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Early Learning Issues In The U.s.


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Many of the issues in the U.K. are similar to the issues we face in the U.S. There is a push to provide a more academic approach to learning in our Head Start programs. (Head Start is a U. S. federally funded program for low-income families). Starting this September, all 4-year-old children will be tested for literacy skills twice a year. We are not sure how this will work yet. I just do not see the value of testing 4-year-old children and I do not think it is fair to the children, their families, or the teachers.

 

I have 34 children in my class with 17 in the morning and 17 in the afternoon session. We have an enormous amount of paperwork. We are required to write two observations monthly on each child, three home visits, three school conferences, on-going assessments, newsletters, write weekly lesson plans, keep track of parent participation, miles travel to and from school, classroom meetings as well as professional growth trainings.

I would like to know how the preschool system is set up in the U.K.

Thank you,

Diane

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Hi Diane -

Sounds like the same experience is hitting both sides of the pond, with new requirements to record and assess pushing up stress levels and workload.

 

I can see, I guess, the need to 'benchmark' or take a snapshot of anything when you first begin to try to improve it. If you have no idea where you are, then how do you know if the actions you take are making it better. But that's as far, hopefully as any 4 year old testing or assessment would go - a stats gathering exercise, rather than a personal record?

 

But there also needs to be provision for the extra workload involved, and too often this is either left out of the equation or catered for inadequately. How many staff cover your 17 children? What are the child/carer ratios for pre-school education where you are? We have fairly well fixed ratios in pre-schools, although nursery schools within the state primary school sector are not subject to these.

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Hi Diane,

We are now being urged to do regular assessments on the children, but nobody has detailed the exact amount to be done. We choose one child each session to observe, and all staff make comments on her/him throughout the morning. We also do "catch-as-you-can observations, scribbling notes on significant achievements/events/conversations. Finally, we do an observation on a group of children taking part in a teacher-led activity. We then write up all these notes into each child's "special book", and use these observations for the following week's planning. We are not obliged to do home visits at all, and I am not aware of any pre-schools in my area who do any. Reception classes in school (4 year olds) often arrange home visits before the child starts school, but this is only once, not three times!

I'm not sure what you mean by keeping track of parent participation; can you explain that bit? Three school conferences seems excessive, too. Most schools do two; one in the autumn term (October-ish), and the other in the summer. End-of-year reports are also given to parents at the end of the summer term.

When you mention classroom meetings, do you mean consultations with fellow teachers, or with parents?

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We have two teachers in each classroom with 17 children. The children vary in ages from 2 years and 9 months to 5 years old. We have children with special needs and children with limited English speaking skills in our classrooms. The workload is such that we often stay late without pay in order to complete our work.

 

The guidelines vary regarding child/teacher ratios. In California, it is one teacher to 12 children ages 3/5. In our program, it is 1 teacher to 10 children in the full day classes and 1 teacher 8.5 children in each session.

 

Helen, you asked about tracking parent participation. Head Start requires family involvement and teacher are responsible to track all volunteer hours. Parents can volunteer in the program by assisting in the classroom, providing resources, or special projects.

 

This link will explain about volunteering. http://www.sandiegoheadstart.org/index.html

 

The next link is a general link to my worksite organization. http://www.neighborhoodhouse.org/

 

One more link to help explain our organization.

http://www.headstartinfo.org/

 

Diane

From Sunny San Diego, California/

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Hi Diane,

In England, the ratios in pre-schools are 1:4 for the under-threes, and 1:8 for 3-5 year olds. However, when the four-year olds go to school, the ratio is 1:30 with a teaching assistant for the majority of the time (this varies from school to school). So you see it's ridiculous that 4 year olds can have such varied settings! There is a move here to improve the ratios in reception classes (ie the first class in state school) so that they are more in line with pre-schools. It is clearly going to take years.

Depending on the nature of SEN, extra funding is sometimes available to provide one-to-one support for a particular child.

Doing over and above our paid hours is a huge issue over here, too. If you are fortunate to work in a setting where staff are paid to attend staff meetings and to complete records, you are supposed to be grateful!!! Don't even mention attending training courses in your own time!! :D:D

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Hi

Another perspective from a Reception class teacher, in an area with state nurseries.

 

In a Nursery school the ratio is (or was, when I taught in 1) 1:10.

In a nursery class (ie: attached to a primary/infant school) 1:13.

 

Our school class numbers have grown with the Government class size innitiative, no pupil under 7 in a class of more than 30, as we can now only afford 1 teacher for every 30 children. We have had our admission number cut from 112 to 90.

 

My head supports us with a full time NNEB in Reception, now that we have a 1point admission, as she maintains that is the children's entitlement. And a part time LSA. We can't offer FS as we wish without that staffing ratio either. I can always use more hands!

So 30 children with 3 adults morning, 2 afternoon.

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HI again,

Our school induction policy is-

 

we have 2 school visits, where the new intake visit their new classroom and teacher with their parents. At the second visit the children are encouraged to stay with the teacher while parents are addressed by head about routines, uniform etc.

In between these 2 visits to school, the teacher visits the new class in their nursery.

 

Before school starts in September we also visit each child in their own home.

This year children will also have 2 days part time and then come in fulltime, with part time negotiable at teacher's discretion.

Unfortunately we have alot of parental pressure to get the children into school, parents want them out of the way!!

As the dinner time usually proves to be very difficult for many, I'm quite amenable to delaying the full time bit but its not what the parents want as a whole. So we've had to give in to the pressure!

 

Whole school has 3 parents evenings-

Late September/ mid October there is a Parents evening to discuss settling and any other issues to be addressed.

In second half of Spring term we have aprogress check.

At end of summer term we have a meeting to discuss issues arising from reports.

 

Wonder what reaction I'm going to get about profiles. which went home last Friday, this week?

 

Susan

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Hi DianeSab

 

the headstart program I think some might recognise it to be simular to Highscope?? some areas in the uk have adopted it.

 

Ive heard alot of positive thoughts about the program but cannt see the point of testing 4 year olds they develop at such different stages? it is a pointless exercise they might as well measure pieces of string or count grains of sand!!!

 

there is a lot of evidence that proves testing doesnt help the child and only adds stress to the staff and the setting

 

testing only literacy sends the wrong messages to the child and parents, implying that literacy is the most important area of development, what about the child who gets low results? with all the best will in the world its hard not to label children especially if they need extra help and the time they spend getting extra help they can missout on other aspects of learning. at this stage in development its important the children are recieving a balance of learning experiences and not to give greater emphasis on one area of learning by testing it. there are other ways staff can monitor for special needs without tests.

 

you only need to look at the UK and sats tests to see the negative impact it is having on children and the education system as a whole. (but this is another debate!)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi DianeSab

 

It is really interesting for me to 'sit in' on a chat about both systems. I'm British and worked in education there for 14 years before moving to the USA - I'm north of you in California.

 

I have watched education unfold in both countries for almost five years now, and it seems that the USA is following closely behind the UK in its increasing focus on testing and reporting results, and accountability, but with no real understanding of the issues that testing throws up. Now that there is a move to abolish testing at Year 2 (your first grade), I wonder if the US will eventually follow along behind in a few years and start streamlining their testing procedures.

 

Of course, testing is necessary and useful - IF it is a part of a whole process of assessment in order to inform practice. If it is just for 'accountability' and the results used to create even more competition student to student, parent to parent, or school against school, then we are on a sad road, whichever side of the pond we live! :o

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Nicola,

I was interested to hear you say that the US is following the UK in terms of testing etc. What was the standard set up before all this was taken on board?

Do most under fives attend a playgroup/nursery etc? Funded or not? Were these settings seen as unstructured places where children could, dare I say it, "just play"?!! :o In our area of the country it would be hard to find a three year old who doesn't attend some kind of early education setting! Is it the same where you are?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Helen, I can only talk about my area, N California, and my experience with preschool and my own children. The USA is a big place, so I'm sure there are enormous variations.

 

'Funded' (ie state) preschool is not available in my area. (Although there is, I believe, a Headstart programme, but that is not open to all). Children start public school a year later than Reception class in the UK - ie the year in which they will turn six, not five. Some places have different cut-off dates, but where we are it exactly a year later than most schools in the UK. There are no nursery classes at the public schools. Therefore you are looking at a private arrangement of some kind for preschool. My area does have a good community programme, with a parent co-op preschool, where parents have a large commitment to the school. For the first year, they attend with their child, then they attend one out of two sessions, then one out of three. The provision was quite impressive when I looked at it, but of course, if you have more than one child, it doesn't work unless you find another setting for the siblings - which in my case was not practical. It is also hard to get a place, with a very long waiting list.

 

Other than that, the provision is private and very variable. There are a number of parent co-ops including the 'Mountain School' - which is extremely popular, with a curriculum involving lots of outdoor experiences and practical 'work' activities. The parents have to attend sessions and observations and 'classes' about child development - which is a huge commitment. Again, for parents like myself with more than one child, it is not practical.

 

There are many private preschools that also offer day care (this is an expensive area and many parents work to make ends meet). Also a lot of preschools called 'Academies', which always make me smile, at the thought of little three year olds with professor's hats on! It can tend to be somewhat competitive. For example, when my older daughter was just two, another mother asked me where she was going to preschool. I said that she was staying home with me for now, and she looked incredulous. "Aren't you worried about what college she'll get into?" she asked. xD:(:(

 

There are, of course, some excellent preschools with a sound play-based curriculum, but a large number of parents in this area are looking for something more formal. Anywhere can call itself a 'school' and the word 'teacher' is used much more liberally here than in the UK. So there are a number of formal private nurseries offering a very structured curriculum. Of course, there are a number of alternative schools also - Waldorf is fairly popular, along with Montessori, although a number of Montessori schools seem only to be so in name. We do have a local Sunbury school, which I plan to visit sometime. I often go past it, and find it fascinating seeing children doing their 'thing' outside in the grounds. I've chatted to some of the children a few times and was impressed by their skills in negotiation and decision making - on one occasion there was a disagreement over a scooter/skateboard contraption and one child (about five years old) asked me to intervene, but the other children called him back to sort it out. It was fascinating seeing the different aged children interacting.

 

Personally, I couldn't find a preschool that worked for my daughter this year, and so set up a small parent co-op with some other families, where younger siblings were welcome. We now have six children, and meet once a week, rotating around the homes. It has been wonderful setting up our own curriculum and making our own decisions. We have a wealth of talent amongst us, and everyone brings their own style to the sessions. We may expand next year, although it is meeting our needs at the moment.

 

From what I have gathered, there are no central requirements (except for health and safety) for preschools, and there is certainly nothing like the Foundation Stage guidance or National Curriculum. Testing is becoming increasingly a focus in the public schools, starting in Kindergarten (= Yr1). Parents make the same sorts of complaints about too much focus on testing here as in the UK, and it seems to be annual in many areas, not at the end of key stages. Testing is not such an issue, however, in preschool, as most provision is private and there is no central method of inspection or standardization.

 

There seems to be an agenda of increased 'accountability' and reporting of results, with property prices hinging on school test scores, even more so in this area than in the UK. To give an example, a house that would cost $400,000 in an area with average test scores, would cost close to a million in one of the 'top' school districts, within maybe a ten mile radius. People will buy apartments in an area to get into one of the prestigious high schools, sending house prices to ridiculous levels. Of course, real estate agents talk it up too, which is worth their while if you consider that they earn a 6% commission on a house sale!

 

I'm sure that this is far more than you wanted to know! I am speaking only of my own area, and there are wide variations between districts, let alone states. I'm sure that Diane could give far more in terms of specifics about the system. :o

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Everyone!

Thought you may be interested in a Nursery World article (this weeks issue) which compares early years care/education in about 10 countries - the USA being one of them. Interesting reading :o

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