Letters To The Editor
I thank Anne K. Soderman of Michigan State University for her fair treatment of the issue of early schooling in "Schooling All 4-Year-Olds: An Idea Full of Promise, Fraught With Pitfalls" (Education Week, March 14, 1984).
As former public- and parochial-school administrators, we at Hewitt Research Foundation base our conclusions not only on clinical experience, but on extensive research analyses and on information gathered by research teams that operate out of Stanford University, the University of Colorado Medical School, and Michigan State University.
Schooling of 4-year-olds may be "full of promise," but the promise is not very good. Not a single series of replicable studies in American or international research suggests that, for normal children, either day care or kindergarten is more desirable than a reasonably warm and responsive home. After sifting through more than 8,000 studies on children's senses, brain development, coordination, cognition, and social development, we are compelled to agree with David Elkind, a psychologist from Tufts University, and William Rower, a developmental psychologist from the University of California, that it is better not to put children in formal schooling until somewhere between the ages of 10 and 14.
Education history over the past several thousand years, including the first two centuries of American life, confirms this. It has only been since we began institutionalizing our children in the post-Civil War years, and particularly since we have been pressuring young children to leave the home at ever earlier ages since World War II, that we have drastically reduced our literacy levels and put stress on our children.
Studies conducted at Stanford University estimate that our country's literacy level was at 99 percent in the pre-Civil War years when children spent about three months, half a day each day, in a common school and the rest of their time at home. Conversely, studies conducted at the University of Texas show that in 1983 we had a 50-percent survival level of literacy--that is, half of our adult population could at least complete a job application, take a driver's test, and handle a bank account. Another 30 percent of Americans had only partial survival skills, the study concludes, and 20 percent were considered totally illiterate.
Considerable research suggests that children who start school later become social, behavioral, and achievement leaders. The child who has a chance to feel needed, wanted, and depended on at home, and who shares family responsibilities from the earliest years is the child who develops a sense of self-worth and who becomes the social leader; these children spend a great deal of their time with adults in and around the home and relatively little time with other children.
On the other hand, those children who attend school at an early age exhibit pervasive peer-dependency problems. To the extent that these youths are with their peers more than with their parents--and therefore more peer-dependent--they lose self-worth, optimism, respect for their parents, and even trust in their peers.
Every regional and national study that has compared children who are taught at home and those who are institutionally schooled has found that the home-schooled children excel significantly, regardless of the educational level of the parents.
When one looks at studies, such as Dale Farran's at the University of North Carolina, that indicate that children who attend day-care centers display 15 times as many aggressive negative acts as those who are schooled in the home, one wonders why we don't pay a little more attention to parent education and to encouraging our children to stay in the home longer. Even Benjamin S. Bloom, who was one of the biggest early-schooling advocates, has changed his mind in the last 10 years and now concludes that the best educational nest is the home, that the best teachers are children's parents, and that parents are in fact educable.
Raymond S. Moore President Hewitt Research Foundation Washougal, Wash.
In a recent article ("Higher Standards Linked to Dropout Increase," Education Week, April 18, 1984), Governor Edwin Edwards of Louisiana urges caution in imposing higher standards in the public schools in part because "an appropriate alternative curriculum for students who are not college-bound should be developed by improving vocational-education options at the high-school level," according to the Governor's education adviser.
Since when does survival require "an appropriate alternative curriculum?" I have a Ph.D. in political science and I can, and have, repaired a car, grown vegetables, repaired the interior and exterior of my house, fixed some plumbing problems, corrected problems with various machines at the office, and typed my own books. I have less time for all that now. My advice and help has been sought by an auto-repair shop whose employee couldn't read the latest repair manual and thoroughly damaged a new car. A local plumbing company has gone out of business because the owners didn't understand the tax law and how to deal with consumers profitably. And the list goes on.
It's true that I don't drive the newest cars. But then again, I've never had anything repossessed. Put another way, all the statistics show that the more academic education one has the more money one makes. Governor Edwards' "appropriate alternative curriculum" seems destined, along with so many other experimental tracking systems, to produce still another permanent underclass.
Raymond L. Chambers Associate Professor of Political Science Bainbridge Junior College Bainbridge, Ga.
Bill Honig's commentary on school reform ("Setting the Course for School Reform," Education Week, April 18, 1984) contained a good many interesting statements, among which was a plea for "quality indicators" that would "reward schools for the academic growth of average, above-average, and college-bound students."
According to all of the normal distribution curves I've seen, we usually count about 20 percent of the students in that middle group known as "average" with about 40 percent above and 40 percent below that group. In other words, on its face the statement chalks off approximately 40 percent of the students who are by definition "below average."
A second interesting approach in the article is the exclusive use of academic achievement as the measure of school success. Admittedly, reduction of the dropout rate is established as a goal. However, the ultimate measure is clearly that of academic achievement, and to decrease the dropout rate inevitably depresses average achievement levels because the reduction of dropout rates tends to retain students with the lowest levels of academic ability and motivation.
Orvin L. Plucker Superintendent of Schools Kansas City, Kan.