Early Years Column

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To highlight the need for teamwork in easing the transition to school for young children, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the U.S. Education Department are holding three conferences on the topic in conjunction with the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

The first is scheduled for this week in Atlanta; the others will be held May 14-15 in Kansas City, Mo., and Oct. 15-16 in Phoenix.

The conferences will provide information on a recent E.D. study showing few schools have sustained efforts to promote a smooth preschool-to-school transition. Besides highlighting evaluation issues and ways to spur parental involvement and improve the continuity of children's services, the conferences will also showcase projects funded under the new Head Start Transition Grant program, which provides funds to expand Head Start services into elementary school.

Priority in registering will be given to teams of principals, teachers, and Head Start and other community agency staff.

The National Education Goals Panel has released a report synthesizing experts' reactions to the conclusions of a task force on school readiness.

The task force was convened by the goals panel to propose a strategy for assessing progress toward meeting the first of the six national education goals set by the President and the governors. That goal states that by the year 2000, all children will enter school ready to learn.

The group last September issued a report, which was sent to numerous groups for comment, proposing an assessment system that would gauge five dimensions of children's development by gathering information from multiple sources at several points in the kindergarten year.

A synthesis of the reactions shows that the respondents' reponse was "overwhelmingly positive.'' But it noted that some voiced concern that the assessment process should not divert resources from programs and services; that it should factor in children's health, home life, and preschool experiences; and that "extreme caution'' is needed to prevent "inappropriate and inaccurate labeling and tracking.''

Copies of the report, "Reactions to the Goal 1 Technical Planning Subgroup Report on School Readiness,'' are available free of charge from the National Education Goals Panel, 1850 M St., N.W., Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036.

To stress the links between health and school readiness, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has named Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General, a Distinguished Scholar.

Ernest L. Boyer, the president of the foundation and head of the resource panel that is advising the National Education Goals Panel on how to assess Goal 1, said Dr. Koop's affiliation with the foundation "will be especially helpful'' in implementing some of the health proposals in a recent report from the foundation offering strategies to meet that goal.

A study conducted to help develop ways to identify children at risk for reading disabilities dispels the notion that some young children--especially boys--perform better in school if they have an extra year to mature.

The study by the Gunderson Medical Foundation in La Crosse, Wis., involved 5,400 children in 26 school districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It found "no educationally relevant'' differences in the risk for reading disabilities between boys and girls, and also showed that children who start kindergarten at age 6 rather than age 5 do not necessarily do better.

"We need to stop focusing on age and sex and start focusing on what does predict early success or failure,'' said Jane M. Flynn, who headed the study. "It is not when you expose a child to reading and writing. It is how you do it,'' she said.

Rather than holding children back--which may convey "the message they are not as smart or capable,'' she added, parents should enroll them at age 5 and schools should identify and find ways to serve those at risk for reading disabilities.

Boston's child-care system has become "fragmented, difficult for parents to negotiate, and too expensive for the average family to afford,'' a new study asserts.

The study, released last month by the Boston Foundation, says Massachusetts' fiscal crisis has severely eroded Boston's child-care network, which experts have looked to as a national model.

While the demand for services rose, the report says, state subsidies for child care have been cut by $30 million since 1990, leaving only 3,825 slots in Boston for 10,000 eligible children.

The area's high cost of living "means that many families need two incomes just to make ends meet,'' the report notes, but high-quality child care has become unaffordable for many.

The three-year study was conducted as part of a seminar, funded by the foundation and administered by Tufts University, involving child-care, business, education, and foundation personnel and parents. Besides detailing the decline in day care, the report offers more than 40 recommendations to reinvigorate and improve Boston's child-care system.

Copies of "Embracing Our Future: A Child Care Action Agenda,'' are available free of charge from the Boston Foundation Carol R. Goldberg Seminar on Child Care, 1 Boston Place, Boston, Mass. 02108..

Vol. 11, Issue 33, Page 10

Published in Print: May 6, 1992, as Early Years Column
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