Learn early, learn often: School counts

You can read Sam Wang and Sandra Aaamodt's ?Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril? essay in today's New York Times for what the two neuroscientists have to say about the development of young brains ? ??Indeed, a 4-year-old's brain uses more energy than it ever will again? ? or you can use it as a cautionary tale about our dumbed down education system.

There is plenty of good science here about the question at hand, but I was especially struck by this line:

?children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability.

Aside from what it says about sending your kids to school too late or too early, the statement opens up a Pandora's box of issues for educators and education policymakers. At least, it should cause them to ask some pretty existential questions, especially whenever they hear phrases such as ??child-centered classrooms,? ?customized learning,? and ?individual education plans.?? Exactly who determines an individual child's ability, let alone what ?the limits? of that ability are? And does determining a child's ability in fact predetermine it?? The authors do not even touch the question of the standard by which we measure ability -- can we customize and standardize at the same time?? And, perhaps most importantly, what does it mean, as the authors say about the little ones, that ?school makes children smarter??? What!?? Don't Wan and Aamodt know that school is supposed to make kids ?life-long learners,? not smart? And haven't they heard of poverty?

In fact, they have:

Disadvantaged children have the most to lose from delayed access to school.? For low-income children, every month of additional schooling closes one-tenth of the gap between them and more advantaged students.

Shall we say that somewhat differently?? As in, school counts. And if school counts when you are 4 or 5, doesn't it make sense that, as the brain is still developing (last time I checked with a neuro-scientist our wires are not completely hardened until the end of our teens), school might also count beyond kindergarten?

Yes, we delay high expectations for our students at their and our peril.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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