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How to Stop the Learning Drop: Two Perspectives

A key question for early-childhood research and practice is how to prevent the dropoff in academic gains that studies show often happens when children transition from pre-K to kindergarten and the primary grades.

On Friday, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Texas, Houston, released a report, "Lifting PreK Quality: Caring and Effective Teachers," that indicates improving teacher instruction is a more effective strategy in improving preschool quality than regulating the credentials of teachers, capping class sizes, and even setting child-teacher ratios. The researchers recommend mentoring and training preschool teachers to help them plan challenging learning tasks, especially related to language development and pre-literacy skills.

After looking at this report, I emailed Dr. Cheryl Roberts, who will be moderating a panel on PreK-3 later this week at the annual NAEYC conference, to ask: Are these researchers asking the right question? Others argue the underlying reason for the dropoff is lack of support in kindergarten and grades 1-3. What do you think?

Here's what she said, edited for length:

Teacher training is only one component needed to address the growing concern for sustaining achievement gains made during the early years. Early childhood covers the ages of birth through age 8 for a reason. More so than at any other time in their development children are growing at different rates. But K-12 schools of education don't seem to get this. From my experience as a college professor working with teacher training programs, I can say K-12 teachers often do not learn the importance of environments, those from which children come and those in which they learn
best. They do not know why children do what they do, how they learn, and the
vital importance of parents as partners in the learning process. And they do
not have enough mentored classroom experience before they are on their own
to ensure that every child in their class is functioning at or above grade level.

In a report for the Foundation for Child Development, Arthur Reynolds, Katherine Magnuson, and Suh-Ruu Ou review research on the six areas associated with pre-K-3 organization and the impact on school success. They are:
preschool, full-day kindergarten, reduced class size in the primary grades, parental involvement, reduced school mobility, and teacher quality and classroom environment.

Appropriate and comprehensive teacher preparation is essential—and not just in pre-K—but it is only one of the critical components needed to sustain achievement and the joy of learning. As a kindergarten teacher, I would beg my principal to allow me to follow my K's through third grade. It was painful to see their learning curves cave and their love of learning die.

Long-term school success cannot be achieved by treating isolated components
of the teaching/learning process. It's like trying to treat a hemorrhage with a Band-Aid. We have an amazing opportunity to implement true educational reform that begins with a pre-K-3rd grade continuum.

For more on this topic, see Sara Mead's recent post on improving pre-K quality.

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