What I think the mommy doesn't understand is that pre-school is not just letters and counting. There are behaviors and routines that Early Childhood Education (ECE) is attempting to develop. I have no doubt that the family is a good model of social things such as how to stand in a line (when required) or wait for one's turn, but it is a whole different ball of wax to have to operate inside that model with a gaggle of one's peers. The conversations that occur during play are an important aspect of social learning---something you can't get from spending time at the kitchen table with mom.
I don't believe that children who stay home with involved parents during their pre-school years are being done any damage. My point here is simply that viewing pre-school as something purely academic is a naive way to look at things.
I was thinking about all of this again after I saw this blurb in Education Week:
I recently read somewhere in my RSS travels that late start kindergartners have the highest drop-out rates from high school---and tend to drop out earlier than their peers. Although, I suppose "peer" is relative. Perhaps there is something about being significantly older than one's classmates that sets up a whole sense of disconnection from school? Is it possible that at 5 or 6 years of age, the differences in development are so great---from the viewpoint of the child---that it is too frustrating to start school late? A teacher understands that not everyone in a kindergarten classroom has the fine motor skills for cutting along lines...but do the kinders?
Children who enter kindergarten a year after they are eligible do better in school initially than their younger peers, but the advantage tends to fade later in their academic careers, according to a study set to appear in the Journal of Human Resources.
The findings go against earlier research suggesting that age is a significant factor in student achievement. Many states have changed kindergarten-eligibility requirements to give younger students more time to mature before starting school.
“One way to think about it is that the oldest kid in kindergarten has about 20 percent more life experience,” said Darren Lubotsky, a economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who co-authored the study with Todd Elder, an economist at Michigan State University. “But once they start, they basically learn at the same rate.”
The delay may be a disadvantage to older students later on, the study concludes, given the cost of entering the workforce late.
We also know that the gains made by students who get all-day kindergarten fade by third grade---and there is no difference in achievement vs. those who only attended kindergarten for a half-day. I know of one district in the area which is valiantly trying to fight this, having invested hundreds of thousands of dollars from a stressed budget to offer full-day K to its students from its high-poverty neighbourhoods. I'd like to think that they'll beat the odds, but I'm not feeling confident. Why not? One of the factors associated with low SES is high mobility. The mobility itself is not what will doom the kids---ed research bears that out. It's the fact that there will be quite the "mix" of half-day and full-day kinders in the system by that point. Schools will be focusing resources on getting the half-day'ers caught up...not pushing the full-day students onward. Sad, but true. There will likely not be a lot of change until every child is eligible for full-day kindergarten.
I'm not sure how we measure some of these intangibles associated with ECE...how we move from just observing the process to really digging into what is happening. What do we do---if anything---with statements such as "If a child isn't reading at grade level by 3rd grade, they never catch up." or "Predictions for the number of prison beds needed in the future is based on current 3rd grade achievement."? Even assuming these are vast generalizations, there must be a kernel of truth in there somewhere. How do we move from a guessing game about what the right age is for school to ensuring every child gets started on solid footing?