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Shift Kindergarten Debate From Age to Appropriateness

To the Editor:

It amazes me that the issue of school-entry date continues to be debated without reference to one critical point: When children begin kindergarten at age 5, the oldest children in the class are 20 percent older than the youngest (related story ).

This fact will not change by dropping the cutoff date for pupils' having reached the age of 5 to June 30 or March 30. It is analogous to trying to make a blanket longer by cutting off the bottom of the blanket and sewing it on the top: The length remains the same.

Twelve months of developmental variation is 12 months of variation, no matter where the line is drawn. It is this critical factor--combined with the reality that children come to school with tremendous variation in prior school experience, family support, and early learning opportunities--that makes teaching kindergarten such a challenge.

Studies in European countries have demonstrated that the rate of reading failure remains generally equivalent when comparing children in the United Kingdom, who begin formal reading instruction at age 5 or before, with those in Scandinavian countries, who often do not begin formal reading instruction until age 7. And studies investigating birth-date effects have demonstrated that whatever disadvantage the youngest children in the class experience when they first begin school disappears by the end of 2nd or 3rd grade.

If the efforts made by educators and legislators for entry-age legislation were directed toward championing developmentally appropriate practice, this country would be a lot closer to achieving the kinds of kindergarten classes both James K. Uphoff and the National Association for the Education of Young Children advocate.

Margaret M. Dawson
School Psychologist
Brentwood, N.H.

'New' Versus 'Old' Math: More Than Opinion Involved

To the Editor:

Your article "The New 'New Math'?" (related story ) seems to portray the choice between new versus traditional mathematics instruction as simply a matter of opinion. If it is just a matter of opinion, then it is likely that the new new math will follow the old new math into oblivion. That's because most math teachers I know believe that mathematics should continue to be taught the way it has always been taught.

However, the changes struggling to take hold are not based solely on opinion. Zalman Usiskin's University of Chicago School Mathematics Project is as representative of the new new math as anything you can find in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' standards, and the Chicago project's materials and methods are research-based. Much of the support for constructivist teaching is research-based. The support for cooperative learning is research-based. So there is a body of factual material out there that makes the "new versus old math" choice much less a matter of opinion than it would seem.

If the preponderance of opinion is against the facts, then it is clear that the task of the N.C.T.M. is to communicate the facts to those who seem bent on turning back the clock.

Ultimately, it may not even matter very much whether there are good pedagogical reasons for pursuing the new new math. Technology is changing the mathematics landscape so radically that the rote-memorization, contentless drill-and-practice with paper-and-pencil calculations methodology of the old math will become as obsolete as instruction in farriering has become.

Barry McGhan
Mathematics Coordinator
Flint Community Schools
Flint, Mich.

Home-Schoolers Forfeited Right to School Activities

To the Editor:

Children who are home-schooled should not be allowed to participate in public school co-curricular activities (related story ). As the name implies, co-curricular activities are meant to go along with the regular curriculum in a public school. They are not separate. Children who are educated at home are not participants in the public school classroom. They have chosen not to be. Therefore, they should not participate in the activities that accompany the school's curriculum.

Children who attend public school and participate in co-curricular activities usually are required to meet certain grade, attendance, and behavior standards to participate. It is impossible to know whether students who are schooled at home meet these same standards.

And would students who had dropped out of public school and were then "home-schooled" become eligible to participate?

Co-curricular activities at a public school are a privilege, not a right. If students who are home-schooled want to participate, they should attend a public school.

Angella Wachsmuth
Missoula, Mont.

'Know and Be Able To Do': One Possible Derivation

To the Editor:

In response to the inquiry concerning the origin of the phrase "what students should know and be able to do" (related story ), I believe that phrase first appeared in 1983, in slightly different form, in a publication of the College Board.

In Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do, "need to" was used in place of "should," but the meaning is essentially unchanged. Beginning in 1980, the board started a decade-long initiative, involving thousands of people, called the Equality Project. Its primary goal was to describe just what students need to know and be able to do in order to be successful in college.

Whether the phrase has antecedents prior to the College Board's using it at the time or was original with those working on the project is unknown to me.

Daniel B. Taylor
Deputy Executive Director
National Assessment Governing Board
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Taylor was formerly a senior vice president of the College Board.

Horatio Alger Aid Program Not Alone in Its Mission

To the Editor:

In your May 3, 1995, issue related story, you reported in the Students column that the Horatio Alger Association's scholarship program is "the country's only financial-aid program that specifically honors students who have succeeded despite considerable odds."

This is not factual. The Carver Trust has had just such a scholarship program in place since 1988 and currently awards $700,000 annually to over 130 recipients in Iowa. Therefore, the Horatio Alger Association program is not the only one of its kind in the country. I suspect there are many others as well.

Roger A. Hughes
Executive Administrator
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
Muscatine, Iowa

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