DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education What We Know vs. What We Do MICHAEL GRAMLING Fore w ord by Elizabeth Jones, PhD COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education What We Know vs. What We Do ••••••••••••••••• MICHAEL GRAMLING Foreword by Elizabeth Jones, PhD COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Published by Redleaf Press 10 Yorkton Court St. Paul, MN 55117 © 2015 by Michael Gramling All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific page, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or capturing on any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a maga- zine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet. First edition 2015 Cover design by Jim Handrigan Cover photograph by Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock Interior design by Dorie McClelland, Spring Book Design Typeset in Adobe Minion Pro Printed in the United States of America 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gramling, Michael. The great disconnect in early childhood education : what we know vs. what we do / Michael Gramling. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60554-399-4 (alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-60554-400-7 (ebook) 1. Early childhood education--United States--History. 2. Early childhood education--Social aspects--United States. 3. Child care--United States-- History. I. Title. LB1139.25.G73 2015 372.21--dc23 2014041252 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET To my five children, Cotton, Willie, Lauren, Magnolia, and Amelia, who alternately validated and debunked every early childhood theory and every approach to parenting I had ever entertained, and who showed me that my best option was to strap myself in and enjoy the ride. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Contents Preface ix Acknowledgments xiii Foreword by Elizabeth Jones, PhD xvii ONE America Discovers Poverty 1 TWO The Accountability Trap 17 THREE School Readiness Goals: When Good Intentions Go Bad 37 FOUR Changing the Way We Talk to Young Children 75 FIVE Amelia’s Story: Recognizing That Every Child Is Different 99 SIX Envisioning a Preschool Classroom That Works for All Children 121 SEVEN Where Do We Go from Here? Creating a Human Classroom References Index 165 168 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 147 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Preface I was a stay-at-home dad in 1979 when I was hired as a classroom teacher at a local Head Start program, even though my only qual- ifications were that I liked kids and needed a job. Despite my lack of formal training, or perhaps because of it, I did a pretty good job and had a great time. My approach was simply to expose the children to as many different real-life experiences and real objects as I could muster. We planted things, built things, cooked things, climbed things, painted things, cleaned things, imagined things, and took care of living things, including each other. We played games and musical instruments, read a ton of books, and listened to all kinds of music, much of which I brought from home. We explored our neighborhood every day and our community when- ever I could hijack a bus. Moreover, I engaged children throughout the day in authentic conversation. (That is to say, I talked to each child like a real person.) I created a climate in which all the chil- dren felt like the classroom belonged to them. They could change the schedule to accommodate a particular project, or rearrange the room to support an extended bout of imaginary play. No one was ever forced to participate. Children who preferred solitude could be by themselves. ix COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET PREFACE I hasten to add that I was neither a maverick nor a rebel in my approach. My bosses were my enthusiastic supporters, and many of my colleagues took much the same approach. There was then as there is now an opposing camp who were aghast at what we did. Children needed structure, they said, and they needed to learn the “fundamentals” like letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Most of all, they needed to learn how to conform to the demands of institutional life. The kind of open-ended operation I was running might be fun, but it did children a disservice and would not pre- pare them for success in school. We had no way of proving in my early years of teaching whether what we were doing for children was best or even right. I could not say with any certainty if the children in my classrooms went on to perform any better in school or, as adults, if they were bet- ter able to compete in the global economy. But since then, our approach has been vindicated by a great deal of research. What is most fundamental during early childhood, we have learned, is not the alphabet—it is healthy brain development. The brain goes through an intense period of activity that will never be repeated in later years, and the extent and effectiveness of that activity is to a large degree a product of the experiences and conversations to which the child is exposed during the early years. So certain is our profession of this phenomena that programs are springing up all over the country that encourage parents, particularly low-income parents, to talk to their children much more and to give them a variety of experiences to talk about—which makes it all the more puzzling that in modern early childhood classrooms, children are barely spoken to at all. For the past two decades I have spent most of my time visit- ing early childhood programs all over the United States, observing x COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET PREFACE classrooms and listening to the concerns of teachers, managers, directors, and principals. I have become intimately familiar with early childhood education as it is actually practiced in the United States, and I have grown increasingly discouraged. What I initially understood to mean that the opposing camp had a lot of follow- ers in the wider world has given way to the stunning realization that the opposing camp has completely won the day. Despite the accumulated knowledge of the past three decades, under the mis- guided banner of school readiness and accountability, the pre- school experience has been reduced to tedious rote learning and strict conformity to routines. It is not that the practices we once held dear have vanished completely—they have become instead the almost exclusive purview of the well-to-do. Judging from the ever-widening achievement gap between rich and poor, it seems to be working quite well for them. I have therefore devoted a great deal of my time and energy persuading one teacher, one program at a time to give children what they know is best—and there lies the problem. I’m not telling them anything they don’t already know. They know child develop- ment. They’ve studied brain research. But they feel—and rightly so—completely constrained by public policy that demands that children be taught in a heavily scripted, incremental manner that flies in the face of everything they know is true. So I decided to write this book. It is addressed to policy mak- ers who perhaps are not aware of the everyday consequences to children and teachers of learning standards and accountability. It is addressed to teachers, school districts, and Head Start programs who have it within their power to provide the critical experiences and rich discourse children need in spite of the demands of the bureaucracies that look over their shoulders. It is written to parents xi COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET PREFACE who are considering enrolling their children in pre-K, Head Start, or child care so that they can make informed decisions about how their children will spend their time during their most formative years. Childhood only happens once. It is our responsibility to make sure we make the most of it. xii COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Acknowledgments I want to thank some of the many folks who shared in the devel- opment of this book, beginning with my friend and colleague Luis Hernandez, whose generous spirit has provided me with any num- ber of opportunities to say what was on my mind, including the time, shortly after the publication of his own coauthored book Learning from the Bumps in the Road, that Luis made the offhand remark that Redleaf Press might be interested in “my stuff.” I had a twenty-page article that I had peddled unsuccessfully to various periodicals (who publishes twenty-page articles, anyway?), and I had given up on it, but Luis’s comment struck me as a good omen. I sent the article to Redleaf as an attachment in an e-mail with the subject line “My good friend Luis Hernandez” and was delighted when I heard back almost immediately from Kyra Ostendorf and David Heath, who had taken the time to read an unsolicited arti- cle. As it turns out, they don’t publish twenty-page articles either, but they encouraged me to turn it into a book, and they have con- tinued to support me throughout the process. But before the first SASE was licked and sealed, I leaned on my friends for feedback just to find out if they thought my article was any good at all, including Dr. Phil Jos, Joyce Graham, and Ellen Quigley. I learned more than I had anticipated. Their response was positive, their suggestions helpful, but it was from them that I xiii COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET ACKNOWLEDGMENTS first began to see that what I had to say might provoke some very strong reactions. I sent the first draft of the book to Dr. Betty Jones, my mentor and professor emerita at Pacific Oaks College from a dozen years earlier, uncertain that she would have the time to read it. But Betty did not just read it, she made it her own. She wrote the foreword, shared the manuscript with her colleagues, and gave me invaluable and detailed feedback. “I read it a second time out loud,” Betty explained to me, knowing, I suppose, that I would be curious about the way she was able to be so in tune to the rhythm as well as the content of each chapter. It was not just that her feedback made for a more concise, readable, and theoretically sound manuscript, but the warmth and enthusiasm with which she embraced the project made me begin to believe that I was onto something important. As it began to dawn on me that my book might be both embraced and castigated by the early childhood profession, I sent the edited manuscript to friend and mentor Dr. Marce Verzaro-O’Brien, the executive director of Training and Technical Assistance Services at Western Kentucky University, for whom I had been employed for over twenty-five years and with whom I continue to work on a freelance basis. She deserved the opportunity, I thought, to know ahead of time that there might be some serious pushback coming down the pike in the near future. When Marce told me to go for it, the deal was sealed. The actual finished manuscript, however, could not have been possible without the collaboration, support, and very hard work of my editor at Redleaf, Danny Miller, who is as funny as he is patient and insightful. But the story of this book began long before I first put fin- gers to keyboard and hit Save at the end of chapter 1. It is the xiv COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET ACKNOWLEDGMENTS culmination of a lifetime of work in which I learned about early childhood education—the process as well as the profession— from the bottom up and from the inside out. And for that oppor- tunity I want to thank Colleen Mendel, my boss, my friend, and my mentor for thirty years. She somehow—from the very first time she witnessed me standing on my head in my classroom full of wide-eyed and incredulous three-year-olds—saw in me some- thing I didn’t know was there and began a lifelong process of push- ing me outside my comfort zone to try things I had not considered possible. She was the first supervisor I ever had who actually meant it when she said she wanted me to learn from my mistakes. As it turned out, the learning opportunities were many. My biggest regret is that Colleen passed away before I had a chance to share this book with her and to let her know that her faith in me was well founded. And finally, Teresa Christmas, who, before she became my wife, was my coteacher in that very same classroom. Shortly after we met, with no small amount of trepidation, I showed her a story I had written, fearful that, not knowing how to let me down easy about my writing, she might decide instead just to let me down easy about everything else. She read it. She handed it back to me. “Keep writing,” she said. Since that time not a story I’ve shared with anyone—in e-mail, on Facebook, or in manuscripts to var- ious publishers, including my good friends at Redleaf—has seen the light of day without her feedback, sometimes tearfully sup- portive, sometimes adamantly critical, but always passionate and always right on target. There would be no book without her. xv COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Foreword by Elizabeth Jones, PhD “One fine morning in the mid-1960s . . .”, this book begins, “Head Start . . . was launched with overwhelming support and goodwill. . . . Head Start declared that it could actually eradicate poverty in the United States.” That promise has been not been kept. At that mid-twentieth-century time of civil rights activism in America, deprivation and disadvantage were identified as social justice problems to be addressed by the federal government. Head Start was a multifaceted program designed to reach young chil- dren and their low-income families with compensatory educa- tion and health services. It required parent involvement; parents participated in the classroom and on committees and boards, and were encouraged to continue their own education. For many, Head Start became a job and career opportunity, as they became teachers and directors in early childhood programs. What did it do for the children? Not so much. xvii COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET FOREWORD What Went Wrong? A “head start” for four-year-olds was a good idea. But every good idea comes with its own risks. The big risk for Head Start, in its programs for young children, was the imposition of testing as the measure of success. Large-scale funding demands accountability. As a publicly funded program, Head Start became accountable at a level previ- ously rare in early childhood education. An idea that moves into the public arena has to be simplified in order to gain voter support. And so standardized research-based evidence of children’s learn- ing was sought to assure us that our tax dollars were being well spent. Numbers of all sorts were expected to serve as shorthand for learning. Testing became big business. “Teaching to the test” took over. What Was Early Childhood Education Like before Federal Funding? Before Head Start, most early childhood programs had been left alone to develop practice-based theory. Part-day preschools typi- cally served middle- and upper-income families able to pay tuition or educated mothers coming together to initiate parent coopera- tives. Many were lab schools serving university communities and created to study the behavior of young children. They were auton- omous, without accountability to public funding sources. In these preschools, early childhood educators and researchers discovered a great deal about young children as learners. Guide- lines for developmentally appropriate practice were professionally developed and widely implemented. They made it clear that young children are active learners who need to practice initiative—to play. xviii COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET FOREWORD That’s not a familiar view of schooling. All adults have been to school and know how it works. They assume that if children are to learn, teachers must teach. Our familiar image of teaching is telling, by the lecture method in a group. And learning there- fore requires listening and practicing—drilling on assigned tasks. Knowledge gets measured by testing on facts and skills. But that’s not how four-year-olds learn. (Eight-year-olds don’t learn that way either, but they’ve mostly learned to sit still and shut their mouths.) If the voting public, including parents, is to support public funding that claims to leave no child behind in the race to the top, then its programs need to appear credible on the surface. However, treating young children as students expected to meet uniform goals contradicts everything we know about development in early childhood. The Knowledge Gap The gap between rich and poor children in America hasn’t nar- rowed, as promised; it has widened. Public funding has back- fired. Preschools funded for the poor are caught in the canned curriculum and testing mania. The preschool experiences of privileged children are more likely to be developmentally appro- priate (building on what all recent research now verifies) than are the preschool experiences of young children who start out behind—and fall further and further behind. Test scores con- tinue to reflect the fact that poor children really are disadvan- taged, deprived in home, in neighborhood, and in preschool of the great variety of activities and choices and adult conversation and encouragement that are built into resource-rich environ- ments. Early intelligence grows through choices and complexity xix COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET FOREWORD and self-esteem and negotiating with others—not through mem- orizing prescribed lists of facts. The pages that follow provide lots of evidence of how best to support children’s intelligence. Can the Gap Be Closed? This book provides both a compelling historical analysis—this is what went wrong—and a new vision for the future—this is what can make it right. It doesn’t prescribe a how-to fix, but it does demonstrate, through real-life stories, what’s possible. The author moves from pessimism to optimism, despair to hope, with stories of real people trying out real theories. Broken promises can be mended, we are assured, if we commit to the challenge of putting theory into practice, ideals into reality. Shortcuts are not the answer. Children are intelligent human beings, ready and eager to learn in the company of grown-ups. They can’t be standardized. They can be respected and invited to grow. This is what it looks like—and if we are really committed to social justice, then this is what we need to be doing. From the vision of Head Start as an opportunity for social change to the reality of school readiness testing, Michael Gram- ling invites us to reflect with him on the story of sixty years of early childhood education in America and to share his vision of an adult-child community of colearners. Can a developmentally appropriate early childhood program build on individual chil- dren’s strengths, ensuring that they really do learn, while provid- ing valid data for assessment? Can it have a genuine impact on the cycle of poverty? Michael assures us: yes. xx COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Chapter 1 - America Discovers Poverty One fine morning in the mid-1960s, unable to ignore for a moment longer the relentless drumbeat of the civil rights movement, the insulated and comfortable citizenry of the richest, most powerful country in the world awoke to discover injustice and suffering in their midst. Quite suddenly, and for a very brief period of time, the human face of poverty became the subject of choice for the national magazines that both shaped and reflected the popular cul- ture of the day. On coffee tables all across America appeared grainy black-and-white images of the distended bellies of children living in the Mississippi Delta, of soot-streaked faces staring vacantly at the camera from the front porches of Appalachian shacks, and of listless inner-city children in diapers clutching bottles on the cracked linoleum floors they shared with the neighborhood rats. In the 1960s, a decade in which publicly financed kindergarten was optional and the explosion in child care and preschool still barely on the horizon, most children of poverty encountered the educational system for the first time around the age of six. Unlike their middle-class competitors, these children were coming to school hungry—but no one was serving breakfast, and there really was no such thing as a free lunch, not even in school. Most of these children had spent their critical early years without ever having seen 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE a doctor or a dentist; they were malnourished, anemic, plagued by chronic ear infections and parasites; they had received not a single immunization; and their baby teeth were painfully decayed. All too often, untreated and undetected vision and hearing problems had deprived these children of sensory stimulation crucial to the devel- oping brain, causing cognitive and language delays that would be very difficult to overcome as they grew older. Head Start Is Born Confronted with these harsh and inexcusable inequalities, the nation responded with both indignation and compassion. Driven by nothing more than the human impulse to relieve suffering and a fundamental sense of fair play, a bipartisan consensus in Congress emerged that said it was our collective responsibility to level the playing field. In 1965 Head Start, the federal program that currently provides basic health, nutrition, education, and developmental ser- vices to over a million low-income children from birth to age five, was launched with overwhelming support and goodwill. Although the Democratic politicians who pushed Head Start through Congress, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Bobby Ken- nedy, saw Head Start as having the potential to make a lasting impact on the American social and economic landscape, for the American public there was not necessarily a political agenda or grand social engineering attached to the new federal program. People of almost every political persuasion supported Head Start simply because it was the right thing to do. Following the debut of Head Start, one by one, states began providing their own versions of early childhood education for low-income children (dubbed pre-K to indicate that, unlike Head Start, these programs were explicitly and narrowly focused on 2 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY PHONE OR TABLET preparing children for kindergarten). By 2012, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, forty states plus Washington DC offered pre-K programs for four-year-old chil- dren deemed at risk for failure by reason of income (Barnett, Carolan, Fitzgerald, and Squires 2012). Impossible Expectations Poverty, of course, has not gone away, and children need early childhood education now more than ever. But the collective good- will that has supported unparalleled growth and funding for Head Start and the expansion of early childhood education by state legis- latures during the last five decades has largely dissipated. Funding for state programs has declined steadily since 2002, culminating in a record-breaking drop in 2011 to 2012 of $500 million (Bar- nett, Carolan, Fitzgerald, and Squires 2012). For the first time, the debate over funding for Head Start and pre-K has taken on a com- pletely different character, with garden-variety bickering over how much to spend giving way to substantial questions about whether these programs are worth having at all. True, the ranks of those who would not spend a dime of their tax money to assist the poor in any fashion have grown consider- ably, but they have been joined by serious critics across the polit- ical spectrum who say that Head Start and school district pre-K programs have failed to deliver on their promise and should be unceremoniously retired. But what was that promise? Perhaps the greatest contributor to the public sense of disappointment in Head Start has been the program’s inability to define itself. President Obama, for example, continues to refer to early childhood education and Head Start as an investment in America’s future (Hudson 2014). This carefully 3 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE crafted phrase on the one hand invites various constituencies with competing and often opposing agendas to project on it whatever meaning best suits their goals and worldview, but on the other hand guarantees disappointment and resentment when those goals are not accomplished. The starkest example of impossible expectations and failed agenda was set into motion before the original Head Start Act was even signed into law. Perhaps fueled by a desire to oversell a program that was basically about human decency and could have stood on its own as an important piece of the social safety net, the architects of Head Start upped the ante considerably in statements to the press and to Congress. In the giddy heyday of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, Head Start declared that it could actually eradicate poverty in the United States. Language Deprivation From our vantage point today, the pronouncements that Head Start could break the cycle of poverty seem hopelessly naive. Now that the War on Poverty has proven to be as successful as the War on Drugs, Head Start seems to many to be little more than an anachronistic monument to good intentions and wishful thinking. The persistence of poverty in the face of billions of dollars invested in Head Start and state preschools over five decades, as well as the fluctuations in the severity of poverty as the economy grows and shrinks, is fairly compelling evidence that poverty is systemic and not simply a function of the lack of early childhood education. It would be unfair and inaccurate, though, to dismiss Head Start and preschool in general as nothing more than a haven for do-gooders or a soft landing place for politicians wishing to avoid 4 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY the minefield of extraordinarily difficult options that might be needed to actually address poverty. The pioneers of early child- hood education for children in poverty really were onto some- thing very important. It had long been known, for example, that early childhood was an especially critical period in the life of every individual. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget had demonstrated earlier in the twentieth century that the ways in which human beings think and process information during early childhood was significantly different than how we accomplish these same tasks during the school years and throughout adulthood. Piaget and almost every other theorist in human development agreed on the basic principle that experi- ences during early childhood could affect outcomes for the rest of a person’s life. The founders of Head Start quite correctly targeted early child- hood as the window of opportunity to make lifelong changes in the lives of children. It made sense, and still does, that if poor chil- dren whose early experiences in home and neighborhood were substantially different from those of middle-income children were provided experiences that closely replicated those of their more affluent counterparts, then these children could also succeed. As Head Start expanded, as preschool and child care became commonplace, and as the money spent on them grew exponentially, the nascent field of child development exploded, and research into critical questions gathered considerable impetus. Was there a phys- iological basis for the differences in thinking between very young children and children seven and older that had been observed by Piaget? Can we identify those specific early experiences that predict success? Can these experiences actually be provided by institutions such as Head Start and public school systems? 5 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE So far the answers to these questions are . . . “Yes.” “Yes, and . . .” “Yes, but we have failed to do so.” Piaget’s observations have been completely validated by mod- ern brain research not available to Piaget himself. (Rapid growth in synaptic density in human infants was first identified in the 1980s [Bruer 2014].) The human brain in early childhood engages in intense activity in which essentially it wires itself. Brain cells are connected. Pathways are developed. The quality of the child’s early experiences determine how well and how thoroughly the wiring is completed; however, at around age five or six, at exactly when Piaget said the change would occur, the job is for the most part over, for better or worse, especially in those parts of the brain responsible for language development. The developing brain that from birth takes in information at lightning speed from multiple and simultaneous sources becomes at age six the linear brain that each of us brought with us to first grade and that we are still using to decipher this chapter. And the specific experiences and conditions that support healthy brain development in early childhood? Well, certainly adequate nutrition is a primary need for the developing brain, as is rich sen- sory input, including physical touch, and an environment reason- ably free from toxins and trauma. An adult can endure long periods of isolation and deprivation and can suffer all sorts of emotional and physical trauma, and still experience full recovery once more favorable conditions are restored. The developing brain from birth to five, however, cannot, and any number of risk factors can cause damage that is very difficult to overcome (Center on the Develop- ing Child 2007). 6 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY But for one glaring exception, Head Start and to a lesser extent school system pre-K programs have done a very good job in remov- ing risk factors and providing environments to low-income chil- dren that foster healthy brain development. That glaring exception, unhappily, is the ability to provide rich or even adequate environ- ments that support language development. While there are many specific experiences that influence brain development, the starkest contrast between poor and more affluent children is experience in hearing and using language. Simply stated, compared to their more affluent counterparts, many low-income children from birth to five suffer language deprivation. For a variety of reasons, their families do not provide ut for one glaring exception, the same quantity of language as do more Head Start has done a very good affluent families, so that in terms of sheer job in removing risk factors. number of words, the middle-income child will have been exposed to over three times the language that the child in poverty will hear by the time she reaches school age (Hart and Risley 1995), at which time the window of opportunity for language development that is open wide during the child’s early years begins to close. B Can You Say, ‘Am-phib-i-an’? Instructional Mode vs. Communication Mode Consider the middle-income professional father who takes his four-year-old on a walk in the park. Unaware of the incredible capacity of his child’s developing brain to absorb information, Daddy provides his son with some linear, incremental instruc- tion. Operating in instructional mode, he points out a specimen of native wildlife to his son. 7 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE “That’s a frog,” he explains. “A frog is an amphibian. That means it can live on the land and in the water. Can you say, ‘am-phib-i-an’?” At supper that night, the daddy exhorts his child to “tell Mama what you learned today,” and after some amount of coaching, the child repeats the lesson. Both parents beam. Dad is a great teacher. Their kid is a genius. Actually, if the child had to rely on this level of teaching to sup- port healthy brain development and to prepare for future success, this youngster would begin school with the receptive vocabulary of an overachieving chimpanzee. Daddy, in instructional mode, has provided his offspring with a single noun: amphibian. Per- haps tomorrow he will provide another. Fortunately for the child, neither parent visits instructional mode very often. Instead, they remain in communication mode almost all of the time, albeit com- pletely oblivious to the rich language experiences they are provid- ing for their child. During that same evening meal, for example, in communica- tion mode, Mom tells Dad the story about her trip to the mall to return a small appliance. It’s bad enough to discover that a simple piece of equipment is defective the moment it is put into operation, worse yet to endure the tedium of parking lots and lines, but simply unconscionable that the clerk would be rude and would not provide a refund without a receipt. Mom’s sister, by the way, just last week returned some defective merchandise to that same establishment— defective merchandise must be their specialty—and had wrangled a refund from that very same customer service desk without a shred of evidence that she had purchased it there. It’s just fine if the store needs to establish return policies, but they need to be followed con- sistently, and now Mom intends to boycott that place of business because it’s better for the planet to buy locally anyway. 8 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY And so on. Later that evening, still in communication mode, the parents disagree on what to watch on television: Mom wants to watch a reality TV competition involving would-be fashion designers and runways; Dad wants to watch college basketball. Assertions are made on both sides as to who always has control of the remote and who got their way last time. Evidence is offered as to which show has the more redeeming qualities (creativity versus teamwork) and the relative importance of each program (season finale of the fashion competition, opening round of tournament). Family tradi- tion and career are both invoked (“My dad will ask me if I saw the game” and “My clients love this show, and everyone but me will be talking about it in the morning”). In incremental instructional mode, words drip from the faucet slowly, one noun at a time. “Can you say, ‘am-phib-i-an’?” But in communication mode, nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs flow in a mighty torrent. As the child listens to these stories and conver- sations, inside his developing brain synapses are firing, new path- ways are constructed, neurons are connected, and words are added to the child’s vocabulary as fast as they are heard. But acquisition of a larger vocabulary is only part of what is going on. The child, without any intentional effort, takes in not only the content of the discussion, but the way ideas are presented—the complex sentence structure, digressions, and irony employed during the mall story; the manner in which arguments are framed, proven, and refuted during the television discussion; and how solutions are negotiated. By simply listening to these conversations and thousands more like them from birth through age five (including and especially during infancy), the children of affluent, well-educated America acquire communication and critical-thinking skills that will last 9 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE a lifetime. These are the very skills that will be called upon when the time comes to take the standardized tests in third grade that first sort out the winners and the losers; the skills that will be called upon when a research paper is assigned in high school; and again when Harvard asks for an original essay on a scholarship application. School may be the place where young people go to become educated, but make no mistake about it, school is a deadly serious cutthroat competition that will determine a child’s success in life at a very early age. Percentile rankings on fourth-grade achieve- ment tests will correlate highly with scores earned in tenth grade, drop-out rates, enrollment in postsecondary education, career opportunities, lifelong earning power, and even incarceration rates (Chavous 2012). That said, the ability to communicate effectively is perhaps the single most important skill a person can develop for success in school and success in life. It is acquired in the developing brain during the child’s early years almost exclusively by listening to other human beings communicate. The level of proficiency in communication any individual might achieve is directly related to the quality of communication the child is exposed to in early childhood. Discourse in lower-income homes can also be quite rich. Words are free, after all. But in too many homes, the children of poverty are not exposed to anywhere near the quantity or quality of lan- guage as their middle-income competition. The National Associ- ation for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) puts it this way: “On average, children growing up in low-income families have dramatically less rich experience with language in their homes than do middle-class children. They hear far fewer words and are 10 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY engaged in fewer extended conversations. By 36 months of age, sub- stantial socio-economic disparities already exist in vocabulary knowl- edge” (NAEYC 2009, emphasis mine). Anne Fernald at Stanford University has since demonstrated that the language gap between low-income children and more affluent children is significant and is measurable by eighteen months (Fernald, Marchman, and Weis- leder 2012) and if not remedied is highly resistant to intervention after age five. It’s important to say, in defense of families (low income or oth- erwise) not providing rich language, that our current understand- ing of language development seems to equate verbosity with quality. In truth, he ability to communicate counting words to measure discourse effectively is perhaps the is sort of like counting notes to mea- single most important skill a sure the quality of a Mozart symphony. person can develop. In doing so we give no credence to families or cultures that are taciturn or plainspoken. Likewise, our assumption that children or adults who use large vocabularies are better communicators is open to question. For example, Ernest Hemingway, a writer openly con- temptuous of his contemporaries who used large vocabularies and complex sentence structures, won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with the The Old Man and the Sea, a book that uses the vocabulary of an average eighth grader. Although early exposure to rich discourse is critical, clearly our ability to measure the quality of that discourse is crude at best. In fact, one could argue that vocabulary is nothing more than the secret handshake of the well educated and the high value placed on vocabulary in school (Rich 2013) is just another way the deck is stacked against children in poverty. T 11 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE That said, the correlation between rich discourse and school success is real, and if words spoken are so important, why then do parents struggling in poverty not provide them at the same rate as more affluent families? One obvious reason is the parents’ own education. These are parents who collectively are more than five times as likely to have dropped out of high school than their affluent competitors (Rumberger 2013) and have scores on stan- dardized tests significantly below those of their more affluent competition (National Center for Education Statistics 2013). For these reasons, the kind of vocabulary used by Mom in her mall story simply is not available to many parents in poverty. One could also argue that parents in poverty are less able to provide the same breadth of experience—museums, the theater, or even the beach— that is taken for granted by higher income families. But exposure to language can be provided through quite ordi- nary experiences as well. One need look no further than the language-rich discussions described earlier about exchanging merchandise and watching television to see how that is possible. Children do not have to go to the Smithsonian to be exposed to rich discourse; the grocery store will do just fine. But even the family trip to the grocery store can take on a very different quality for people living in poverty. Some families strap their one-year-old and three-year-old into the built-in child safety seats of the family SUV and head off for the store. During the trip, except for the occasional admonition to “quit teasing your sister,” they may ignore their children during the entire journey. They do converse with each other, however, and the three-year- old immersed in his video as well as the one-year-old facing the rear, sucking on her pacifier, take it all in while not appearing to pay the slightest attention. 12 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY Other families, though, strap their two children into the back- seat of their ’91 Ford Tempo, in car seats provided by the county health department. In the front seat, the mom sorts through the coupons in silence and calculates the amount of money still avail- able on her EBT card. While she worries about how she’ll afford school supplies with the little cash she has on hand, Daddy won- ders if the bald tire with the slow leak still has one more trip left in it. Despite his preoccupation with the tire, Daddy starts to tell a story to Mama about something his boss said at work, but he never finishes—his attention is diverted by the cop he spots in his rearview mirror. Mom sees it, too. They both know the left rear brake light is out and that their insurance is expired. Both children are shushed while the parents anxiously scan the strip malls and fast-food joints, looking for a place to escape the scrutiny of the police offi- cer who, unbeknownst to them, has already confirmed to his sat- isfaction that their tags are up to date but is currently running a check to make sure the tags weren’t stolen. At the entrance to the drive-through restaurant, Daddy signals right, turns the steering wheel abruptly and, without having to tap the brake until safely in the parking lot, successfully avoids what might have been a most unpleasant encounter with law enforcement. In their interactions with police, cashiers, landlords, teachers, doctors, social workers, bill collectors, and bosses, parents living in poverty always have one brake light out and expired insurance. Much of everyday life is consumed with trying to figure out how to accomplish simple daily tasks that people with money take for granted. And while these parents provide excellent role models for resourcefulness, critical thinking, and problem solving, language modeling is not often a strong point. 13 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE All of which seems to lend credence to the premise advanced by pundits and demagogues of certain political persuasions that poverty is nothing more than a function of poor parenting, what- ever the reason or excuse. If it is true that children are deprived of language during their crucial early years and are therefore likely to remain in poverty themselves, so the argument goes, then shouldn’t parents be held responsible? Aren’t poor people in fact to blame for being in poverty? Not at all. The United States of America makes no claim that its citizens—regardless of the level of their educational attainment— are guaranteed a job that pays a living wage, even if they attended a high-quality preschool, had language-rich experiences during early childhood, and graduated from college. Both unemployment and service economy jobs that do not pay a living wage are under- stood to be necessary pieces of the economic machine. At any given time, upward of 25 percent of the US workforce will find themselves in one of these two groups—unemployed or not earning a living wage—fewer during good economic times, more during hard times. (Look up Census Bureau data for any year. See how many people are unemployed and how many are in service economy jobs. Or, better yet, see how many are not even in the workforce.) What the United States does guarantee, however, is an education. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and all their pals believed not only that every person has the right to an education but that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that everyone gets one. In a democratic society, ordinary citizens need to be informed about issues; they need to be able to make well-considered decisions, to engage in problem solving and crit- ical thinking; they need to have the tools to communicate their views and to evaluate the opinions of others. 14 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET AMERICA DISCOVERS POVERTY In that light, education is not about income at all but about the quality of life for every individual. It is of equal value to cab drivers— 15 percent of whom held college degrees in 2010 (McGuinness 2013)—baristas, bartenders, cashiers, and hotel housekeepers. Edu- cation is worthwhile to artists, writers, flight attendants, homeless people, unemployed people, and people who work for nonprofits for half of what they could make working on Wall Street. Education is a right for those who are born into poverty, for those who fell into poverty when the economy crashed in 2008, and for those who will suffer the same fate the next time it crashes. The fact that attendance in a state-approved educational insti- tution is mandatory for children in this country is clear evidence that it is the responsibility of the government that so mandates to provide it. The parents living in he failure of early childhood poverty who are unable to provide education in the United States is not that it has failed language-rich environments for to lift children out of poverty. their children and have no under- The failure of early childhood standing of the link between rich education in America is that it language and brain development has failed to educate. are therefore no more to blame for their children’s difficulty in school than the professional parents with MBAs who have no under- standing of congruent triangles and are unable to help their tenth graders with geometry homework. Parents at every income level expect that if they send their chil- dren to school, including preschool, then people who have expertise in their given fields will provide their children with a high-quality education. It became clear in the 1990s that language-rich experi- ence was the missing piece that could be provided by an effective T 15 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET CHAPTER ONE child development program to make lifelong differences in the lives of the children of poverty. Since then, one would naturally expect teachers to interact with children and with one another in commu- nication mode throughout the day and to share strategies with par- ents for doing the same in their own homes. It has never happened. The failure of early childhood education in the United States is not that it has failed to lift children out of poverty. The failure of early childhood education in America is that it has failed to educate. 16 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET LEADERSHIP / CURRICULUM / STRATEGIES Can we reconnect theory and policy with best practice? Early childhood educators know all about how the brain develops and how children learn, yet there is a vast disconnect between what we have learned from research and what we actually do in the classroom. With today’s system of standardized tests and academic learning by rote, young children are losing valuable opportunities to learn through play and discovery. So how did we get to this place? How do we connect what we know with what we do? The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education provides a historical overview of how educational policies came into effect and how they are not living up to their well-intended purposes. Using real-life examples, this book explores what is possible if we stop worrying about academic performance objectives and start simply communicating with children. Michael Gramling challenges educators to envision preschools that work for all children and to start making the changes that will move us in a new direction. “This book provides both a compelling historical analysis— this is what went wrong—and a new vision for the future—this is what we can do to make it right. It doesn’t prescribe a how-to fix, but it does demonstrate, through real-life stories, what’s possible.” —Elizabeth Jones, faculty emerita, Pacific Oaks College; author, Emergent Curriculum and The Play’s the Thing MICHAEL GRAMLING has spent nearly two decades working in early childhood education. He is an expert in providing family literacy and positive guidance training and he travels across the country presenting to educators. Gramling has helped develop literacy curricula for Head Start, aided programs in developing their required School Readiness Goals, and observed in classrooms from coast to coast. ISBN 978-1-60554-399-4 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL $24.95