Academic journal article Childhood Education

Balancing the School Readiness Equation in Early Learning Environments

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Balancing the School Readiness Equation in Early Learning Environments

Article excerpt

What does "education" mean for a nation or a society? What does "school readiness" stand for and how does it differ across the world? The authors of this article use examples of teaching practices and insights from education professionals in an urban setting in the United States to conceptualize the implications of elementary education and school readiness in their context.

It also provides an understanding of how national and state standards affect educational practices and how national and international trends can shape social expectations of education.

For decades, ensuring that children enter elementary school ready to learn has been a key initiative on policymakers' agendas across the United States and the globe (e.g., National Education Goals Panel, 1992; Park & Chung, 2010). Recently, being ready for school has been interpreted by many as being able to achieve academically (Brown, 2013). In the United States, this focus on academics can be tied to recent education reforms that emphasize children learning specific content standards and attaining particular levels of achievement on certain standardized tests in kindergarten through grade 12 (K12) schools (Stipek, 2006). Yet, this image of school readiness fails to capture the research-based understandings of children's learning and development and the assessment process that persists throughout the field of early childhood education (Jalongo, 2007; Meisels, 2007).

Framing school readiness in this way has led many to question what it is children should know, do, and learn in such public preschool programs as pre-kindergarten (pre-K) and Head Start (Miles & Stipek, 2006; Neuman & Roskos, 2005). Research has shown these reforms can limit teachers' instructional practices (e.g., Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2006). Many early educators in public and charter school programs across the United States are being told how to teach these sets of knowledge and skills (e.g., Delpit, 2012). Such curricula as Success for All (www.successforall.org), SRA's DISTAR (www.sradirectinstruction. com), and other localized reforms require early educators to follow particular scripts on a daily basis. Thus, these curricula not only appear to take the instructional decision-making process out of the hands of classroom teachers, they also promote an image of the ready child that may not align with educators' goals for the children with whom they work. These policies can create early learning environments where teachers feel torn between either meeting policymakers' and administrators' academic achievement requirements or attending to children's learning needs across all of their developmental domains.

To help early educators move beyond this instructional dichotomy, we look to the knowledge, skills, and wisdom of three pre-K teachers. Other pre-K teachers, administrators, and teacher educators identified these individuals as effective early childhood educators who consistently readied children for school success in a high-stakes teaching context through appropriate practices. Using examples of their teaching and statements that provide insight into their pedagogical thinking, we offer suggestions to help early childhood teachers make instructional decisions that address individual children's developmental needs while also teaching them the academic knowledge and skills needed to be ready for elementary school.

DEFINING SCHOOL READINESS

The debate over what it means for children to be ready for school and the role of early childhood teachers in this process is robust (e.g., McWayne, Cheung, Wright, & Hahs-Vaughn, 2012). We draw from the work of Meisels (1999) and his four conceptions of school readiness to frame this debate. In doing so, we adapt his work to frame school readiness as an equation; the sum of the variables in the equation equals a child who is ready for school (Brown, 2010).

To begin, Meisels (1999) defines the idealist/nativist perspective as a "within-the-child phenomenon" (Meisels, 1999, p. …

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