A study by the College Board and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education reports that by the year 1995 a third of our students will be from minority groups. The fastest growing minority group is Hispanic and they are the ones most likely to drop out of school. The dropout rate, the study reports, was 8 percent for whites, 11 percent for blacks, 18 percent for Hispanics, and 27 percent for American Indians- Alaskan Natives. William Honig, head of public instruction in California, responded to these data by stating that education should resist demands to "junk" traditional coursework in favor of mainly non- Western culture. He said states need to keep standards high and be sensitive to all cultures. There is another more appropriate and more helpful response that can be made to these data. That is, if these students are eventually going to drop out of the educational system, then it is very important that we give them the best the system has to offer in the early years - when they are in school.
Most of these children who come to school as enthusiastic four and five year olds tend to lose this enthusiasm by the time they are eleven or twelve year olds. We should be putting our money, energy and the best we have into the early grades. The smallest teacher-pupil ratio should be in pre-kindergarten to second grade classes.
These classes should be taught by the school's best, most enthusiastic teachers.
Good teachers at this level know that kindergarten readiness test results should be used to plan programs, not to exclude children.
Teachers who not only are experienced but who have been well educated and trained in early childhood development and education.
These teachers should then be given a budget that permits them to equip their classrooms, as they see fit, with materials they know will engage the minds and bodies of their students.
There should be a great deal of space allotted to these classrooms so that children can move around and become involved with each other as they use and learn from the materials and equipment provided by the teacher. Small teacher-pupil ratios are necessary in order for teachers to get to know each child well enough to provide for his or her basic needs for safety, love, and belonging.
All essential for learning to take place.
Children need to experience close and caring relationships with adults. This is best accomplished at this level. Rudyard Kipling is quoted as saying: Give me the first six years of my life and you can keep the rest." Future school failures and dropouts outs are probably made at this level. Future scholars and learners are also made at this level. Sadly, the practices of many school systems in early grades produce future school dropouts rather than scholars. Among these practices are: not requiring that teachers at this level be trained and knowledgeable about child development, large teacher- pupil ratios, inadequate space, administrators (usually not trained in child development) handing down directives about curriculum objectives and materials, testing and misuse of test results.
This last item is especially discouraging to children and teachers alike.
Good teachers at this level know that kindergarten readiness test results should be used to plan programs, not to exclude children. They also know that the use of standardized testing to judge the individual child's progress rather than the school program is not only inappropriate, it is not helpful at this level and could be harmful. Potential school dropouts are made by grade three.
The children may still be in the school building but they are only biding their time.
Their hearts, minds, and energies are someplace else.
The school system has failed them.
We can do better than that. We know how to do it right. Let's do it for the children's sake.
First published in 1991