At the suggestion of a friend, I recently read an article about kindergarten and testing. It doesn’t really matter what the article was about. Anything about kindergarten…good, bad, or indifferent…testing, teaching, behavior, ability…written by teachers or administrators or legislators or parents…is usually based on the “blueberry myth”. You take a cup of identical little blueberries, mix them in a batter of precisely measured ingredients, bake them in an oven for the exact time required, and you get perfectly wonderful muffins. Works like a charm in the baking business! Not so much in education.
The flaw in the process is right there at the beginning…the blueberries. Do you know why the blueberries in muffins are all the same size? Why the olives in a jar are all the same size? Why the apples in the produce bin are all the same size? Because the largest and smallest are culled out and used for something else! I worked with my family each year to sort olives, apricots, peaches, and grapes. Some plants and trees just naturally produce fruit that is larger or smaller than average. If the result doesn’t meet the manufacturing needs for one product then it goes somewhere else. So you have blueberries that end up in muffins and some that are used for juice.
The foundation of education is still based on the business model of mass production. You take the same parts and use the same manufacturing process and you should get the same product…whether you manufacture it in Massachusetts or California. But when you try to apply that principle to education you get “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core”, both of which have failed miserably because they overlook that first flaw- the “same parts”. Can’t be done with children!! Never, ever, no matter what you call the program.
I’m just one teacher with experience limited to fifteen years in kindergarten in two states, plus some years of observation when my own children were in school in two other states. However, I feel that my own theory about our little blueberries is worth sharing. I think there are three basic kinds of kindergarten children and each group is also affected by two important factors: parental involvement and economic status. And the primary failing of education is that we design programs and curriculums and testing and expectations to meet the needs of the middle group, while failing to adequately address the needs of the other two.
Group One- Motivated, mature, highly intelligent, skilled, experienced. These children are eager to learn and already know how to cut, write, color, and perform a variety of basic tasks. They love books and stories. They can tie their own shoes. They have a few minor behavior problems. They are confident and willing to try new things. They’ve either been to preschool or have parents who have actively participated in their early education and experience. Many are bored by the second month of kindergarten. They could actually be promoted to first grade by the end of the first semester.
Group Two- Average skills, knowledge, and experience. Most can sing the alphabet, write their name, color, cut a straight line, and perform simple tasks. They know that a book has a story, but may prefer television or video games. They attempt to tie their shoes and put on their own coat. They have some behavior problems that may take anywhere from a week to a month to control. About two-thirds of them have been to preschool. Some are hesitant about learning to read. Some are reluctant to do anything that sets them apart from their peers. For most of them kindergarten is just a natural progression from their previous year and they expect to do their work and go on to the first grade. Most do.
Group Three- Frightened, immature, unskilled, sick, disabled, transient, and disobedient. This group is not ready to learn in the current kindergarten environment and may even resist being in school at all. Some have never been to preschool. Others have had a bad experience in preschool or at home or both. Some are behind in experience or skills because of a learning disability or a physical disability that takes time and effort to overcome. I once had a student who struggled with everything, until we discovered that he could only see three feet in front of him. Imagine living five years without anyone realizing that your vision wasn’t normal. I’ve had other students who missed half of the year because of health problems. One student arrived in my classroom mid-year after attending TWO other schools. Some students have so many serious behavior problems that they disrupt the whole class and disturb their own learning almost daily. Any mental, physical, environmental, or emotional problem must be considered before academics and testing can become a priority.
So…keep in mind that my kindergarten classes have usually included 3-4 of the first group, 10-12 of the second group, and 5-8 of the third group. And I’m expected to teach that group a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum, leave no child behind the group, and make sure everyone passes the SAME standardized tests so they can go on to the first grade. Someone tell me how…