According to the U.S. Department of Education:
As of Monday, July 18, 2011, 37 Governors have expressed their intent to apply for the Department of Education’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, including Ohio Governor Kasich.
Through RTT-ELC, the Department of Education will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to distribute $500 million in grant funds to states that develop plans for bold, comprehensive reforms that will raise the quality of early learning programs in their state.
Early Childhood Education is the one area of President Obamas Race to the Top reform plans that has solid science behind it, despite his pledge in his first inaugural addres to restore science to its rightful place in setting policy, according to cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Willingham, writing for the Washington Posts Answer Sheet blog last September.
The administration’s education policy has four pillars. These were outlined in that first education policy speech, and they were represented in the requirements for Race to the Top applications.
But of the four, only one could be said to have clear scientific support.
The well-supported policy initiative is an emphasis on early childhood education. Aside from ample research by developmental psychologists showing that the early childhood years are a critical time for learning, economists have conducted persuasive studies showing that early childhood intervention programs can have lasting and profound effects on at-risk kids.
Better-educated kids are more likely to be tax-paying contributors to the economy and less likely to be incarcerated or on public assistance. Thus, in the long run intervention programs for at-risk kids more than pay for themselves.
For the other three policies that the administration emphasizes—teacher evaluation using student data, a greater number of charter schools, and improved standards—the data are more mixed.
However, pushing standardized tests on 3, 4 and 5-year-olds is not the way to to compete for those grants, says educational psychologist David Berliner in The Answer Sheet blog today. Early childhood brain development is simply too complex and dynamic to be accurately captured in a snapshot test.
Testing young children may be cruel, has not worked out well in the past, often provides unreliable scores and therefore invalid inferences about the abilities of children are made too often. Potentially more valid information, at least as reliable as the tests themselves, and unlikely to elicit anxiety on the part of teachers or students can be obtained from professional educators much quicker and for drastically less money. The funds saved, of course, in any sane world would be used to help the children that teachers identify as needing help.
We certainly do not need more formal testing of young children, but I do think we need sanity tests for those in authority who deny the experiences they have had with their own or other peoples’ children.
Early Ed Watch blog at New American Foundation has much more, including this post seeking to reassure skeptics about pre-k assessments:
Assessments of children’s “readiness” for school will undoubtedly be a big piece of the new Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge and, given that early childhood providers have qualms about 4-year-olds being forced to take inappropriate tests, concerns are rampant. But are these fears realized in the proposed guidelines for the competition? We don’t think so – at least not based on a close reading of what we’ve seen so far. (The final guidelines are expected in mid-August.)
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