What is fundamentally curricular and what is fundamentally human are of the same fabric (Willis & Schubert, 2000).
Many critics of public education believe that public schooling in the United States is obsolete and find little or nothing worth preserving in U.S. public schools (Greene, 2005). At the core of these arguments is the assertion that school readiness is paramount to school reform (Apple, 1996; Illich, 1970/2000; Molnar, 1996). This concern about school readiness underscores efforts within the last five years by federal, state, and local governments to increase investments in charter or private schools to prepare the nation's children for college and work (Brantlinger, 2003). In this article, we offer a discussion of school readiness through an examination of both practice and policy in schools and teacher education (Hills, 1987; Sigel, 1987).
The composition and events of a child's life outside school can either hinder or nurture the development of the child's success in school. As far back as the 1840s, Horace Mann stated that beside the school and the playground, the dinner table is the most important aspect of a child's life (Cremin, 1957). Historical research (see Apple, 1996; Delpit, 1996; Fine, 1994; Kozol, 1995; Oakes, 1986; Paley, 2000) suggests that children from homes with more limited economic means start out behind their peers and that their academic problems are compounded when school ends. Children from middle-class homes, who likely had opportunities to, for example, read books, attend camp, and participate in other growth experiences, often leave school more advanced than their peers from more limited economic circumstances (Brantlinger, 2003). Karl Alexander, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, explains that "family really is important, and it's very hard for schools to offset or compensate fully for family disadvantage" (Schemo, 2006).
In his 2004 book, Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform To Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, Richard Rothstein writes that reforms focused on education alone come up short, unless they are tied to changes in economic and social policies designed to lessen the gaps that children face outside the classroom. For example, teachers in the Philadelphia Teachers' Learning Cooperative faced pressure from city and state politicians because they successfully resisted the implementation of early childhood and Head Start testing after the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001. What occurred in the city of Philadelphia was the privatization of schools (mostly elementary), which circumvented the decision made by the elected school board and parents to side with the teachers on not allowing testing before the required state assessments. Ironically, the highest performing schools in Philadelphia over the past few years were those from regular district schools that had longer hours and smaller class sizes; those schools handily outscored the privately managed schools created along the lines of benchmark testing. Yet, the obsession with testing emergent readers (without any proper research on its success) continues, even in the face of nationwide failures (Kritt, 2005).
Assessment and Young Children in an Age of Accountability
Recently, the U.S. Congress has started questioning such assessments, which are perceived to be flawed and not developmentally appropriate. A Head Start standardized test, backed by the Bush administration and given to hundreds of thousands of preschool children each year, came under fire, amid complaints from early childhood experts that the exam was developmentally inappropriate and poorly designed. The National Reporting System, a set of mini-tests said to measure verbal and math skills, was given in Head Start programs each fall and spring, beginning in 2003. Bush administration officials asserted that the test helped assess the more than 2,700 Head Start programs in the country. Before the national test was introduced, each Head Start program used its own assessments to monitor student progress (e.g., informal observation, authentic task checklist, or narratives about students' …