Academic journal article Childhood Education

Forty Years of School Readiness Research: What Have We Learned?

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Forty Years of School Readiness Research: What Have We Learned?

Article excerpt

The issue of children's school readiness concerns parents and teachers worldwide. Kindergarten teachers have reported that approximately one-third of U.S. children entering school are ill-prepared to achieve success (Boyer, 1991; Carnegie Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children, 1994). Experts also warn that many children are entering school lacking the fundamental skills to achieve academic success. It is well-documented that children of color and those from low-income families are more likely to enter school with fewer of the language, literacy, social, and other skills needed to ensure school success, compared to more advantaged children (Child Trends & Center for Child Health Research, 2004; Early et al., 2007). While public schools have become more involved in preschool education and elementary schools are serving increasingly younger children, the schools themselves are often ill-prepared to provide learning environments that stimulate children's early learning in developmentally appropriate ways. In the United States, the recent emphasis on accountability for children's progress has perpetuated "push-down" curriculum approaches in elementary schools and the elimination of recess in favor of longer periods of instruction that leave little or no time for young children to learn naturally through play and exploration.

After more than 40 years of research examining school readiness, it is timely to reflect on where we are at this point and what we have learned from prior studies. Consequently, the purpose of this article is to delve into the extant research base to examine what research has revealed that may guide and inform current school readiness efforts. We will summarize key findings of relevant research, with an emphasis on highly credible, large-scale studies from which one can, with confidence, draw implications for developing school readiness models.

Historical Perspectives to Current Models

It is important to note that much of the research on readiness that has occurred during the past 40 years has been predicated on theoretical perspectives that have evolved over the past 100 years. Indeed, such prominent individuals as Charles Darwin, Alfred Binet, Henry Goddard, G. Stanley Hall, and Arnold Gesell, to name a few, have influenced how we characterize the construct of readiness (Kelley & Surbeck, 2007). Hall and Gesell, in particular, proposed a maturational perspective stating that children's growth and development were time-bound and biologically predetermined. These views subsequently led to developmental assessment programs with placement options, such as developmental kindergarten and transitional 1st grade. Unfortunately, the time-bound, biologically predetermined view of development suggests that school readiness deficits lie within children, rather than shifting the focus to preparing early care and education settings to be ready for all children, regardless of their developmental status (Kelley & Surbeck, 1991). Fortunately, current research on school readiness is demonstrating the powerful effects that well-qualified teachers in well-designed early care and education settings can have on child and family outcomes. The pages that follow describe these research efforts and the subsequent program models that emerged.

Early Program Models. Programs for early intervention and school readiness began in earnest during the mid-1960s, with such initiatives as the War on Poverty and subsequent passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. The focus of early childhood programs developed during this era was on enhancing the development of economically and socially disadvantaged children through comprehensive educational, health, and family services (Cook, Klein, & Tessier, 2004). These programs were stimulated by prior research demonstrating the success of early intervention programs for improving the learning outcomes of children with cognitive delays or disabilities (Kirk, 1958; Skeels, 1942). …

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