Last week Common Core, a national group that advocates for a rigorous, content-rich curriculum covering the full range of academic subjects for all children, published a report looking at curriculum and learning expectations for students in nine countries that outperform the United States on major international assessments. Their conclusion: These countries outperform us in part because they have higher expectations and expose students to a broader, more in-depth curriculum. Key quote from Common Core director Lynne Munson, "We believe that the content of a student’s education has a greater influence on his level of achievement than does delivery or accountability systems. So reform ideas like standards or tests don’t impress us unless they make content a priority. Thus far, the debate in this country over those measures has discounted the importance of content." Worth checking out.
The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article about pop singer Shakira's efforts to encourage Latin American governments to invest more in education, development, and health of their youngest children. Key graf:
Celebrity philanthropy, rock ’n’ roll philanthropy, is no longer a novelty, but what Shakira and ALAS were trying was indeed new. They were looking to use the power of pop to help the populations not of distant impoverished lands but of the Ibero-American world from which they come. They have a policy focus — early-childhood nutrition, education and medical care — that is on a scale beyond the reach of private charity. It requires the steady effort of the state.
Shakira and her fellow advocates are focusing on Latin American countries that are poorer than the United States. But you could say something similar--about the need for increased investment in children's wellbeing and development, and that such investment requires a more robust public role--in the United States as well.
Americans aren't the only ones expecting national-level policy changes in early childhood education. In England, schools are preparing for what could be the biggest shake-up in primary education in decades, according to news reports. In early December, Sir Jim Rose, an advisor to English Schools Secretary Ed Balls, issued an interim report on the state of English primary education. His recommendation: Shift away from teaching about discrete subjects and introduce more opportunities for children to play and develop cognitive and motor skills.
The final recommendations of the Rose Review, as his report is called, are not expected until later this year and, if accepted by the government, they won't be in place until 2011. But, the new ideas have already caused a stir in England. Not only do they represent a major shift away from the National Curriculum of 1988, a set of concepts that are supposed to guide the instruction of all English students beginning in preschool. These changes come with a concerted emphasis on early education and early education alignment. On that last point, especially, U.S. policymakers should take note.
For obvious reasons, this blog focuses primarily on early education policy issues in the United States. But sometimes taking a step back and looking at early education in other developed countries can offer a useful perspective on our own early education challenges.
That's why a recent report from UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center is particularly valuable for individuals working on early education policy issues. The report postulates that the developed world is undergoing a transition in how we care for an educate young children. Due to a combination of economic and social changes that have increased mother's participation in the workforce, and growing awareness of the importance of children's early years for long-term development and learning, young children in OECD countries are spending amounts of time in organized child care settings. In the words of the report, "Today's rising generation in the countries of the OECD is the first in which a majority are spending a large part of their early childhoods not in their own homes with their own families but in some form of child care."
Writing in the Globe and Mail, Canadian columnist John Ibbitson offers an interesting perspective on the current U.S. presidential race. Ibbitson notes that the tenor of the campaign debate has pushed education reform out of the public view in this race, and wonders why, given the issue's importance to America's future. Ibbitson makes a pretty bold prediction:
But mark this: After this election, education will be one of the two or three issues that dominate political debate. Why? Because it's simply too huge a problem to ignore.
Psychology Today has a fascinating article (ht: Alyssa Rosenberg) about the mental health implications of China's one-child policy on the current generation of young adults who grew up in one-child homes. The piece focuses heavily on both the pressure many Chinese children are under to fulfill all their parents' dreams for their offspring's success, as well as the lengths some Chinese families go to to indulge their only children. These anecdotes get far more play than research findings the article glosses over, however:
Yet despite the stereotype, the research has revealed no evidence that only kids have more negative traits than their peers with siblings—in China or anywhere else. "The only way only children are reliably different from others is they score slightly higher in academic achievement," explains Toni Falbo, a University of Texas psychology professor who has gathered data on more than 4,000 Chinese only kids. Sure, some little emperors are bratty, but no more than children with siblings.
This weekend, a who's who of Latin pop stars, including Shakira and Ricky Martin, held free concerts in Buenos Aires and Mexico City to build awareness for the importance of early childhood development and raise funds for ALAS, a nonprofit started by Latin American artists, including Shakira, Wyclef Jean, and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, to pressure governments and businesses across the region to support programs that improve early childhood development for poor children. The above clip is from the Buenos Aires concert.
Let's hope their message was heard: There are 54 million children under the age of 5 in Latin America, 32 million of whom live in poverty, and improving childhood development and education for these youngsters is essential for the region's future progress. Someone seems to be listening; last week ALAS raised $200 million in funding for its mission from Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim Helú and Howard Buffet (son of Warren Buffet, who's made significant investments in early education in the United States as well).
It's become a cliche among politicians and early education supporters to argue that the United States needs new early childhood investments to prepare our youngsters to compete with workers in India and China--or "Beijing and Bangalore" as Barack Obama recently said. But, as a recent article about preschool franchising in India reflects, parent demand for quality early education options is growing in India and China as well.
Currently, the preschool industry in [India] is estimated to gross about Rs4,004 crore ($985 million). The sector is likely to cross Rs13,821 crore by 2012, a growth of more than 28% per year, according to estimates from brokerage firm CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. With nearly three-quarters of the country’s population under the age of 35, the demand for quality preschools is expected to only intensify.