17 Feb, 2016

How New York Made Pre-K a Success

New York Times | Sunday Review | David L. Kirp | 13 February 2016

Abstract | A lesson on apples at Ira’s incorporates everything from art to arithmetic. The children draw apples, copy the names of the different varieties, peel and slice them, determine whether the weight of an apple changes when it’s boiled, build an orchard with blocks, “sell” apple pies at the classroom bakery and examine slices under a microscope. The youngsters work in small groups, and the teacher moves among them, asking questions and listening closely to determine who needs help.

Although the “learn through play” pedagogical approach is the same, the prekindergartens aren’t cookie-cutter copies. At Rainbow Child Development Center, in Flushing, Queens, children from a mix of backgrounds are learning Mandarin Chinese, as well as English. Students in the pre-K at Hellenic Classical Charter School, in South Park Slope, Brooklyn, mainly Hispanic and African-American, are introduced to Greek language and culture through song, dance, history and art.

From the outset, the prekindergarten administrators made data-mining and analysis a pivotal component. An independent research firm, as well as several New York University faculty members, are digging into many aspects of the program, from the “home-away-from-home” classroom and parents’ engagement to children’s academic and social progress. They are delivering their findings continually so that the school system can use the information to make improvements.

“New York’s approach is a model for how to collect and analyze data to inform practice, to bring the system to the highest quality,” said Pamela Morris, a professor at New York University who is studying how well teachers are using a rigorous new math curriculum. The city’s preschool program scores higher than the national average on assessments of the learning environment, according to data prepared by an independent research group as well as appraisals of the all-important interactions between teachers and kids. Parents give it a thumbs up, with 92 percent rating their child’s experience as good or excellent. Not only has their youngsters’ learning greatly improved, parents report, they are also better behaved.