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How Not to Talk About “Rigor” In Pre-K

By Sara Mead — February 15, 2013 1 min read

It’s a very good thing that the administration’s definition of pre-k quality includes quality curriculum and not just teacher qualifications and class sizes. Rich content is an important and woefully overlooked component of quality pre-k experience (see here for more on that). But including the words “a rigorous curriculum” for 4-year-olds was a mistake. Quality pre-k programs absolutely need a clearly articulated, intentional curriculum that focuses on rich language experiences and content that predicts school readiness and includes teacher led instruction as one component of a context that also emphasizes play, center time, and small group activities. And lots of current preschool programs do fall short on the content and instructional component. But calling high-quality pre-k curriculum “rigorous” only feeds into a set of misapprehensions about both what quality pre-k advocates are trying to do (no, we don’t want to eliminate play from pre-k or push an exclusively academic focus), and what quality preschool looks like. That’s problematic for two reasons: First, because it raises people’s hackles and creates an objection to quality pre-k that didn’t need to exist here. Second, because an under-acknowledged quality program in pre-k today is that a lot of well-intentioned but inadequately prepared pre-k teachers sincerely want to improve their students’ school readiness and equate that with worksheets, sitting at desks, and drilling in ABCs. That’s not, though, what quality pre-k means or what advocates of quality pre-k want and it’s not helpful to suggest that it is. I hope the administration clarifies that one soon.

I could say a lot more about the “quality standards” included in the administration’s more detailed early childhood proposal (as in, I strongly believe we need to raise both the bar and compensation for pre-k teachers, but is it really an appropriate federal role to insist that preschool teachers be paid “comparably to K-12 staff”?), and I probably will soon.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.