Eduardo Porter writes about kindergarten: In yesterday’s New York Times, Eduardo Porter devoted his weekly column to the potential rewards of early education, especially for low-income kids.
Eventually, he touches a topic we have questioned before. He paints a picture of low-income kids on their first day traditional school, the day they begin kindergarten:
PORTER (4/3/13): Research by Mr. Heckman and others confirms that investment in the early education of disadvantaged children pays extremely high returns down the road. It improves not only their cognitive abilities but also crucial behavioral traits like sociability, motivation and self-esteem.They key word there is “profitably.”
Studies that have followed children through their adult lives confirm enormous payoffs for these investments, whether measured in improved success in college, higher income or even lower incarceration rates.
The costs of not making these investments are also clear. Julia Isaacs, an expert in child policy at the Urban Institute in Washington, finds that more than half of poor 5-year-olds don't have the math, reading or behavioral skills needed to profitably start kindergarten. If children keep arriving in school with these deficits, no amount of money or teacher evaluations may be enough to improve their lot later in life.
The 5-year-old children who lack those skills are in fact able to start kindergarten, and of course they do. But they can’t profitably start kindergarten. This takes us back to a question we’ve wondered about for decades:
What happens to these kids when they arrive in kindergarten? What happens to them on their first day of school?
In the years we taught in Baltimore’s schools, we were struck by the way low-income kids are constantly asked to do more than they’re ready or able to do. They’re given textbooks they can’t really read. They may be confronted with math instruction for which they aren’t prepared.
This creates endless confusion and frustration. We always wondered how early this starts. At some point, we began to wonder if it possibly starts on their very first day in school, they day they begin kindergarten.
Is that where the confusion starts?
In all the years since we left those schools, we don’t think we’ve ever read a discussion of this general problem—the giant, omnipresent problem we saw in Baltimore's schools. The well-known “educational experts” never seem to talk about problems like this. They are closeted in their offices, explaining why they didn’t predict the latest completely foreseeable public school disaster.
But how about it? What about the kids who aren’t ready to “profitably” start kindergarten? What happens to them on the first day of school?
Some day, Thomas L. Friedman and the other tools will be told what to say in response to that question. Due to their lack of expected skills, are those kids introduced to confusion on their very first day in school?