Two years pre-school for all
Asking uncomfortable questions
Bill Cosby, in 1963, performed a routine that still makes me howl. It goes like this:
It’s the Americans versus the British in the War of Independence. (Referee speaking) “British call heads. It’s tails. What do you do, settlers? Settlers say that during the war they will wear any color clothes that they want to, shoot from behind the rocks and trees and everywhere. Says your team must wear red and march in a straight line.”
That worked in the American revolution, but in life, the goal is to make the game equitable. If their team gets 11 players, our team gets 11 players. If our goal is 24-feet wide, then their goal is 24-feet wide. “Equitable” includes “even-handed, impartial.”
Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) includes “pre-school for all, preferably two years,” as a major goal in its draft strategic plan. This plan continues under community-wide discussion. We hope to have a draft completed in January for the community. Some rightfully ask, “How do we pay for even one year of pre-school?” First, is there good reason to have the goal?
SVUSD has five major goals: 1. Pre-school for all. 2. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade for all. 3. English proficiency for all by the end of fifth grade. 4. Ready for college prep work, including algebra, by the end of eighth grade; 5. Meeting A-G (CSU application minimums) for all by high school graduation.
“For all” is the common thread, a tip-of-the-hat to our Pledge of Allegiance.
SVUSD accepts that comfortable families raise their kids in a manner which prepares them for kindergarten: summer visits to museums, national and state parks, all sorts of camps. The parent asks daily how the day went. What was learned/ done/ attempted? What was it like? Are you happy to be doing it? Would you do it again? What would you change? Why? What are your teachers like? What do they say? Do you agree? If you could invent your perfect camp, what would it be like? Can you draw a picture of it? Make an iMovie about it? Make a sales brochure for it? Build a scale model? Seriously, you’ve noticed what we ‘comfortables’ do for our kids.
We accept that a comfortable family brings a child to kindergarten with a 3,000-word vocabulary, developed from those daily conversations and challenges and the voracious number of books read, starting with picture books in the maternity recovery room and continuing with the maximum weekly stacks allowed by Claire and Daphne at the local library. Nice job on the remodel, by the way.
Vocabulary, conversation, design, management, goal-setting, impulse control, social skills, debate – these things produce a remarkable home-grown child.
But a less-advantaged family sends the child to school with a 300-word vocabulary. This is part of the ‘gap’ we hear about.
“Comfortable” ends somewhere, each family chasing a moving target. School board member Helen Marsh might call that point “multi-generational poverty” and “parent education level.” The California Department of Education might call it, “Free and Reduced-Price Lunch.” Teachers simply know when a child shows up “ready” – or not.
SVUSD accepts today, after years of discomfort, what teachers simply know from experience: bring the child ready for kindergarten or that child is up against long odds from K-to-12. SVUSD accepts that intervention is expensive and difficult, with success (closing the gap) nearly beyond reach. And SVUSD accepts that we continue interventions with maximum effort, competence, and dedication.
We are also tantalized by the possibility of starting “all kids kindergarten-ready.”
I have a second part to this column that will follow, tackling the question, what is “two years of pre-school?” Is anyone doing it successfully? What is the cost? Isn’t it the “nanny state?” And what is “not-comfortable?” It’s an uncomfortable question.
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Gary DeSmet is board president of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.