Wednesday Reading List: Pre-K, Ice-Cream, and School Supplies

The list is a bit idiosyncratic today, so the transitions might be forced! Stay with me, though. Lillian Mongeau thinks we can learn from the quality of Boston's early childhood programs:

From start to finish, a day in Bolt’s Russell Elementary classroom could be a primer on what high-quality preschool is supposed to look like. Children had free time to play with friends in a stimulating environment, received literacy instruction that pushed beyond comprehension to critical thinking and communication and were introduced to complex mathematics concepts in age-appropriate ways. All three practices have been shown to go beyond increasing what children know to actually improving how well they learn in kindergarten and beyond. Boston’s preschool program, called K1 locally, serves about 68 percent of the 4-year-olds likely to enroll in public kindergarten. But while it has been criticized by some for its slow growth, the program has won repeated recognition from experts in the field for its high quality and has been validated by outside researchers for being student-centered, learning-focused and developmentally appropriate.

Ah yes, the old tension between quality and scale. Most of the optimistic predictions about the potential impact of universal pre-K programs are based on the outcomes of small, high-quality programs like this one. On the other hand, we know that the K-12 system, which has been at scale for a century, struggles with wildly uneven results, correlated with race and class divides. If policymakers intend to spend a ton of energy, time, and money on expanding early childhood programs in the next generation, they should fear replicating the quality issues in K-12 education. Jennifer Schiess says that those issues involve funding, but not money alone. Teacher distribution matters:

Most districts set school budgets based on the operating costs of the school (funding required to pay the teachers and other staff, buy supplies, etc.). Salaries drive the bulk of school budgets (around 80 percent on average), and the vast majority of districts pay teachers based on a salary schedule that considers years of experience and training. So in a district budgeting process that doles out dollars based largely on who is employed in each school, those schools with more experienced staff receive more funding. We know that schools serving higher needs students tend to have less experienced and often less effective teachers. It stands to reason that in districts where schools serving higher-need students receive less funding, the allocation of experienced teachers may be at least partly to blame.

Wonky education types have been beating the drum on this issue for years, and it's an important one. The easiest technical way to put more resources in schools serving the most vulnerable children would be to staff those schools with the most experienced teachers, but most facets of collective bargaining, individual teacher choice, and personnel policy tends to work against that goal. We should be nudging people in the other direction. 

Hey, you know what's a terrible idea? Making light of disproportionate violence by the state against Black citizens. Preston Mitchum at The Root explains why cops pulling over motorists to give them ice-cream cones is a bad idea:

In the summertime, with temperatures reaching almost 100 degrees, Halifax, Va., Police Chief Kevin Lands and Police Officer Brian Warner have been pulling over unsuspecting drivers and giving them ice cream because they “wanted to try and put some smiles on people’s faces" ... Out of the estimated 20 people that Police Chief Lands and Officer Warner pulled over for ice cream Friday, one encounter has gone viral—placing a smile on the faces of “good cops,” who have magically discovered how to keep a video recording on, everywhere. The video—which now has over 4 million views on Facebook—is one of a black woman being pulled over by Officer Warner ... In an attempt to better relations with community and police officers, the video does the exact opposite. It further highlights the fear that black people carry with them the moment they see flashing lights in their rearview mirror. Not only is this supposed lighthearted humor a complete waste of resources and tax dollars, it’s dangerous to stop a driver for no apparent reason other than to show how “good” a cop one is. It’s tone-deaf and out-of-touch with our reality and experiences as black people.

The other things that falls into this category are the myriad photos of cops hugging Black children that proliferate in my facebook feed every time there is an incidence of police violence in a community of color. I understand that the spirit of these endeavors is to express unity in a time of stress, but the false comity obscures the fact that law enforcement officials have a legitimacy problem in Black communities that cannot be papered over with hugs. Or ice-cream.

On the other hand, Kiara Collins at Blavity found something that is actually awesome for kids going back to school:

Photo: Innovative Supplies/Notebook Artwork by: @ZolaArtsFactory

Photo: Innovative Supplies/Notebook Artwork by: @ZolaArtsFactory

Innovative Supplies, a black-owned, online retail store is owned and operated by 27-year-old mom and soon to be college student, Nneka. With the hopes of becoming a history teacher in her local area, she began Innovative Supplies as the first step to a bigger vision of “being a positive change in her community.” Innovative Supplies includes notebooks and apparel that showcase black art by black artists and weave together elements of black culture from the past and the present. Her goals for Innovative Solutions are just as impactful as the business itself, which includes depositing profits into a black-owned bank, hiring local minority youth and using environmentally sourced materials. If yo [sic] browse through the Innovative Supplies website, you’ll soon understand why products sold out in less than 24 hours. 

If you are used to seeing characters and graphic art that "look like you" and express your opinions, this might not seem like a big deal, but it's a huge deal for children whose likenesses are not often represented in commercially available school supplies.

Finally, Rob Gulya at Chalkbeat takes a look at the inadequacy of strategies for English language learners:

English learners are sometimes placed in classrooms with two teachers, one trained in special education. Supporting their learning often falls to the special education teacher, who has experience and training in meeting students’ individual needs and helping students who are behind. For my first few years teaching, I agreed with this philosophy. I’m one of those special education teachers, and I already create different materials for students with different needs. It made sense. What I’ve learned since is how wrong this way of thinking is. Although I am good at meeting students’ individual needs and working with low-level students, I do not truly understand the social, emotional, and academic process of language acquisition.

Gulya approaches the issue from a first-person perspective, as a teacher, which helps us to understand the myriad issues that intersect for English language learners. Read the whole thing. Have a great day!