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Ga. Chief Takes Aim at NAEYC Materials

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Georgia state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko backed off last week from an earlier threat to stop state-funded pre-kindergarten programs from using any materials published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

But she said the state education department would review the state's pre-K program and issue new guidelines that were more "academically based."

In a news release early this month, Ms. Schrenko had announced that the state would eliminate any reference to the NAEYC, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, in its guidelines for the Georgia pre-K program. She also threatened to cut off state money to any program that did not stop using the group's materials.

But last week, after consulting with early-childhood experts and state board of education members, Ms. Schrenko said she would appoint a special advisory committee of providers, parents, legislators, and others to look at ways to improve and clarify the goals of the pre-K program.

In an interview last week, Ms. Schrenko said she could not issue a retroactive order to close down programs that were following existing state guidelines. "There is not much I can do," she said, other than advise pre-K programs that the state thinks some of the NAEYC materials are not appropriate.

The NAEYC, a 70-year-old, 95,000-member organization, publishes guidelines, reference books, and position statements that are widely used by early-childhood programs and experts. The group also accredits early-childhood programs that follow a specific course of study. About 115 preschool programs in Georgia have earned NAEYC accreditation, and 200 programs are working toward it.

Anti-Bias Curriculum

Conservative Christian groups in Georgia had raised concerns in recent weeks about an anti-bias curriculum published by the NAEYC that they saw as condoning homosexuality, undermining religion, and calling undue attention to male and female sexuality.

The groups also criticized an NAEYC position statement that they maintained discourages teaching letters and numbers to 4-year-olds.

When complaints about the anti-bias curriculum, in particular, reached Gov. Zell Miller, he asked Ms. Schrenko to determine whether such claims were true and to stop the use of the curriculum if necessary.

Ms. Schrenko initially had maintained that the anti-bias curriculum had been adopted as an official part of the state's pre-K program guidelines. She later conceded, though, that it was only cited as a reference in the program guidelines.

In addition, a chapter from the NAEYC's position statement on developmentally appropriate practices was included in an appendix to the state guidelines for pre-K programs. But Ms. Schrenko argued that the guidelines' frequent references to NAEYC principles sanctioned their use and that they are part of training for many early-childhood teachers.

Interpreting NAEYC

Ms. Schrenko said last week that she still plans to advise programs to stop using the anti-bias curriculum. She also stressed that revised guidelines will make it clear that academics should be the major goal of pre-K programs and that teaching the ABCs is appropriate.

But she conceded that part of the uproar was caused by some educators misinterpreting or carrying to extremes some NAEYC principles.

An underpinning of the group's philosophy is that younger children learn better through hands-on activities than through formal, rote drills and lectures. One passage of the NAEYC principles that conservative groups criticized says that children need a variety of learning and language experiences and that it would be inappropriate to "stress isolated skill development" such as singing the alphabet or drawing within defined lines.

"It is really strange that it is inappropriate to sing the ABC song, but it is OK to teach children to sing a chant at Halloween," said Sherry Tomlinson, the legislative director for the Christian Coalition of Georgia, referring to a passage in the anti-bias curriculum.

But Barbara Willer, the NAEYC's public-affairs director, said much of the information distributed by opponents had been taken out of context. She also acknowledged, though, that her organization has been working to revise its guidelines on appropriate practice and has heard complaints about teachers interpreting them too strictly.

"It does remind all educational professionals of the importance of clarity in communication," she said. "If the perception is out there that NAEYC only wants children to play and never worry about whether they are learning their ABCs or how to count, nothing could be further from the truth."

Patricia Minish, the president of the Georgia Association on Young Children, said she, too, wants to make sure NAEYC principles are implemented correctly. But she voiced concern about adopting an "academically based program rather than using widely accepted developmental practices as the basis for a curriculum that is appropriate for 4-year-olds."

The pre-K program, considered a pet project of Gov. Miller, is funded with state lottery money and currently serves 48,000 children.

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