The New York Times takes a whole new approach!


Concerning pre-K education: Over the last two months, the New York Times has spilled with reports about pre-K education.

This morning, the paper takes a whole new approach to the subject, in a lengthy report on pre-K.

Here’s the way Kate Taylor started. Can you see what’s different?
TAYLOR (3/13/14): The teacher held up a card with a number on it, then looked at the 4-year-olds waving their hands eagerly in front of her. “Anderson,” she said, calling on a small boy in a blue button-up shirt and a sweater vest.

“Five,” Anderson said, correctly.

“Good boy, Anderson,” the teacher said. Then she turned to the rest of the class. “Are you ready?” she said, and then, “Go!” At that, the children jumped up and down five times as they counted: “One! Two! Three! Four! Five!”

This exercise, which held a prekindergarten class in Brooklyn riveted one morning last week, was not an effort to introduce high-impact aerobics into preschool. It was part of an ambitious experiment involving 4,000 children, lasting more than six years and costing $25 million, and designed to answer a fundamental question: When it comes to preschool, what actually works?
Good God! Week after week, the Times has written about pre-K education—or rather, about the funding of pre-K education. These reports have tracked a political dispute between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio about possible funding mechanisms.

Obviously, the Times is right to cover that topic. Week after week, though, we’ve wondered this:

Do readers notice that a larger question is being ignored?

As the Times covers possible approaches to funding, the public discourse skips a larger question. What can be done to ensure that pre-K education will work—that it will provide the largest possible benefits for the largest number of kids?

What might make universal pre-K work? Today, the Times devotes a report to this foundational question. We doubt that many such reports will follow. On MSNBC, such questions will barely be discussed at all.

Yesterday, we thought about this general question when we read Salon’s interview with Diane Ravitch. Here’s one of the Q-and-As we have in mind:
QUESTION (3/12/14): What is the policy agenda, then, that the Democratic Party should be putting forward on education?

RAVITCH: The policy agenda should be one of equity, which is to direct resources from the federal government to the neediest schools, where the kids have the highest needs.

To insist that every school offer children a full education that includes not only the basics of reading and writing and mathematics, but science and the arts, and for language and history and civics. Make sure that every school in this country is appropriately funded. That is, that it has the resources that it needs for the children it enrolls. That’s just basic. We don’t do that now.
Ravitch is fighting a very strong fight against privatization and in favor of appropriate funding. In our view, her weakness involves classroom practice.

It’s easy to say you want to give each child “a full education.” But what sorts of “full education” work best for kids who come from low-literacy backgrounds?

Ravitch rarely discusses this point. In fairness, you can’t ask Ravitch or anyone else to pursue every possible question. But within our observable national discourse, no one else discusses these questions either.

Here’s another Q-and-A from the Salon interview:
QUESTION: In a piece earlier this year critiquing high-stakes testing, Randi Weingarten maintained her support for the Common Core standards themselves, on the grounds that they are “a set of standards designed to help make the transition from just knowing and memorizing information to having the skills and habits to apply knowledge, which is critically important in today’s world.” Why do you disagree?

RAVITCH: Well, we don’t know that. The fact is, we have no evidence that the Common Core standards are what we say they are until we’ve tried them. They haven’t been tried anywhere, they’ve been tested—and we know that where they’re tested, they cause massive failure. So I would say we need to have more time before we can reach any judgment that they have some miracle cure embedded in them.

I know, and a lot of teachers know, they’re totally inappropriate for children in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade, because when they were written there was no one on various writing committees who was an expert in early childhood education...They’re also totally inappropriate for children who have disabilities— they can’t keep up. There’s an assumption in the Common Core that if you teach everybody the same thing, everybody will progress at the same speed. And that’s not human nature. It doesn’t work that way.
We don't have a particular view about the Common Core. According to Ravitch, the Common Core standards are “totally inappropriate for children who have disabilities—they can’t keep up.”


How do the standards work for kids who may be several years behind traditional grade level? More generally: Given the wide disparity in achievement among American kids, how can any set of standards work for all kids in a single grade?

That last question is amazingly basic. We’re not sure that we have ever seen the question discussed.

It’s relatively easy to talk about pre-K funding questions. If you read the New York Times, you seen many reports on pre-K funding in recent months.

You’ve seen very little about the kind of pre-K which will actually work. In truth, that question is light-years too complex for our floundering, low-skill discourse.


  1. OMB (An excellent post)

    We wonder if anyone notices the difference in BOB's approach.


    1. Do you have any substantive comment about the content of this post? Why are all of your comments meta or personal?

    2. No "why," that's just the nature of douchebaggery.

    3. Well it's obvious the first two don't.

  2. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Arizona), where the "Stand Your Ground Against Queers" law was defeated, the solons in the legislature have decided to give more money to higher achieving schools.

    This, they say, will give underachieving schools an incentive to improve.

  3. A cursory search in ERIC identified several studies of the effectiveness of pre-K programs in addressing low-literacy among low SES kids. That makes me wonder why any state would implement widespread pre-K programs without the professional educators also adopting teacher training and educational practices that reflect this understanding. Why wouldn't districts develop a curriculum, train teachers and implement practices guided by such studies? Are we supposed to assume that education professionals don't know what they are doing?

    It is important to understand that common core and the associated testing are not curriculum and not classroom practices. These are how schools will accomplish the goals dictated by common core. Test results are not the only measure of how much children know used by schools. There are kindergarten level literacy skills tests to figure out which kids need which kinds of intervention.

    I am prepared to believe the common core doesn't reflect knowledge about early childhood development, as Ravitch claims. I don't see how that relates back to what teachers actually do with children in the classroom, because common core is not dictating those things. It is merely assessing how well children function on tests based on those standards. I don't see the point of this post, unless it is that no one is setting standards about what low-literacy kids should know. If that is the case, I do not think having separate standards for low-literacy kids is particularly desirable because it returns us to self-fulfilling prophecies, tracking, and even separate diplomas for kids classified as outside the mainstream. If common core and similar testing programs were not tied to funding, they wouldn't be relevant to kids further from reaching the grade-level standards. I have trouble believing that any teacher is going to blithely attempt to teach material way beyond what children can grasp, instead of adapting to the needs of the specific children in the classroom. Does this truly happen?

  4. Pre-K is effective when it is high quality. High quality means - 1-5 (max) or less, teacher student ratio. Lots of conversation, hands-on activities indoors, and lots of supervised free play and large muscle activities indoors and out. Few books. NO plastic toys. NO electronic media. NO academics. NO tests. NO worksheets. NO direct instruction, period, in fact. This stuff is not a secret. It's how they do it Finland and how they do it in expensive schools the 1- percent send their kids to. The question is whether the states will have the will, knowledge or money to implement it and whether big media companies that support and expect to cash in big time on education "reform" will allow them to.

  5. High quality pre-school education is guaranteed to work. Jumping up and down shouting "one-two-three" not so much.

  6. They tried this very thing -- premature academics -- with Sesame Street 30 years ago. Has blaring out letters and numbers in mechanical fashion like miniature US. Marines really been effective in laying the foundations for higher order thinking? I don't think so.

  7. Shouting slogans, even if they are names of numbers, is no substitute for gentle, low key, individualized conversation. It is that that disadvantaged toddlers lack and that higher SES toddlers get.

  8. Middle class children enter kindergarten with millions more vocabulary than lower SES kinds. How is shouting numbers from one to a hundred -- or whatever - and twenty-six letters going to compensate for that -- that is 126 words versus several million.