Currently the mandatory ages of attendance in an educational setting in New York State are from 6 to 16. There is an early education policy in NYS for 5 year olds but a parent may opt out for this age (I asked my students to raise their hands if they ever attended Pre-K or K, and surprise, surprise, more than half of each of my classes had not). As a result, NYS's children are already FAR behind those who do attend pre-k or k where they learn fundamental social, behavioral and academic skills essential to becoming a successfully functioning person.
Let me just paint a picture for you...
Imagine a child walking into first grade unaware of how to keep his/her hands to him/herself, or never having seen the alphabet, surrounded by children who learned to read at age 3 or write their name by age 4 and learned to use the bathroom themselves, or to respect their neighbor's pencils. Imagine what challenges this creates for the 1st grade teacher who is mandated to make sure each one of these same children is able to pronounce every combination of syllables and read and write before the 2nd grade. Imagine what challenges this creates for the 7th grade English teacher who, as a result, teaches children reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level IN THE SAME ROOM as children reading at a high school level. Imagine what challenges this creates for a high school Chemistry teacher who teaches some students who still read at a 5th grade level and some who can read college-level chemistry text. In reality, while the low-level students hopefully are receiving a remedial education to correct years of an "achievement gap," the high-level students aren't challenged or given the opportunity to learn at the rate they are capable. The achievement gap begins in early education, and thus, continues through higher education.
Just take a look at this short and cute video made by a TFA pre-k teacher.
For years, NYS has been aware of this gaping problem in the system, however, the situation remains the same: children throughout the state are STILL not being given the opportunity to take advantage of the most sentient learning stages of their lives.
The Legislature was in Albany on November 16th, to address Governor Paterson's Deficit Reduction Plan. Because Paterson did not come up with a bill that they could act on, the meeting will reconvene THIS Monday, November 23. Legislators will be either accepting or rejecting the Governor’s across-the-board budget cuts. These proposed cuts will negatively impact early care and learning in New York State, particularly home visiting programs (which are crucial, especially to low-income low-socioeconomic households)! NYS "can't afford" pre-k or k, so hey, let's not make it mandatory! In fact, LET'S CUT THE BUDGET EVEN MORE. Ridiculous? I think so.
Please contact your representatives and voice your concerns. Click here for a message you can send to your legislators.
Some of you may remember, however, that Van and Shawn mentioned that personalized letters and phone calls are much more effective than sending a general message (Shawn: "We actually read your letters and take them seriously, especially if they're tied to your personal experience/story"). So I propose throwing letter-writing parties :) Tonight I'll be bringing some paper and pens to "Girls' Night Out" and hopefully effecting some change in the midst of having a good time with my friends.
Not sure where to send your letter or who to call? Easy peasy. Type your zip code here, and find the contact info for your Assembly person (if you live in NY). You can also find contact info for our Senators (if you live in NY) here.
For my penny, I would say education is the answer to just about any problem (poverty, racism, health issues, etc.). So please think about ways to make EARLY EDUCATION a prime concern for our legislators. And most importantly, please spread the word!