School-Readiness Proposals Gain Acceptance in California

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Anaheim, Calif.--The recommendations of a California panel that wants to reshape the state's classrooms for 4- to 6-year-olds have piqued the interest of school districts here and could serve as a model for other states, according to early-childhood specialists.

State and local educators who are working to implement the recommendations of the California School Readiness Task Force reported on their progress this month at the meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The 18-member panel's report, "Here They Come: Ready or Not," was released last March. It called for "appropriate, integrated, experiential" programs that take into account the level of physical and emotional development of the child and the individual differences that occur in 4- to 6-year-olds. (See Education Week, Feb. 10, 1988.)

The report also recommended sharply curtailing the use of standardized tests for young children and implementing "drastically altered" assessment methods. In addi4tion, it called for smaller class sizes, better training and compensation for early-childhood teachers, and linkages with before- and after-school child-care programs.

Ada J. Hand, a child-development consultant with the California education department, said the state has sent more than 10,000 copies of the report to educators, legislators, and children's groups and is filling requests for another 1,200 each month.

"The response has been extremely positive," she said. "Many are saying, 'You've hit the nail on the head."'

She added that the recommendations already have affected the textbook-adoption process. In approving language-arts curriculum materials she noted, the state board of education has "weeded out materials that are inappropriate" in the early grades, such as flashcards and worksheets.

The board has substituted "more hands-on kinds of things," Ms. Hand said, including large-sized books, flannel story boards, picture cards.

She added that the department plans to send copies of the n.a.e.y.c.'s guidelines on "developmentally appropriate practice" and advisories on curriculum and assessment to all school principals.

Donnia Foglia, a teacher in the Evergreen school district who is working part time as a consultant to the education department, also reported that several districts have formed their own local panels similar to the state task force.

'Out on the Cutting Edge'

Despite the enthusiasm for the recommendations, however, participants in a conference session devoted to the California plan also voiced skepticism about the ability of districts to pay for them.

A proposal to earmark $1.5 million to implement the California panel's recommendations reached the legislature too late for action in its last session, and the state has so far budgeted only about $200,000 for that task.

"Money is an issue, but there are a number of recommendations that can be explored by districts without additional money," said Ms. Hand. Department personnel are scheduling speaking engagements, she said, to offer advice and encourage districts to move ahead.

Participants also noted that resisel15ltance by administrators and school boards had impeded their efforts to revise early-childhood curricula.

"We are truly out there on the cutting edge, and that does get bloody," said Linda Espinosa of the Redwood City school district. "You have to have a firm resolve."

She said, however, that with support from the superintendent, her district had launched a "primary educational center" embracing many of the panel's ideas.

A 'Bellwether Decision'

Ms. Hand noted that California's efforts to combat the "shove-down curriculum" syndrome in the early grades are not unique. "It's a national concern," she said.

And Harriet Egertson, an early-childhood consultant for the Nebraska education department, cited several other states--including Nebraska, South Carolina, Missouri, and Oregon--that are actively promoting developmental programs.

But Ms. Egertson noted that the California task force's work "is another indication not only of the depth of the problem, but of agreement on the solution among people who've studied the research."

California is likely to assume a leadership position, she said, "partly because it is so big and it has such an influence on things like textbook publishers."

Lawrence J. Schweinhart, director of the Voices for Children project for the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, also noted that the California plan is likely to be influential because the early-childhood field is "more developed institutionally" there than in any other state.

The state far outspends others in the area of early childhood, supporting a variety of child-care and preschool programs and a comprehensive child-care resource and referral network.

"When you combine a very strong early-childhood force with a very strong educational force, you send a very powerful message" to other states, Mr. Schweinhart said.

Ellen Galinsky, president of the n.a.e.y.c., noted that some states--pressured by demands for greater accountability and more standardized tests--are "going backward" by promoting inappropriate early-childhood curricula. In that context, she said, California's support for the panel's recommendations "was a bellwether decision."

Vol. 08, Issue 12

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