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'Outmoded' Primary Schools Imperil Readiness Goal, Report Says

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Teaching methods that are out of sync with how young children learn may jeopardize the gains they make in high-quality preschool programs, a study shows.

A new report by the Southern Regional Education Board says that preschool programs across the South and the nation are making progress in using current knowledge on how young children learn. But the report says many elementary schools still use "outmoded" teaching methods that are "inappropriate for the developmental levels of virtually all children in the 5- to 8-year-old group."

The board is a policy and research group based in Atlanta that promotes school reforms across a 15-state area. The report on primary schools was prepared by the group's health and human services commission.

The study summarizes research on the ill effects of retaining young children, delaying school entry, relying heavily on standardized tests, and using "lockstep" teaching methods that do not match children's active learning styles.

The report warns that the national education goal to insure that all children enter school ready to learn will remain out of reach unless more schools change.

"The benefits of high-quality preschool programs and other measures to improve children's readiness can be lost very quickly when students enter schools that are not ready for them," it says.

Report Cites Examples

The report cites steps being taken in some Southern states to address such problems, including:

  • A movement away from standardized testing and retention of young children in Florida.
  • The use of one-on-one tutoring in the Reading Recovery program and home visits in the Home Instructional Program for Preschool Youngsters in Arkansas.
  • The use of multi-age classrooms in Kentucky.
  • An early-education center providing preschool, kindergarten, and day care with a specially trained faculty in Auburn, Ala.
  • Legislation that encourages districts to use remedial-education aid to improve teaching in K-3 programs in South Carolina.

"The flexibility is there" to use federal Chapter 1 aid to make the early grades more responsive to young children and minimize the need for later remediation, said David Denton, the director of the S.R.E.B.'s health and human services programs. "Much of what we're talking about has to happen at the state and local level."

"Teachers probably understand better than anyone else" the kinds of teaching methods that work best with young children, he added, but "there is still a lot of pressure from parents and the public to do inappropriate things."

Hands-On Approaches

The report is being distributed to governors, legislators, educators, and early-childhood advocates to help educate policymakers, Mr. Denton said.

The study recommends that all schools implement practices for K-3 classrooms that are based on hands-on learning and recognize differences in how individual children develop.

The study also recommends:

  • Shunning the use of standardized tests to assess a child's progress and using more observation-based methods.
  • Eliminating such practices as holding children back from entering kindergarten when they are legally eligible to attend.
  • Creating school environments that encourage parents to become involved in children's education.
  • Adopting formal policies to improve communication among teachers, parents, and caregivers and to ease children's transition from preschool to kindergarten and the elementary grades.
  • Requiring teachers and administrators to have training in child development.

Copies of the report, "Getting Schools Ready for Children: The Other Side of the Readiness Goal," are available for $8 each from the Southern Regional Education Board, 592 10th St., N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30318.

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