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Montgomery Co. Ends Kindergarten Wars ... or Not

This week, Montgomery County, Md., schools are getting what seems to be much-deserved buzz for their efforts to ensure equity of outcome for all county kids, regardless of socioeconomic status.

A new report from the Foundation for Childhood Development and the Pew-funded Pre-K Now campaign details how the district has achieved some impressive stats:

  • 77 percent of high school graduates enroll in college;
  • 88 percent of third-graders read proficiently; and
  • almost 90 percent of kindergartners enter 1st grade with early literacy skills.

To get there, the district set a goal of 80 percent of students scoring 1625 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT, then worked backwards from high school to pre-K to set standards and develop instructional strategies that would get the kids where they needed to be.

Sounds good, right?

Basically, yes. But one line in the report caught my eye: "Working backward
from the ultimate goal of college readiness put a stop to philosophical battles about what was taught in kindergarten and pre-K. The false dichotomy of academic preparation versus play prevalent in early learning was reframed with the guiding question: What do our children need for both healthy cognitive and social-emotional development in the early years so they can succeed throughout school and be ready for college?"

Over at Early Stories, Liz Willen makes the point that it would be worth talking to parents about pre-K and how satisfied they are. As it happens, I have a friend in MoCo whose son just started kindergarten this week. He didn't do district pre-K, but his mom's report back from kindergarten open house quickly quashed in my mind the notion that the district has neatly solved the problem of how to balance play and learning. She informs us that kindergartners enjoy 90 minutes of math and 60 minutes of reading daily, and that there's no time for snack or a nap. And this is full-day kindergarten!

Seems to me what the district really said to teachers was: More time in pre-K, where you play, means more time for academics in kindergarten. Maybe this is a minor quibble in the laudable quest to get kids ready for college, but I'm still quibbling.

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