Monday, August 20, 2007

Klein's Drill and Kill in the Womb

This is a thread from NYC Education News listserve based on Klein's call for early childhood (the womb) standards. My post wasn't well-thought out and Leonie and Ellen did a good job of fleshing things out.

I posted this in response to their thoughts:

I absolutely agree with Ellen and Leonie. My post was referring to the fact that kids need to be in school as early as possible and of course, Klein will screw it up with drill and kill (which will truly kill any natural interest in learning) and overcrowded condidions. At risk kids need to be offered the same opportunites to play and be read to and to be soclalized, etc. as middle class kids. What we faced was kids who needed to spend a few years just learning to be in a social setting before even dealing with heavy academics (some took till 4th grade) and that put them behind. Imagine trying to get them to do more rigorous academics, which I bet schools like Spence where Bloomberg's kids went would laugh at.

10 years ago kids in Kindergarten and pre-k in my school got the chance to do wonderful things. My principal who was way "ahead" of her times, tried to push in the direction of more rigid academics ala Klein and there was resistance from teachers -- and they won the battle or at least held their own -- one of the unrecognized benefits of tenure and seniority. The lack of ability of teachers to resist hairbrained schemes and function as educators today instead of just being forced to do anything they are asked no matter how crazy is one of the major casualties of the BloomKlein takeover.

I agree with Ellen. I don’t think many people would dispute the value of a good preschool environment or high-quality Head Start for most four and even three year olds, especially disadvantaged kids. My own children attended preschools from the age of 2 ½ -- but spent most of their time doing art, being read to, singing songs, running around and playing with other kids – and learning a lot of important social skills like how to be patient and wait for other kids to be served apple juice before them.

What is particularly destructive about Klein’s remarks not only is his presumption that “all students” need to start in preschool at age three – but most of all, his overwhelming emphasis on “rigorous, standards-based programs”, and we know what that means: Pushing kids into the grind of academics and testing that has overwhelmed our schools way before they’re ready for it. In fact, there was a big debate when the Bush administration tried to mandate testing for Head Start four year olds.

The fact is that all children learn at different rates, particularly in the early years, and to force them into a routine of drilling and frequent assessment so early may have the worst sort of effects.

One well-respected expert on reading at Harvard, Catherine Snow, believes that the over- emphasis on reading even in Kindergarten is misplaced and possibly destructive– particularly for low-income and/or ELL students, who should be gathering new vocabulary etc. through being read aloud to by their teachers from age-appropriate but somewhat challenging books, and being led in discussions of the same texts, rather than pushing them towards reading books themselves, which necessarily focuses on a much more limited vocabulary.

Leonie Haimson

From: [] On Behalf Of Ellen Bilofsky
Sent: Monday, August 20, 2007 10:11 AM
Subject: RE: [nyceducationnews] "We should have all of our students start and have rig...

I'm no education expert, but from what I've seen and read, the kids who are behind and come from environments that are deprived of emphasis on reading and education need the same things that the kids who have had that in their backgrounds do, only more so. They need to be read to. The need opportunities to "write" (with invented spellings at first) about their own experiences so that the process becomes interesting to them and something they then desire to master. They need to be given experiences to write about. They need to see words in the environment that they want to read. What they don't need is drill and kill--phonetics--in the absence of any meaning. They don't need long days and months of school with no play or enrichment. Of course, to do this successfully--to reproduce the environement where a parent is reading constantly to small children--the classes need to be tiny, which is why it doesn't happen here.

If you read some of the success stories of teachers who worked wonders with "deprived" children, they have that kind of intense, intimate focus. I had the fortune to edit a book by a teacher of children who are blind or visualy impaired. She wrote about working with children who not only had little vision but also had learning disabilities. Yet, using approaches--in braille--such as having them write their own stories--these students were able to achieve literacy. Of course, the teacher worked one-on-one with these blind students.


From: on behalf of
Sent: Mon 8/20/07 9:27 AM
Subject: Re: [nyceducationnews] "We should have all of our students start and have rig...

To take Klein's point of view for a second, I do not think he is talking about all children.
If you worked with some of the kids that show up for Kindergarten and see how far behind they are already, you wouild see the need for starting in the womb.
At the risk of being accused of the sin of using preconceptions (which people like Margaret Spellings say is all we need to overcome to work miracles) there was no question in my school that the majority of kids that missed out on the pre-k program would never recover.
Getting them even a year earlier than that would make a bigger difference even though you would still see kids at 3 already behind in terms of language -- there are studies out there on this I believe.

There's another point here that is similar to small schools and charter schools in terms of creaming. While pre-k is available to people, it was often the more proactive parents who made sure to get their kids in there and if you followed those kids all through the grades, they were more often in the top classes.
But that's my experience and I haven't worked in a school on a regular basis in over 10 years.


In a message dated 8/20/07 9:15:13 AM, writes:

I agree 100%+ and really resent the suggestions by Klein for my children.

I totally agree with Neal. I would not have become a parent to send my child to school at age 3. Yeah, my daughter went to a wonderful day care at 3 1/2 because my husband and I both work, but out of play, came learning - by the time she was ready for kindergarten, she knew the alphabet, could write her name, count, knew her colors, etc. All this learning was done with about 15 kids in her class. They learned about all the holidays and the celebrations of different cultures (Christmas, Passover, Kwanza, etc). They put on plays for the parents. It was a truly wonderful learning experience, with no pressure. I would do it again in a heart beat.


Karen Koenig

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