tip of the iceberg skills no longer symbolizes those under the surface.

They are no longer the visible and measurable aspects of more important competencies.

Only when the deeper skills are enhanced should we expect continued progress based on early experiences.

A very different set of experiences likely facilitates the development of those deeper skills.

We have known for many years that the developmental period between four and six years is a critical one.

Neuroscience confirmed the importance of this period for the development of the pre-frontal cortex.

The pre-frontal cortex is involved in many of the skills described in the model as being below the surface.

Research does not provide good evidence for which experiences facilitate the development of important skills like curiosity, persistence, or working memory.

But research has demonstrated the importance of these kinds of skills for long term development.

For instance, some argue that early attention skills are more important than early academic skills as predictors of long-term school success including the likelihood of attending college.

In a large longitudinal study, researchers identified the importance of the development of internal self-control during the ages of four to six.

Some children with initially low self- control developed self-control during early childhood and had subsequent better outcomes via what the researchers called a “natural history change.”

Whether an intervention-induced change would yield the same positive outcomes is an open question.

So far, no early childhood curriculum has been able to bring about sustained changes in self-control or any of the below- the-surface skills listed above.

WHAT IS CLEAR IS THAT CHILDREN FROM MORE AFFLUENT HOMES ENTER KINDERGARTEN SCORING HIGHER ON SCHOOL READINESS SKILLS.

Moreover, they maintain that advantage across the school years.

But they did not learn those “readiness” skills from a didactic pre-k experience.

While these children may have had magnetic alphabet letters to play with, for example, parents did not sit them down in front of the refrigerator and force them to learn the letters.

Most of those tip-of-the-iceberg skills were learned through a variety of experiences and the opportunity to learn through interactions with adults and friends.

For these children, measuring the tip does provide information about the beneath the surface competencies that are so important.

Guidance may come from comparing the developmental contexts of families who are economically secure to the pre-k classroom context.

Children of economically secure families are more likely to succeed in school, more likely to matriculate in a two or four year college and more likely to graduate when they enter….

GOVERNMENTS IN MOST HIGHLY DEVELOPED COUNTRIES HEAVILY SUBSIDIZE THE CARE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN PRIOR TO SCHOOL AGE.

Nordic countries all provide a child supplement to parents, which most parents use to offset the modest cost of the government-subsidized group care, care that looks nothing like U.S. pre-k programs.

These programs stress different sorts of competencies in young children, capabilities like “participation” or the ability to be a functioning member of a group (not sitting “criss-cross applesauce” for 20-40 minutes during large group instruction).

The programs stress self-reliance and independence, the ability to make good decisions and to be responsible for one’s actions.

Most of these countries delay formal instruction in academic skills until children are six or seven. Their children do quite well in international comparisons in the later grades.

Concerns about the accelerating academic focus in early childcare education are being voiced by many.

I hope this “iceberg” model will provide a useful visual depiction of the danger of concentrating on basic skills instruction in pre-k.

I hope also that it will help people understand why getting early childhood right is so important and the imperative need to fix the childcare situation in the U.S. for families of poor children – in fact for all our children.

Pre-k is not the magic bullet policy makers hoped it would be. Quite the contrary. The reason it is not may lie with the unavoidable focus of the program when it becomes part of the K-12 system.

Denisha Jones is a lawyer, an early childhood educator, and a member of the board of DEY (Defending the Early Years). She writes here about the necessity of protecting young children from the resurgence of bad ideas. The worst of these bad ideas is standardized testing.

She writes:

As protectors of childhood, we have a duty to resist bad ideas, policies, and laws and be as vocal in our resistance as the proponents are in their insistence.

Though the effects of standardized testing have permeated certain aspects of childhood, young children typically are immune to mandated standardized testing.

When the testing accountability era began with No Child Left Behind, children below third grade escaped the yearly testing requirement.

This does not mean young children are not subject to many assessments as many schools give practice tests to first graders, but children in grades K-2 rarely take national standardized tests.

Five days into the new year, a proponent of standardized testing argues for beginning the NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) tests in kindergarten.

He argues that since advances in technology make it feasible to mass test young children on iPads and computers, we should collect more data in the early years.

Though many feel that NAEP is a good standardized test because it only tests a sample of students, even if this bad idea became the norm, it would only impact a sample of young children.

A THREAT TO SOME CHILDREN’S CHILDHOOD IS A THREAT TO ALL CHILDREN’S CHILDHOOD.

Testing children in kindergarten is a bad idea, period.

We do not need more tests to know what young children learn in school.

More tests lead to more scripted curriculums, teacher-led instruction, and less time to play, explore, and discover.

Please open her article and read it all.

Writing in Psychology Today, Peter Gray reviewed the longitudinal study by Vanderbilt researchers of the effects of pre-kindergarten classes on low-income children.

He noted that the long-term effects were negative.

He usefully points out that the German government conducted a similar study in the 1970s:

The German government was trying to decide whether it would be a good idea, or not, to start teaching academic skills in kindergarten rather than maintain kindergarten as purely a place for play, stories, singing, and the like, as it had always been before. So, they conducted a controlled experiment involving 100 kindergarten classrooms. They introduced some academic training into 50 of them and not into the other 50.

The graduates of academic kindergartens performed better on academic tests in first grade than the others, but the difference subsequently faded, and by fourth grade they were performing worse than the others on every measure in the study. Specifically, they scored more poorly on tests of reading and arithmetic and were less well-adjusted socially and emotionally than the controls.

The Germans, unlike we Americans, paid attention to the science. They followed the data and abandoned plans for academic training in kindergarten. They have stuck with that decision ever since.

The newly reported Tennessee study of pre-K was carefully designed and focused on academic skills.

Yet the students in the academic-intensive pre-K program fell behind the control group in later years.

The major findings of the study are that this expensive, carefully planned pre-K program caused, by 6th grade, reduced performance on all academic achievement tests, a sharp increase in learning disorders, and much more rule violation and behavioral offenses than occurred in the control group….

The most striking finding in the study, to me, is the large increase in diagnosed learning disorders in the pre-K group. It seems possible that this increase is the central finding, though the authors of the report don’t make that claim. Previously I’ve discussed evidence that learning disorders can be produced by early academic pressure (here) and evidence that being labeled with a learning disorder can, through various means, become a self-fulfilling prophesy and result in poorer academic performance than would have occurred without the diagnosis (here). It would be interesting to know if the deficit in achievement test scores was entirely the result of poor performance by those diagnosed with a learning disorder.

A related possibility is that the early academic training resulted in shallow learning of the skills, sufficient to pass the pre-K and kindergarten tests but which interfered with subsequent deeper learning (an idea I discussed here). That could account for the finding that the deficit produced by pre-K grew over the years. As years go on, success on tests may depend increasingly on real understanding, so anything that blocks such understanding might show up more in later grades than earlier ones.

Another possibility is that the pre-K academic grind and pressure caused children to develop a hatred and rebellious attitude toward school. This might account for the increased rule-breaking and offensive behavior of the pre-K group as they went through elementary school. The same rebelliousness might also have caused the children to take their lessons less seriously, which could, over the years, result in an ever-greater gap between them and the controls in test scores.

Still another possibility is that the deficit shown by the pre-K group was caused not so much by what was done in pre-K as by what did not happen there. Four-year-olds need lots of time to play, create, socialize, take initiative, figure things out on their own, and learn to manage themselves. The time spent in academic training is time that they cannot spend on learning the much more important skills that come from self-directed activities. Perhaps the pre-K children were less prepared for school, especially the later grades of school, because they had not had the usual opportunities to learn how to manage themselves before starting school. This suggestion is consistent with previous research showing better long-term outcomes for play-based preschools and kindergartens than for those that have an academic component (here).

I suspect that all these hypotheses have some validity…Regardless of the mechanism, it is now abundantly clear that we should stop even thinking about teaching academics to tots. We should finally make the decision that the Germans made half a century ago and stop formal academic training for children below age 6.

How likely is it that our policymakers will learn from the science?

IMPORTANT!!! K-2 Testing Bill (PROHIBITING K-2 Testing) will be heard TOMORROW!!


Subject: Alert: Sign witness slip in support of this bill–Senate Bill 3986

SB3986 will be heard in the Senate Ed Committee tomorrow.

Slip is here bit.ly/SB3986feb8 and post to share with others https://www.ilfps.org/senate_hearing_sb_3986

If you believe that required testing of children in pre-kindergarten through grade two (other than testing for diagnostic purposes) is not needed for students in today’s schools, please sign in as a PROPONENT to support this bill!

Senate Bill 3986—Pacione Zayas.

Amends the School Code. Prohibits the State Board of Education from developing, purchasing, or requiring a school district to administer, develop, or purchase a standardized assessment for students enrolled or preparing to enroll in prekindergarten through grade 2, other than for diagnostic purposes. Prohibits the State Board of Education from providing funding for any standardized assessment of students enrolled or preparing to enroll in prekindergarten through grade 2. Effective immediately.

Paul Bonner, who recently retired as a principal in Alabama, wrote the following comment as part of a discussion of administering NAEP to kindergartners.

He wrote:

One of the experiences that made me aware that my time with public education was coming to an end was when our district began testing kindergartners. I would walk into kindergarten classrooms and watch students struggle and often cry over the inability to navigate iPads. I would leave those classrooms shaken to the core. The students who could work with the devices were not making decisions about correct answers but through simply getting the program to move from question to question. Almost none of these students could understand what the test was asking them to do. This angered me significantly because what we were focusing on ignored the activities that were needed to build an actual foundational developmental standard. No focus on gross and fine motor skill development or social and emotional growth. No test below third grade will give us meaningful understanding of what children actually know and that really is beside the point. The poor quality of most of the tests I have seen keep us from understanding what those form third grade through twelve understand! What we are doing to children, or being asked to do, is criminal and a denial of how the brain can get to a point of meaningful inquiry. The fact that people who have no experience with child development and have done no meaningful study of the early brain, provides further evidence that our society and polity has no appreciation for the professional approach required to raise children to become successful adults. It just seems to be getting worse. I am absolutely appalled to see another presidential administration and the plethora of state governments that refuse to see the damage they are doing. This predatory capitalism that has so infected education, and all of governance, just might result in the same effect led poisoning had on Rome.

Experienced teacher Nancy Bailey opposes Michael Petrilli’s proposal to give NAEP tests to kindergartners. Petrilli, who is president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute made this proposal in Education Next.

Petrilli recognizes that the typical 5-year-old can’t read and probably can’t hold a pencil but thinks there is value in online visual tests. He argues that it’s a mistake to delay NAEP until 4th grade, because policymakers are “left in the dark” about what children know by age 5.

He writes:

Grades K–3 are arguably the most critical years of a child’s education, given what we know about the importance of early-childhood development and early elementary-school experiences. This is when children are building the foundational skills they’ll need in the years ahead. One report found that kids who don’t read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school later on. Why do we wait until after the most important instructional and developmental years to find out how students are faring?

Petrilli assumes that knowing test scores leads to solutions. I question that. We have been testing random samples of 4th and 8th graders (and sometimes seniors) since the early 1970s, and the information about test scores has not pointed to any solutions. After 50 years, we should know what needs to be done. We don’t, or at best, we disagree. Since 2010, test scores have been stubbornly flat. Does this mean that the Common Core and Race to the Top failed? Depends on whom you ask. It’s hard for me to see what educational purpose would be served by testing a random sample of kindergartners online.

Bailey doesn’t see what the purpose is. She points out that Petrilli was never a teacher of young children. He never was a teacher, period. He is an author and a think tank leader who champions conservative causes.

She writes:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) randomly assesses students across the country in math and reading in grades 4 and 8, and in civics and U.S. History in grade 8 and Long-Term Trend for age 9, but it doesn’t test kindergartners. Why should it? Why is the testing of kindergartners necessary? The answer is it isn’t.

Suppose we learn that 52% of kindergartners recognize the color red. Suppose we learn that 38% recognize a square. Suppose we learn that 63% recognize an elephant. So what? Why does any of this matter?

Bailey writes:

The best assessment of this age group is accomplished through observation, by well-prepared early childhood educators who understand the appropriate development of children this age, who can collect observational data through notes and checklists as children play and socialize with their peers.

Who needs the information that might be collected about a random sample of kindergarten children? What would they do with it?

It’s a puzzlement.

Leonie Haimson assesses Bill de Blasio’s record on education after eight years as Maor of New York City. He succeeded Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who served for 12 years and completely upended the schools, first, by getting the state legislature to give the mayor total control of the city’s public schools, then by closing scores of schools and replacing them with hundreds of small schools and charter schools. De Blasio had served on a local school board and offered the hope of restoring stability and ending Bloomberg’s era of constant disruption. (New York City has a two-term limit for its mayor but Bloomberg persuaded the City Council to make an exception for him and themselves).

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reviews de Blasio’s record here.

She begins:

When he first ran for Mayor, Bill de Blasio portrayed himself as a leader who would make a host of progressive changes in our schools. He promised to be a far different leader than Michael Bloomberg, who had expanded high-stakes testing, proceeded to grade teachers and schools primarily via test scores, closed dozens of public schools displacing thousands of students, and helped charter schools expand in their place.

Bloomberg and his schools chancellors had done all this by ignoring community opposition, and despite any tangible evidence that this was the right way to improve education, particularly for disadvantaged students. Though Bloomberg had promised during his campaign to lower New York City schools’ excessive class sizes, they increased sharply during his administration, and by the time he left office he said he would “double the class size” if he could, and that would be “a good deal for the students.”

De Blasio said he would do things differently: to listen to and be responsive to parent and community concerns, de-emphasize test scores, and focus on improving public schools rather than providing space and funding to help charter schools expand. Instead of closing schools, he pledged to increase equity and strengthen learning conditions, including by lowering class sizes.

And yet his record on each of these issues was decidedly mixed. He did attain his primary goal in education – to provide universal, publicly-funded pre-kindergarten to every four-year-old, but in a manner that could have been better achieved, as will be discussed later.

There were some bright spots in the de Blasio record, including the Community Schools initiative, begun in the fall of 2014, in which schools partnered with community-based organizations to provide after-school programs, mental health supports, and other resources. By 2018, more than 200 community schools had been established. An independent study found that in these schools, there were lower rates of chronic absenteeism, more students graduating on time, and in elementary and middle schools, higher math scores and fewer disciplinary referrals.

Open the link to read the rest of this important article.