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UVa Leadership & Public Policy Center: The new trends in 'academic kindergarten'

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Researchers from the Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness, Daphna Bassok and Anna K. Rorem released the working paper for their study, "The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability.” They reviewed kindergarten teachers’ responses to a total of 15 specific curricular elements of English language arts skills, and found that the percentage of teachers who were teaching a particular literacy skill every day had increased for all 15 items considered.

Bassok and Rorem also found that the children learned more advanced skills like writing in complete sentences; and writing stories with a beginning, a middle and an end; as well as learning how to spell. Also of interest was the increase in the perspectives of the kindergarten teachers relating to the assessment of their students. Those teachers who considered a child’s achievement -- relative to a number of other variables, including their local, state or professional standards -- and responded that those factors were “very important” or “essential” also rose from 57 percent in 1998 to to 76 percent in 2006.

Another factor of interest was the use of standardized tests. One quarter of the kindergarten teachers reported using standardized tests at least once a month in 2006, while only 11 percent of first-grade teachers reported having used these tests at that level of frequency in 1998.

Daphna Bassok is undertaking further research to try to better understand the reasons for these dramatic changes:

“Since the introduction of NCLB, there has been a greater focus on high-stakes assessments in literacy and math.There are many anecdotal accounts of a ‘trickling down’ of intense accountability pressures from the tested grades – beginning in grade three – down to lower elementary grades, including kindergarten and even preschool.”

Bassok proposes that another likely factor is the considerable changes in the experience of children during this period, prior to entering kindergarten:

“With our increased awareness of the importance of early childhood education, we have way more children attending preschool, and we have parents, particularly middle- and high-income families, investing in their young children’s early education in a way that likely wasn’t the case two decades ago. Children are exposed to academic content earlier than they used to be and, in part, kindergarten teachers may be responding to these changes.”

It's interesting to consider how the concept of pre-school all began. Once the industrial age took hold in was comprised the 'developed world,' as of1789 -- when manufacturing began to be a major source of income -- women began to be employed outside the household. Today, even in the developing world, women occupy themselves in work outside the home.

Since opportunities for education for young children was limited for the most part to those who had already learned to read and write from older brothers and sisters in school already and often from parents who were readers themselves and passed the skill along by reading to their children.

As women began was restricted to children who had already learned to read and write at home, many attempts to make school accessible to the children of women who worked in factories or were orphans.

There was a need for plans to care for and to educate pre-school children; especially orphans, and children whose parents were both required to work outside the home in order to earn sustain a living for their families.

The Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness is a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.

The purpose of the Center is to address significant questions relating to educational policy that relate specifically to the competitiveness of labor in the workforce, in what's often called the "era of globalization."

The mission of the Center is fourfold

to provide rigorous and timely research to inform the design of education policy targeted to improving educational outcomes and the economic competitiveness of American workers in an increasingly globalized world

to promote the exchange of ideas that inform policy decisions regarding educational policy and workforce competitiveness

to foster the development of data related to these efforts

to provide a setting where faculty and students transcend disciplinary boundaries to engage in collaborative, evidence-based inquiry.

The EdPolicyWorks involves a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

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