Nov 21, 2009

Pre-K and Kindergarten NOT compulsory in NYC? Preposterous!

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!


Sue VanHattum said...

Why mandatory? Good preschools may help kids develop, but home environments can be even better. Shouldn't the parents decide which works best for their family?

That video was interesting. It looks great overall, but 20 kids per class?! That sounds huge to me - we're talking about 4-year-olds. Family day cares have a limit of 12 kids (here in Cali).

Krizia said...

In either case, whether pre-k or k is mandatory or not, there is no priority in the budget for early childhood education in NYC. I work in the Bronx where the reality is that many parents work 2 or 3 jobs. Furthermore, many of my students come from homes where parents are substance abusers, verbal or physical abusers, or where many are simply just victims of neglect. A good number of our students also come from foster homes which, needless to say, aren't always the best environments for raising a child.

I understand your perspective and I do agree with you to an extent. But from my experience as a teacher in NYC, the need for at least a focus on early childhood education is great. I'm not calling for mandatory pre-school or kindergarten (although IMPO it's what I would have liked for my students, especially my low-levels). I'm just asking my legislators not to take away even further from the budget.

Furthermore, if you read one of the links I included, "NYS has been aware of this gaping problem in the system," pre-k and k would be universal, but you'll see that there would still be an option for parents to opt-out if they'd like:

§ Parents or guardians who seek to delay their child’s entrance into school, for one year only, or until the child is six years-of-age by September 1, may submit a Request for a Waiver from the Compulsory School-Age Requirement.

§ The written waiver request should include the child’s name, date of birth and gender, as well as the parental reason for requesting the waiver, and be submitted to the local school superintendent on or before April 30 of the school year immediately preceding the school year for which the waiver request is being made.

In response to your comment about the size of the class, that video was actually made by a pre-K teacher in Half Moon Bay, California. Perhaps the presence of 2 teachers for 20 students makes it so they are not out of compliance? I'm not sure. I do know that in NYC, there must be 1 teacher for every x amount of children. I'm not currently an early childhood educator, although I did teach first grade for a bit, so I'm not sure what the ideal student-to-teacher ratio would be in a pre-k or k setting.

Thank you for your insightful question and comments, and I do hope we can extend this conversation.

Sue VanHattum said...

I realized after I posted that my comment was a bit unclear. I know Half Moon Bay - it's pretty close to where I am. I think there are entirely different rules for home-based care versus care in other settings.

I understand the issues you're talking about, and for many kids a big class is likely better than none.

But I was confused at first by the video, because I thought she was going to talk about problems with the system when she started out by saying there were 20 kids. When she talked about the cool stuff, I was thinking about how it could be even better if it were smaller.

The question of mandatory versus not is important to me.

I know plenty of homeschoolers who'd bristle at having to request a waiver in order to keep their kids home. It's not quite the same as simply having the right.

Important issues to work out, so all families can get the best for their kids.

Carrie said...

Wow, I learned so much from reading this post. I had no idea how important it is for children to receive proper education at an early age, and how difficult it will be for them later on if they don't receive fundamental social, behavioural, and academics skills needed in order to be successful. Thank you for sharing this and it's really brought a lot to my attention.

I also wanted to say thank you for your kind words. It really touched my heart, and I'm so happy that you were able to share in my journey and some of my life experiences. Thank you again for stopping by and leaving such a wonderful comment. Hope you hear from you again :) Take care.