Friday, September 13, 2013

Start schooling later than age five, say British "experts"

This is just another iteration of the old Finland controversy.  Leftists idealize Finland on very narrow grounds.  For a fuller view see here and here and here and here.  My view is that kids should start school as soon as they are ready for it -- some early, some late

Formal schooling should be delayed until the age of six or seven because early education is causing “profound damage” to children, an influential lobby of almost 130 experts warns.

Traditional lessons should be put on hold for up to two years amid fears that successive governments have promoted a “too much, too soon” culture in schools and nurseries, it is claimed.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the group of academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders call for a fundamental reassessment of national policies on early education.

It is claimed that the current system robs infants of the ability to play and puts too much emphasis on formal learning in areas such as the three Rs at a young age. The letter warns that the Coalition is now ratcheting up the requirements with policies that prioritise “school readiness” over free play.

This includes the possible introduction of a new baseline test for five-year-olds in England and qualifications for child care staff that make little reference to learning through play, they say.

The letter – signed by 127 senior figures including Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics, Dr David Whitebread, senior lecturer in psychology of education at Cambridge University, and Catherine Prisk, director of Play England – suggests that children should actually be allowed to start formal education later to give them more time to develop.

A spokesman for Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the signatories were “misguided”, suggesting they advocated dumbing down.

“These people represent the powerful and badly misguided lobby who are responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools,” the spokesman said.

“We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer — a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about 'self image’, which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up.”

By law, children must be in school by the age of five, although the vast majority are enrolled in reception classes aged four.

Today’s letter says that children who “enter school at six or seven” – in line with Scandinavian education systems – “consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing”. It would mean putting off the start of formal schooling for up to two years for most children, with experts suggesting that they should instead undertake play-based activities with no formal literacy and numeracy requirements.

“The continued focus on an early start to formal learning is likely to cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of a generation of children,” the letter says.

The letter is circulated by the Save Childhood Movement, which is launching the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign tomorrow.

It will push for a series of reforms, including a new “developmentally appropriate”, play-based early years framework for nurseries and schools, covering children between the age of three and seven.

Wendy Ellyatt, the founding director of the movement, said: “Despite the fact that 90 per cent of countries in the world prioritise social and emotional learning and start formal schooling at six or seven, in England we seem grimly determined to cling on to the erroneous belief that starting sooner means better results later.

“There is nothing wrong with seeking high educational standards and accountability, but there is surely something very wrong indeed if this comes at the cost of natural development.”

At the moment, most English children start school in nursery or reception classes at the age of three or four and are taught using the Early Years Foundation Stage — a compulsory “nappy curriculum”.

They are assessed against targets set out in the EYFS, which covers areas such as personal and social development, communication and early numeracy, before moving on to formal lessons in the first full year of school aged five.

Children are then subjected to further assessments in the three Rs at the age of seven.

The Government is now consulting on moving these later assessments in the three Rs forward to the “early weeks of a child’s career at school”.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said that the best nurseries and primary schools had a “systematic, rigorous and consistent approach to assessment right from the very start”.

The Government has also pledged to drive up standards of child care, including a requirement for staff to hold A-level style qualifications by 2014.

But the Save Childhood Movement claims that the threat of more rigorous assessments for four- or five-year-olds would undermine children’s natural development.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Sir Al, who was the first Children’s Commissioner and is also emeritus professor of child health at University College London, said: “If you look at a country like Finland, children don’t start formal, full-scale education until they are seven.

“These extra few years, in my view, provide a crucial opportunity, when supported by well trained, well paid and highly educated staff, for children to be children”


Report: Parents who home-school question Common Core’s reach

There are few things 9-year-old Rhett Ricardo relishes more than curling up on his family’s living room couch and delving into a novel, like “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” – his imagination whirling as he reads the fantastical plot about a mysterious sea monster and a submarine, his mother says.

But Jill Finnerty Ricardo, of Dade City, Fla., who home-schools her three oldest children, has concerns about what is known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – a national assessment standard adopted in 45 states that, among other objectives, seeks to balance out a perceived literature-heavy English curriculum with more non-fiction reading and writing, particularly informational text.. 

While the new standards, which purport to emphasize critical thinking and problem solving, are meant for public schools only, opponents say they will affect all children – including those who are home-schooled, especially when it comes to taking state standardized tests that are aligned with the Common Core.

It is up to each state whether home-schooled children must take standardized tests in grades three through eight, and once in high school. But all college-bound home-schooled students take the SAT, which is now being aligned with the new standards. The new head of the College Board, which is revamping the SAT, is David Coleman, the so-called architect of the Common Core.

“We home-school our kids to make sure we can support and encourage their individual interests, gifts and talents,” said 42-year-old Finnerty Ricardo, who holds degrees in marketing, public relations and biology. 

“Rhett loves novels,” she said, calling the perceived push to scale back on fiction and increase non-fiction “short-sighted.” 

“The value of using one’s imagination cannot be calculated,” she said. “Each child learns differently. Each person dreams differently.”

Common Core advocates claim misinformation, half-truths and ignorance have fueled opposition to the new standards, which were first introduced in the 2009 federal stimulus bill. A national PDK-Gallup poll, released last month, showed that two in three Americans had not heard of the Common Core.

The Hunt Institute, which supports CCSS, said the new standards were created “through a voluntary, collective effort by states” and serves as the “foundation for an education system that demands excellent teaching, high-quality professional development, rigorous curricula, and dynamic assessments.”

The educational policy group and others have addressed what they consider a widespread misperception about the Common Core: that teachers nationwide will have little or no flexibility in what they teach and how they teach it.

“Teachers and administrators, including principals and superintendents, will decide how the standards are to be taught and will establish the curriculum, just as they currently do -- allowing for continued flexibility and creativity,” the institute wrote in a briefing packet that seeks to explain the mission of CCSS.

“Teachers will continue to create lesson plans and tailor instruction to the needs of the students in their classrooms. States are currently in the process of implementing their new standards and are developing programs and materials that suit their unique needs,” the institute said.

But home-schooling groups, like the HSLDA, claim the Common Core creates a “one-size-fits-all approach to education” that rests on the “assumption that every child must learn the same things at the same speed.”

“We believe that the success of home schooling shows that the key to educational success is empowering parents and teachers, not educational bureaucrats,” the group said in a statement.

William Estrada, an attorney for the group, claims that CCSS is not a voluntary, state-led initiative, as supporters say. 

“The Common Core was pushed through the Race-to-the-Top program through federal funding,” he told “The federal government said that if states adopt the Common Core, they’ll get extra points for Race-to-the-Top and billions of dollars.”

“Instead of states looking at it carefully and considering whether it’s good for them, they rushed into it because they were desperate for cash,” Estrada said. 

“The primary problem with the Common Core is this national approach to education – a top-down approach saying that every kid everywhere is going to learn the same thing in the same way,” he said, adding that home-schooled children may be “disadvantaged” on standardized tests aligned with CCSS. Such tests are of critical importance to home-schooled students who are college bound because they do not have high school transcripts to submit to admissions offices.   

Estrada, who was home-schooled himself, argues the Common Core “takes away one of the beauties of home schooling – and that is the ability to choose a curriculum that is best suited for your child.” 

Approximately 1.5 million students are home-schooled in the United States, according to the most recent data from the Department of Education. Home school advocates, however, estimate that number to be even higher, claiming just more than 2 million children are home-educated -- which, if true, shows an increase in home schooling by as much as 75 percent since 1999.

Many educators claim the Common Core will likely have no adverse effect on home-schooled students, who, on average, already outperform their peers on standardized tests, including college-bound exams, according to some studies. Elite universities, like Stanford, have embraced home-schooled students, accepting a higher number over the last 10 years than in decades past.

While some home-school parents are wary of the Common Core, many, including Finnerty Ricardo, say they are optimistic their children will achieve high success on standardized tests despite the new standards.

“My hope is that because we have higher expectations for our kids than the Common Core, they’ll still do well on standardized tests,” she said. “We expect above and beyond what the Common Core requires.”


Dress code controversies in public schools

An op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times entitled “School Dress Codes: Miniskirt Madness” by a New York law professor named Ruthann Robson demonstrates perfectly the difference between libertarians and statists.

Robson is upset over the increasingly strict enforcement of dress codes within America’s public schools. She says that enforcement of such codes interferes with what public schools should be all about — education. Now, that’s not to say that Robson is opposed to any dress codes. It’s just to say that she feels that the schools should enforce a type of limited dress code that she favors.

What do libertarians say about the dress-code controversy in public schools? We don’t say anything about that. Why? Unlike Robson and other statists, we don’t believe in public schooling. So, we don’t permit ourselves to get mired down in disputes over how public schools should be operated.

Citing a 1925 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Robson says that “the state does not have the power to ‘standardize’ its children, but too-detailed school dress codes seek to accomplish just that.”

What Robson unfortunately fails to recognize is that it’s not just strict dress codes that standardize children, it is public schooling itself that does that.

Keep in mind, after all, that public schooling is government schooling. Public schooling is, in principle, no different from the army, which, of course, is also run by the government. Like the military, the goal of public schooling is not so much education but rather training, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Its aim is to produce what we might call “the good little citizen” — the type who, while carping about how the government does certain things, never challenges at a fundamental level what government is doing.

Also like the military, public schooling is one gigantic socialist enterprise. The school’s curriculum and textbooks are determined by a central planning agency, whether at a local level (the school board) or a state or national level (departments of education). Funding is by taxation. Attendance is through compulsory-attendance laws.

Thus, why should anyone be surprised that public schooling is such a dismal failure when it comes to education and nurturing a love of learning and such a grand success in producing people who defer to authority and who are unable to engage in critical thinking with respect to the proper role of government in people’s lives?

Consider Robson. There is not one iota of indication in her 850-word op-ed that she has even considered the possibility of a total separation of school and state — a total free market in education. If she were to hear of such an idea, my hunch is that she would summarily dismiss it with nary a thought. Since a free-market educational system involves taking the education debate to a higher level — one involving a completely different paradigm — it’s simply much too frightening for most statists to even consider.

Robson complains that dress codes “rely on anti-democratic principles.” But how else are these types of disputes supposed to be resolved except by a democratic vote? People who favor strict dress codes are just as passionately committed to their position as Robson is to hers. How is the matter to be resolved? By the majority vote of the school board, which is elected by a majority vote of the electorate. And the losers must submit to the will of the majority.

In a free-market educational system, these disputes disappear. Parents are free to choose the educational vehicle that they believe is most appropriate for each of their children. Entrepreneurs are free to enter the educational market to compete for the parents’ business. If a school has a strict dress code, some parents will send their children there and others will not. The same holds true for schools with flexible dress codes.

As long as the government is permitted to run a schooling system, there will be never-ending, irreconcilable disputes such as the one involving dress codes. There will also be a never-ending stream of young people graduating who have come to hate learning and who have mindsets of conformity, obedience, and deference to authority.

There is only one solution to all this and it doesn’t involve getting one’s favorite dress code adopted by public schools. The solution to rise to a higher level and challenge the role of government in education, as our ancestors did with religion. The solution is to separate school and state, just as they did with church and state


No comments: