The Devil’s in the Details….

This is from correspondence to Early Education in the News from myself, February 5, 2013, regarding legislation being considered in California to implement Transitional Kindergarten for all 4 year olds:

I regularly enjoy the e-mail that I receive – Early Education in the News.  I look forward especially to the thought-provoking editorials and information releases.  I am writing to you to express my grave reservations about SB 837 in the hopes that your Early Education in the News might stimulate a balanced conversation from within the profession rather than primarily from policy-makers.

My name is Gregory Uba.  I have been in the early care and education profession since 1984.  I have a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Studies.  I have worked in private preschool, State-funded preschool, Head Start, child care resource and referral.  I have taught Kindergarten, 5th and 6th grades in Public Elementary schools.  I have held Board positions in professional associations.  Early care and education is something that I have dedicated most of my adult life to.

And yes, I have tremendous reservations about SB 837.  

If it happens before Kindergarten – it’s early education!  The early education profession is made up of thousands of people, much like me, who have dedicated their lives to learning about child development.  Many of us belong to professional organizations.  We attend workshops and conferences.  We are required to take college coursework.  We are professionals.  When I taught Kindergarten in the mid-1980s, I knew nothing about early education.  Today, while I may earn precious little in wages, I am immensely more qualified and more capable to teach young children than I was as a credentialed elementary school teacher.  The idea of having credentialed elementary school teachers without an ECE credential is appalling.  Historically, relatively few public school teachers attend conferences and workshops provided by such professional associations as the California Association for the Education of Young Children.  These credentialed teachers did not attend any of the Special Needs Advisory Project workshops that I attended with the Child Care Resource and Referral Network.  The idea of experienced, educated ECE professionals taking a back seat to untrained but credentialed teachers is offensive and disrespectful to those like myself that have committed many hours to professional development and education specific to working with young children.

Implementation of Transitional Kindergarten that phases in all four-year-olds over the next 5 years would be tremendously destabilizing to the existing early care and education infrastructure.  It will leave State-funded, Federally-funded, and private programs with a greatly diminished pool of potential students.  The pool of students left to the current preschool delivery system will be younger, relatively more expensive to provide services to, and with far less peer-to-peer support from the older students.  Highly trained and experienced lead teachers may find their way to new positions as TK assistant and associate teachers – underutilized and undervalued.

Fears about inappropriate curricula are far from unfounded.  School Districts do not universally have a track record of making good choices.  Open Court for preschool, DLM Express to name just two are far from developmentally appropriate and have limited support even among such State-contracted experts as those in the California Preschool Instructional Network (CPIN).  Assurances that curricula will be both developmentally appropriate and aligned with K-3 standards provides little comfort to those of us that have opposed the increasingly academic design and execution of primary education.  I have had the occasion to work in and to observe school district preschool classrooms and I have not found their curricula or practices to be particularly appropriate.  Indeed, one classroom in a district that shall remain unnamed was considerably inappropriate.

The current publicly funded early education infrastructure is already fragile after years of neglect.  It would be a far better idea to restore funding to that system, increase funding and capacity to that system to phase in an increased capacity to provide universal preschool, and support the development of those teachers already having a baseline of expertise in early childhood education.  Transitional Kindergarten already exists.  It is called Pre-K.  It has a proven infrastructure, a trained and prepared professional workforce, and a long history.  Current developments in Universal Preschool, such as that in Los Angeles and in the Bay Area have demonstrated that there are existing programs eager to participate.  And while it may be true that very few teachers in the private preschool system have Child Development Permits, it will be easier to steer existing preschool teachers towards the Permit than to develop and implement an Early Education Teaching Credential.  Implementing Transitional Kindergarten (Pre-K) through the existing early education system will be quicker, less expensive, and in all likelihood of greater quality in the near future than the design proposed by SB 837.

Certainly my opinions would be different under different circumstances.  I do appreciate the idea of a well-compensated early education workforce.  I do appreciate the notion that all children might have access to affordable, accessible early learning experiences.  But I have not been convinced that public schools can or will implement appropriate curricula.  I am not convinced that an elementary school teaching credential will remotely prepare a credentialed teacher for a TK class.  I have not met any significant number of public school teachers at any workshop or conference that I have attended.  And in nearly 30 years in the field including professional leadership positions, I have not been invited by public schools to attend their professional development events.  Perhaps others have had different experiences.  Perhaps somewhere in California one of the Association for the Education of Young Children has strong participation in the Board and membership from public school teachers.  If so, please let me know.  Until then, I can only view SB 837 with considerable suspicion and concern. 

I am a preschool teacher.  I am proud of that calling, proud of that title.  I owe it to myself, to my colleagues, and to my profession to bring forth my concerns.  If SB 837 becomes a reality much of the world I know will change.  Some of the programs that I love will collapse.  Wonderful and experienced teachers who have dedicated their lives to building the identity of our profession as something much much more than babysitting – will be locked out of teaching positions in TK.  Many will likely retire rather than face that battle all over again.

Transitional Kindergarten, well-meaning as it is, is a greatly flawed concept.  What happens before Kindergarten is and should remain – Preschool.

QUESTIONS,

PART 1: Let’s examine the possibility that a State Preschool contractor is successful in contracting with a school district to implement TK for that district.

1. What authority will the agency have in selection, supervision and evaluation of the credentialed teacher that the district might provide for TK programs?

2. What oversight will the district have over the agency? 3. What, if any, restrictions will exist as to the administrative expenses claimed by the district which will certainly impact the contract with the agency providing the TK services?

QUESTIONS, PART 2: Let’s examine the possible impact upon appropriate practice…

1. Who will select the curriculum to be utilized by the contracted State Preschool agency providing TK services? Will the experienced agency select the curriculum or will the district assign the curriculum?

2. What impact will the curriculum have in guiding the professional development of the contracting agency’s staff? Will the ECE profession become increasingly accepting of scripted curricula such as Open Court?

3. What will transpire when credentialed teachers possibly unfamiliar with ECE best practices become responsible for guiding experienced ECE teachers who suddenly find themselves in associate teacher positions?

4. Given that the ECE profession is aging, what might happen if a significant number of experienced, high quality ECE teachers retire? Will the movement against high stakes ECE collapse? Will young teachers-in-training go over to the “dark side” in order to optimize their economic well-being?

IT IS NOT UNLIKELY THAT THE DECISIONS MADE NOW MIGHT EFFECTIVELY DESTROY THE EXISTING EARLY EDUCATION INFRASTRUCTURE – FROM TEACHER TRAINING, COMMUNITY COLLEGE CURRICULUM, ECE CURRICULUM, TO DEFINITIONS OF ON-THE-FLOOR BEST PRACTICES. I do not want to be a leader who surrenders what I know, believe and participate in to policy-makers, well-meaning though they may be.

Respectfully,

Gregory Uba, Sacramento, CA

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