Sharon Greenberger, the Chief Executive and CEO of the School Construction Authority was testifying before a NYS Assembly committee, there were many students on kindergarten waiting lists in Manhattan. Greenberg was explaining the method of predicting the number of kindergarten seats, projections of census data, predictive algorithms, what today we call “big data” to predict outcomes. Assembly member Linda Rosenthal interrupted, “Why didn’t you just count the number of baby carriages on Broadway?”
Mayor de Blasio came into Gracie Mansion with two education policies: rid public schools of co-located charter schools and add over 4,000 full day pre-k seats.
The Eva attack was unforeseen and the de Blasio team was unprepared – when the dust settled Mayor Bill was a loser – a big time loser.
Pre-kindergarten belongs to the mayor, there is no Eva, the success/failure is up to the mayor.
Identify Seat and Students and Match Them Up
The easy part of expanding half day to full day pre-kindergarten classes – the hard part of identifying classrooms appropriate for pre-kindergarten – bathrooms for four-year olds, sinks, furniture and the wide, wide range of learning materials. Paper, crayons, lots and lots of crayons, books, books and more books, blocks, educational toys, I-Pads loaded with the correct apps for four year olds and music players, perhaps a piano.
Principals may not be eager to give up a room for pre-kindergarten, the rooms have to be renovated, and, most importantly, the rooms must be matched to the students by neighborhood.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has already criticized the mayor’s choice of locations, claiming the seats are in low use neighborhoods and a lack of seats in high use neighborhoods.
The neediest students will be the most difficult to recruit – they may live in shelters, in foster homes, in projects, and their caregivers simply may not be aware of the programs, or, not be able to get themselves organized enough to hook up with the program. Half empty classrooms, kids here one day and gone the next, kids wandering in to school late, hysterical 4 year olds not wanting to leave their caregiver, again. are all critical and commonplace problems.
A Strong Parent/Caregiver Support Program
Pre-kindergarten programs need strong parent involvement programs – explaining the importance of diet, reading to children, discipline that is not punitive, how to talk with children, ask them questions, playing with them at home, talking about colors and numbers and letters, and playing; not just sitting the child in front of the TV for hours at a time.
Recruiting and Training Teachers
Can the Department identify and train appropriately certified teachers and paraprofessionals so that they can hit the ground running? Can the current network structure support pre-kindergarten teachers? The vast percentage of new pre-kindergarten teachers are not currently teaching pre-kindergarten classes, will the Department run training sessions over the summer? Will network staffs be augmented with coaches with expertise in pre-kindergarten?
Selecting a Curriculum
Will the Department select a curriculum? Allow the network or the school to choose a curriculum? Will the Department opt in to the Engage NY Core Knowledge curriculum?
I am far from an expert, however, my pre-kindergarten experts are sharply critical of the Engage NY curriculum – they complain it is poorly-written, confusing and lacks an encompassing philosophy.
The Montessori Model, with roots extending back into the 19th century is a child-centered model, once again, antithetical to the Common Core and has extremely loyal followers.
In this highly toxic atmosphere the selection of a curriculum can set off an explosion – the anti-Common Core versus the Child-Centered adherents.
The funding of pre-kindergartens, the dollars, are only the beginning, there will be many bumps along the road, many opportunities to be sidetracked, the Department needs skill to design and implement the program. The “reading wars” – the phonics versus whole language acolytes may be replaced by the Common Core wars – the supporters and opponents. The decisions over the choice of a pre-kindergarten curriculum may create another “war.”
Who would have thought that four year olds may determine the success, or lack thereof, of a mayoral administration?