Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pre-preschool and curriculum "push down"

The following is a guest post from Lindsey Wright, who writes for Online Schools (which has many articles related to all parts of education - well worth reading if you are interested!).  Lindsey contacted me recently to see if I would publish the following article about a little of what's wrong with our current education system.  I'm interested to read your comments!  And please check out the links she has included - I found a couple of them fascinating.

The once carefree environment of preschool is slowly eroding as school curriculum is being pushed down grade by grade in an effort to meet goals set to accommodate standardized testing. It’s beginning to seem like preschool is the true start of a child’s academic career, which begs the question: will preschool no longer be enough? Will kids be have to attend pre-preschool in order to be properly prepared?

The Test Score Conundrum

In recent years, evaluation of student performance has increasingly been based on standardized test scores rather than overall comprehension of curriculum. Test scores have become the benchmark for determining if a school or program of online courses is successful. Little or no attention is paid to student demographics, involvement of parents in education, or other similar factors that may affect a child’s overall academic career. Even teacher performance is being viewed as “good” or “bad” depending on how well his or her students do on standardized tests. Government funding programs use these scores as the basis for which districts get money and which need to “improve” before aid is given.

All of these factors put a great deal of pressure on school administrators and educators to produce higher test scores. This pressure is ultimately transferred to students at all grade levels. Tests are evolving to include more difficult material at younger ages, forcing kids to attempt to process facts and concepts that they may not be developmentally or cognitively prepared to learn. In addition, kids are spending more time reviewing what will be on tests, taking tests, and getting ready for the next test than they are actually learning anything. The once comprehensive school curriculum is giving way to a standards-choked pedagogy that involves little more than teaching to the test. Rather than receiving true education, kids are caught up in what amounts to adults' attempts to manipulate the test score system.

Curriculum Push-down

The curriculum push-down is a gradual but ongoing process that seems to have sped up in recent years. Much of it is driven by the perceived need to produce higher test scores, leading to the idea that kids have to learn as much as possible at a young age in order to be successful at later tests. The expectations for what children should be academically capable of at any given time are steadily climbing. Homework is becoming the norm in grades where it used to be unheard of. Preschools are beginning to send home lists of required school supplies, and some states are even toying with the idea of requiring young children to attend pre-K programs.

The irony of all this lies in the fact that the standards set by tests were meant to improve academic performance and put America’s children on par with those in other countries. But test scores have become such a centralized focus of the very curriculum that is being foisted upon young children that it is having the opposite effect. This may be due in part to the fact that the course of childhood development remains as it's always been while the education system changes over the years. What children can and can’t process at an early age isn’t any different than it was before the curriculum push-down began. Being expected to learn and retain complex concepts before they’re ready can cause unhealthy frustration in kids that may result in behavioral problems later on. And those who struggle the most may wind up saddled with labels like “slow” or “failure” before ever reaching kindergarten. Such labels haunt kids throughout their academic careers and can color their perceptions of school as a whole, leading to higher rates of grade retention and dropout.

The Demise of Childhood

Although some early childhood education programs have shown promise, it seems that test score obsession and curriculum push-down have a negative effect on children overall. Early years of development that were once spent exploring the world and learning important life skills through discovery, play, and interaction are now being taken up with academics.

In short, kids are rarely allowed to be kids anymore. With kindergarteners being expected to understand what was once first grade material, parents are pressured by the idea that preschool is necessary to prepare their children for an academic career. The idea of pre-preschool isn’t far behind. Parents now face a conundrum: if kids have to know kindergarten material at a preschool age, are they going to need schooling even earlier in order to meet the standards set by today’s test-based education system?

The continuing downward push of curriculum into lower grades may be threatening the well-being of today’s kids. Scrambling to score higher on tests undermines true learning and points to a flawed education system. The idea of trying to prepare kids at pre-preschool ages for what was one kindergarten curriculum may very well have a negative impact on coming generations.


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