How Not to Talk About "Rigor" In Pre-K
It's a very good thing that the administration's definition of pre-k quality includes quality curriculum and not just teacher qualifications and class sizes. Rich content is an important and woefully overlooked component of quality pre-k experience (see here for more on that). But including the words "a rigorous curriculum" for 4-year-olds was a mistake. Quality pre-k programs absolutely need a clearly articulated, intentional curriculum that focuses on rich language experiences and content that predicts school readiness and includes teacher led instruction as one component of a context that also emphasizes play, center time, and small group activities. And lots of current preschool programs do fall short on the content and instructional component. But calling high-quality pre-k curriculum "rigorous" only feeds into a set of misapprehensions about both what quality pre-k advocates are trying to do (no, we don't want to eliminate play from pre-k or push an exclusively academic focus), and what quality preschool looks like. That's problematic for two reasons: First, because it raises people's hackles and creates an objection to quality pre-k that didn't need to exist here. Second, because an under-acknowledged quality program in pre-k today is that a lot of well-intentioned but inadequately prepared pre-k teachers sincerely want to improve their students' school readiness and equate that with worksheets, sitting at desks, and drilling in ABCs. That's not, though, what quality pre-k means or what advocates of quality pre-k want and it's not helpful to suggest that it is. I hope the administration clarifies that one soon.
I could say a lot more about the "quality standards" included in the administration's more detailed early childhood proposal (as in, I strongly believe we need to raise both the bar and compensation for pre-k teachers, but is it really an appropriate federal role to insist that preschool teachers be paid "comparably to K-12 staff"?), and I probably will soon.