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Tag: early learning


Are they ready for kindergarten? Finally, numbers

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision has this year’s legislators scrambling to pump more dollars – and reforms, we hope – into the public schools.

A potential pitfall is that education will be defined too narrowly.

As far as the law is concerned, “basic education” is delivered from kindergarten through high school. That’s what the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to fund. But what happens before kindergarten – early learning – is at least as important. More so, for many students.

As a rule, kids who aren’t reading as well as their peers by the fourth grade are at great risk of eventually dropping out. Sadly, they often show up on the first day of kindergarten with disadvantages so great that only heroic teaching efforts can help them catch up.

And the same factors that hurt them before kindergarten – such as absentee dads, poverty, untreated illnesses and homes bereft of books – are often still dogging them in the early grades.

Statewide efforts to help these children have been plagued by a lack of information. Washington has had no system in place to track disparities in kindergarten readiness and do something about them. Until now.

Over the last two years, at the behest of the Legislature, early-learning specialists have been development the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills. WaKIDS, as it is called, aims to assist incoming kindergartners in several ways. It emphases parental education, for example, for moms and dads who want to prepare their children for academics but don’t know where to begin.

Just this month, it has also begun delivering precious hard numbers.

Despite longstanding concerns about achievement opportunity gaps, this state had never taken a close, statistical look at the needs of its kindergartners.

Under WaKIDS, kindergarten teachers are evaluating their new students against commonly accepted standards. For example: Can they write their own names? Are they familiar with books? Do they make friends?
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Baby Einstein = Baby Gump

It turns out that Baby Einstein isn’t all that smart. I’m not surprised.

A couple years ago, I did some looking into the cutting edge of brain development research, a lot of which is happening at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

Researchers there had done what has become a well-known experiment. They’d had a Chinese graduate student read a child’s book – in Chinese – to 10-month-old babies, just for a few weeks. Those children were tested when they were older, and they proved to have the ability to hear sounds in spoken Chinese that are normally inaudible to English-speakers.

Interesting result. Then they repeated the experiment. Only instead of having the grad student read to 10-month-olds in person, they showed the babies a video of the same woman reading the same book, replicating the same inflections and facial expressions.

Result: The children absorbed no recognition of uniquely Chinese sounds.

Young children learn from people, not screens. Technology is just no substitute for flesh-and-blood moms and dads.

A Chicago Tribune editorial on the subject:

Baby Einstein videos were marketed with a promise many parents found irresistible: Park your kid in front of the television, and let us make him or her, if not a genius, then at least above average.

That pitch was brilliant: A beleaguered parent (that is, every parent) can merely slip in the $15.99 video, flip on the television and voila! Baby gets brainier!

Except … apparently it doesn’t work. One study even suggested that it could have the opposite effect: Watching Baby Einstein an hour a day was associated with slower acquisition of new words.

Recently, under legal pressure, Walt Disney Co. offered a refund to anyone who bought a Baby Einstein video in the last five years.
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