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Early Achievement Gaps Must Not be Ignored!

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Recent research has revealed what some of us have long known. The achievement gaps we discover when we begin testing students in kindergarten or the first grade began to manifest much sooner. Researchers at the University of Okefenokee in Florida, led by Dr. Theodore Pogo, have been studying infants and toddlers to see when they master the skills thought to be essential for these ages. Their research has revealed:


  1. Some infants "latch on" right away, while others take quite a bit of instruction in learning how to breast feed.

  2. Some defy the normal "walk at one, talk at two" expectations set by society. The most intelligent children walk at 9 months, and talk at a year and a half.

  3. Some infants lag significantly behind their peers and do not talk until age two, or walk until age two-and-a-half!

baby.JPG

The more advanced children are being intensively studied. Their ability to walk and talk earlier confers significant advantages on them. If they can start walking earlier, their physical development can be "fast-tracked," and thus they can be better prepared for success in kindergarten athletics. Research has shown that students gain confidence from success at such games as tag and playing on the monkey bars. Clearly those students who walk weeks or even months earlier than their peers will have significant advantages in these competitive arenas.

Early talkers also have significant advantages. They can begin building the vocabularies they will need for success on the tests they will take in the first grade, and can also respond when parents begin to review the new words on their first picture flash cards. They can also begin to learn their alphabet so they know which letters to bubble on the tests.

Researchers are also studying the parents of these children. Their working hypothesis is that these parents held unusually high expectations for their children. These parents did not simply accept it when the children grunted meaninglessly. They withheld food until the child said "Banana" clearly. To encourage walking, toys were placed out of reach so the child would have to walk to get them. Most powerfully, clear learning targets were set by these parents, and explicitly demonstrated for the toddlers.

Unfortunately there are also children who lag behind the norms. These children are of particular concern, because the existence of this early achievement gap means that many of our parents have failed, and calls in to question our system of parenting. These parents are assumed to have set low expectations for their offspring. These children were allowed to crawl around the floor like animals, instead of being shown the proper mode of upright bipedal locomotion. These children were apparently given food even when they squawked or squealed like little piglets, rather than having the food provided only when requested using proper English.

Low expectations results in these poor outcomes - but in our current system of parenting, where are the consequences? If we are serious about closing this achievement gap, we need attention-getting consequences for success or failure. Policymakers have been hard at work and have come up with several new ideas which can be implemented soon. Toddlers who can demonstrate their ability to walk and talk on a standard walk/talk test will qualify for early admittance to kindergarten. This will allow them to complete high school and college a year early, which means they get a head start on all their peers, and more importantly, an additional year of earnings once they graduate. Those earnings could be significant! Furthermore, their parents will be rewarded because the offspring will therefore be off to college and out of the house a year earlier, saving additional dollars (not to mention headaches!)

Toddlers who are behind the curve are currently escaping detection. The standard walk test should be given at age one, and the talk test at age two. Those who are not at appropriate age level in their skills should be placed in special motivational classes led by individuals equipped with research-proven scripted curriculum to ensure uniform opportunities for skill acquisition. We can no longer afford to leave this to chance - too many children are being left behind before the race has even begun!

We all know the starting gun in the race for success sounds the moment that doctor slaps that baby's pink butt. Effective parents take advantage of every minute to prepare their little one to win this race - and all we ask is that they teach their babies to walk and talk. We have turned a blind eye to the achievement gap in this area for far too long. It is time that ineffective parents are identified and helped to improve, or encouraged to give their children up for adoption by other, more capable parents, before irreversible harm is done.

So I offer my thanks to the Florida team. Our policymakers can get to work right away, armed with this potent research, and in a few years, all our children can live up to our expectations that they be normal and hit their age appropriate learning targets. This will surely make us all much more competitive in the Race to the Top!

What do you think? When should the Race to the Top begin? What can be done to close the toddler gap?

Image provided through Creative Commons, by mbrubeck

6 Comments

I believe that parents can help their children by providing opportunities for talking, thinking, and appropriate physical activities at an appropriate age. However, I am concerned about the “competitive” reasoning in the article:

“If they can start walking earlier, their physical development can be ‘fast-tracked,’ and thus they can be better prepared for success in kindergarten athletics. Research has shown that students gain confidence from success at such games as tag and playing on the monkey bars. Clearly those students who walk weeks or even months earlier than their peers will have significant advantages in these competitive arenas.”

Although it has been a long time since I studied child development, I remember that there was a great deal of variability for milestones in infant’s and toddler’s development, such as walking and talking. Pressuring parents to pressure infants and toddlers so they can be competitive on the monkey bars in kindergarten seems inappropriate. Encouraging them to provide opportunities for their children to mature and grow for the child’s benefit seems appropriate.

Also, I question the ethics behind this quote:

“It is time that ineffective parents are identified and helped to improve, or encouraged to give their children up for adoption by other, more capable parents, before irreversible harm is done.”

Who decides what is effective parenting? Big Brother?

Here is another comment that I found bizarre:

Toddlers who can demonstrate their ability to walk and talk on a standard walk/talk test will qualify for early admittance to kindergarten. This will allow them to complete high school and college a year early, which means they get a head start on all their peers, and more importantly, an additional year of earnings once they graduate. Those earnings could be significant! Furthermore, their parents will be rewarded because the offspring will therefore be off to college and out of the house a year earlier, saving additional dollars (not to mention headaches!)

Why is it a benefit to get a son or daughter off to college early? Are children unwanted home? (Would these be our capable parents who think that?) Are teens younger that their peers emotionally ready for the college experience? Is it all about money?

Finally, where are first graders “bubbling in letters on tests”? Why would this be a “significant” achievement?

I agree that there is a need to improve parenting skills, but I don’t agree with the reasoning in this article and particularly the emphasis on competition.

Gina,
Please forgive me for pulling your leg. This blog was intended to be satirical, but it is a bit too close to reality, perhaps. I agree with your thinking completely.

I was just going to ask you if you were part of the team that studied the 'dead fish responds to human faces in MRI and proves that biological beings DO have a soul'- or if you believed the findings- no matter that it proved that one variable in a study is NOT enough to draw conclusions because of false-positives-
lol
It wasn't funny there for a minute. But I gotcha'!
ThanX for the laffffffffff.........

I have to admit, you were kind of scaring me there for a couple of minutes (especially the "They can also begin to learn their alphabet so they know which letters to bubble on the tests" line). While I teach high school English, as the parent of a five- and three-year-old, I'm always interested in what the research is saying. However, I've also been reading "NurtureShock" by Bronson & Merryman recently about testing of early elementary-aged kids for gifted and private programs. Their review of the research reveals that the tests are wrong. 73% of the time. Our test-driven society has been trying to quantify everything so we can say we're being accountable. I've heard that if you stay in education long enough, you see everything three times. Here's hoping that this test frenzy wanes sooner than later. Besides, when you "race to the top" of a mountain, the summit doesn't keep moving, like with NCLB (and California's API)...

PS - Thanks for your blog - I've really been enjoying it! :)

When my daughter was a few weeks old, and not sleeping, really, much at all, let alone through the night, her pediatrician told me that "wakefulness" in babies was correlated with high intelligence.

She was a wonderful doctor, and eventually, the kid did start sleeping. It wasn't until she was a toddler that I started looking for research on babies' sleep habits and intelligence. Couldn't find it--and I knew where to look. It dawned on me that perhaps that was the kind of thing wise doctors tell exhausted parents.

Competitive parenting has become the norm in the suburbs--there really is a distinct difference between parenting in the mid-20th century and the hothouse/helicopter model that advantaged parents feel compelled to adopt now. A number of chick lit novels exaggerate the "mommy and me" syndrome, but you niftily captured the education testing angle. Great fun.

As Jemmy said in "The Whipping Boy", "GAW!" How do I explain that my younger daughter didn't walk until 18 months, yet was identified as gifted? Gaw! And, Nancy, she slept 20 hours a day for the first year, so much my friend worried she was developmentally slow! Now she's birthed a son who at 17 months can only say variations of "Ma!" no matter what he thinks he saying. Obviously he's in for a hard time in kindergarten!! Love you, Anthony.

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