ERIC Identifier: ED321890
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Cummings, Carolyn
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL.
Appropriate Public School Programs for Young Children.
Public school districts are examining practices in early childhood education
in response to recommendations about school entry, developmentally appropriate
curriculum, testing, and reform in elementary schools. Current research
and positions (see reference list) are critical of the practices of:
*denying entry to kindergarten,
*assigning children to differentiated kindergartens and transition first
grades based on results of screening instruments (which are often not standardized),
*using an inflexible, highly structured, teacher-directed curriculum
with many paper and pencil tasks,
*using total-group instruction,
*placing emphasis on skills taught in isolation, and
*using widespread retention, referrals, or assignment to remedial classes
if expectations are not met.
Many public school districts are making changes to ensure that curricula
are responsive to children's developmental needs and programs are responsive
to the more comprehensive needs of children and their families. Each district
needs to consider certain issues in its efforts to provide high-quality
early childhood education. A discussion of these issues follows.
After a school district reviews current research, literature, and position
statements, the district is ready to write a philosophy that is consistent
with its beliefs about young children's development and learning and programs
that are appropriate for young children. It is advisable to have a variety
of people write the philosophy and have the whole staff review it before
it is published. Board of education approval demonstrates the board's commitment
to staff, parents, and the community, and provides a focus for other decisions
relating to the program.
Next, districts or schools can begin to analyze screening and assessment
practices. Schools that once used results of screening to prevent children
from entry or to assign them to an extra year of kindergarten now provide
equal access to kindergarten based on the state's chronological age requirement.
These schools offer developmentally appropriate kindergartens to all children
of entry age, and use screening only to plan programs for children.
Curriculum includes the concepts and information children are expected
to learn and the manner in which they learn. Arrangement of the physical
learning environment, learning materials, schedules, learning centers,
small group projects, and integrated, thematic learning experiences all
provide ways for children to learn.
Schedules need to provide for long periods of uninterrupted time for
children to make choices about their learning and work alone or in small
groups. Supplementary staff members, such as art and music teachers and
Chapter I consultants, should be encouraged to work with children in the
classroom setting rather than teach or present content to children for
15-20 minute segments, often in isolation from the total group.
Content should be integrated and relevant so that children learn in
lifelike situations. Such situations involve the use of concrete experiences
and real materials. Money that was previously spent on workbooks, ditto
paper, and textbook series can instead be used to purchase open-ended materials
for the classroom.
When in-depth development of concepts is promoted and children are no
longer expected to master isolated skills and lists of facts, changes will
need to be made in the manner in which achievement is reported to parents.
Report cards listing bits of information and letter or symbol grades are
considered inappropriate for young children. Reports should emphasize what
children can do rather than what they cannot. Anecdotal records and samples
of children's work can be used. Achievement tests that measure specific
skills are no longer considered valid measures of what children have learned.
The curriculum and methods used to assess progress are no longer thought
to be synonymous with the textbook series or grade-level achievement tests
that have been used in the past.
Because many public school teachers have not had preservice training
in dealing with young children and state certification requirements for
teaching primary grades differ markedly, many teachers need information
and training about developmental needs of young children. Many need to
learn about setting up activity areas, managing children during child-choice
time, organizing small group projects, and integrating learning activities.
Strategies and techniques used with young children differ from those used
in the upper elementary grades. An elementary teacher does not always have
the skills and confidence necessary to teach children of 3-8 years. Districts
cannot assume that all teachers are prepared to make the changes that they
will need to make in order to improve the quality of programs. Districts
must provide not only information and training, but also materials and
time for planning and group problem solving.
In high-quality early childhood programs there is a frequent exchange
of information between parent and school about the child, parenting, education,
and community services. Parents take an active part in their child's program
and make decisions about their child's learning. Each district and each
school needs to have a commitment and action plan for parent involvement.
The plan should provide opportunities for staff training and planning by
COLLABORATION WITH THE COMMUNITY
Public schools need to broaden the idea of education by collaborating
with other programs and agencies in the community to provide the best programs
for children and their families. For example, schools can meet young families'
needs for before- and after-school child care by offering alternatives
in transportation, scheduling, or building use. School and business partnerships
may provide for alternative scheduling that allows for increased contributions
for child care or parent involvement. Staff and parents can increase their
awareness of available services for families by working with other agencies
in the community. Such collaboration may even result in services being
made available at the school site.
There are many advantages to a partnership between public school staff
and staff from other private and public programs for young children for
the purpose of professional development. A collegial partnership in which
information and expectations are shared can help parents and children make
smooth transitions from one program to another.
WAYS TO SUSTAIN PROGRAMS
Public schools need to make plans to support and sustain changes that
are made. Schools can schedule time for grade-level meetings to assess
changes and make further improvements. A professional development plan
and an evaluation component can also be established.
Public schools can make changes to better meet the needs of young children.
Such changes need to be carefully planned and based on research and theory
about what is appropriate for young children. Changes should be supported
by commitment from the district's decision-makers and time for planning,
training, and problem-solving. Each change can be implemented over a period
of time so that those involved have time to make preparations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredekamp, S. (ed.). "Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early
Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8." Washington,
DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1987.
Bridgman, A. "Early Childhood Education and Child Care: Challenges and
Opportunities for America's Public Schools." Arlington, VA: American Association
of School Administrators, 1989.
National Association for Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments
of Education. "Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement."
National Association for the Education of Young Children. "Position
Statement on Standardized Testing of Young Children 3 through 8 Years of
Age." Washington, DC, 1988.
National Association of State Boards of Education. "Right from the Start:
The Report of the NASBE Task Force on Early Childhood Education." Alexandria,
Warger, C. (ed.). "A Resource Guide of Public School Involvement in
Early Childhood Education." Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development, 1988.