Public Charter School Board: Find some balance before you rank Preschools and Kindergartens
If it passes, the PCSB's new accountability framework for all charter schools with Preschool and Lower Elementary programs would assign between 60-80% of a school's overall rating to the test scores of its 3, 4, and 5-year-olds. That sort of emphasis doesn't reflect what parents want for their children -- and it doesn't reflect what the research tells us about how children learn.
- PCSB Executive Director
As DC inches closer to its goal of providing universal preschool by 2014, it makes sense that organizations like the PCSB should be asking themselves what else they can do to ensure that our deep investments in early childhood reap deep civic returns. However, your current proposal for an early childhood performance management plan (PMF) would rank schools with a weighted formula that assigns between 60 and 80% of a school’s overall performance to student reading and math scores. And although the proposal includes the possibility for schools to “opt-in” to adding an assessment that measures the social and emotional (SEL) growth of children, it would count for just 15% of the total for Preschool and PreK, and 10% for Kindergarten.
This sort of weighted formula squares neatly with the latest trends in education policy. It does not, however, align with the latest research on the brain. “Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops,” says Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “The brain is a social organ, made to be in relationship. What happens between brains has a great deal to do with what happens within each individual brain . . . [And] the physical architecture of the brain changes according to where we direct our attention and what we practice doing.”
Where we direct our attention, then, matters greatly when it comes to determining what our children will practice doing, and how their brains will develop. And what scholars like Siegel are saying is that the worst thing we can do is disproportionately weight one piece of the developmental puzzle. “We want to help our children become better integrated so they can use their whole brain in a coordinated way,” he explains. “We want them to be horizontally integrated, so that their left-brain logic can work well with their right-brain emotion. We also want them to be vertically integrated, so that the physically higher parts of the brain, which let them thoughtfully consider their actions, work well with the lower parts, which are more concerned with instinct, gut reactions, and survival.”
Siegel’s suggestions align with the recommendations of other leading researchers, all of who confirm that the foundation of learning is social, not academic. In fact, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social & Emotional Learning (CASEL), an organization that works to advance the science and evidence-based practice of social and emotional learning, the best way for schools to provide the optimal foundation for learning is by helping students develop five core competencies: self-awareness, or the ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior; self-management, or the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations; social awareness, or the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures; relationship skills, or the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups; and responsible decision-making, or the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions. CASEL has even published a compendium of the available assessment measures when it comes to measuring these sorts of skills in children.
In other words, the research is clear, the tools are out there, and the common sense is self-evident to anyone who is a parent to young children.
So thank you for trying to ensure greater quality across all charter school programs that serve our youngest students. And please refrain from placing such disproportionate weight behind reading and math scores.
To fulfill our city's commitment to early childhood, we need a PMF that
assigns equal weight to the different components of a healthy, high-functioning learning environment – including, and not limited to, social and emotional growth. The past twelve years of federal policy have taught us that when it comes to assessing the upper grades, reading and math are valuable – and overvalued. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.
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