Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Truly Leaving No Child Behind

The goals of No Child Left Behind are admirable.  However, one of the most glaring problems I see as an elementary teacher is that some students begin Kindergarten already so far behind.  

A couple years ago, I had 5 out of 23 of my 2nd grade students reading at a Kindergarten level. In 3 years in school, these students were already 2 years behind grade level.  The question is why these students were already so far behind. 

Here is another example that I have written about...

Here in Marshalltown, in one Kindergarten classroom at one of the more affluent schools 17 out of 25 students tested at grade level in September. At the school I worked in, where many students live in poverty, out of the three Kindergarten classrooms just 4 out of 75 students tested were at grade level in September. These tests were given after just 1 month in school and clearly show difference a child's home environment.

If we truly want every child to be achieving at grade level then we must do everything we can do to make sure they have all of the basic necessities during the first few years of their lives.

One of my favorite bloggers, Matthew Yglesisas, is in Finland this week.  Yesterday, he wrote about how Finland provides the basics children need early in life.  These early childhood policies includes parental leave, childcare, and more early childhood teachers.

Mothers are entitled to five weeks maternity leave. After that, there’s a parental leave period of ten additional months that can be taken by either mother or father or divided between the two. After that, children have an “unconditional right to day care.” That can be provided either at municipal-run institutions or else at private ones. There are fees day care charged on a sliding scale according to income that max out at 233 euros per month. That’s far less than the cost of care, which, clearly, is heavily subsidized. A family that prefers to have a parent stay home and take care of the children can do so and receives a home care subsidy. Thus, the system is neutral between traditional and working-mother models. About 30 percent of Helsinki children are in the home care / allowance system.

Private daycare facilities are eligible for the same level of public subsidy as municipally run ones. This isn’t really a profitable line of work and so there aren’t many providers — just five percent of Helsinki children are enrolled in a private center.

That leaves the other 65 percent of Helsinki kids in the municipal centers. Centers have two kinds of staff members — “kindergarden teachers” who have bachelor’s degrees and “practical nurses” who have less education. For every four children under the age of three you need one staff member. For every seven children between the ages of 3-6 you need one staff member. And for every two practical nurses you need one kindergarden teacher. So a section of 21 older kids would be taught by one kindergarden teacher assisted by two practical nurses.

If the United States truly wants to leave no child behind then we must invest in early childhood policies to help every child get started on the right foot and prepared to begin school ready to succeed.

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