Giving Compass' Take:

• For early education to  best serve preschoolers, high-quality pre-K programs must incorporate a combination of rigorous learning in a playful, child-focused environment. 

• New Profit and The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care is focusing on getting this combination just right and employing programs that can help preschools find the balance. How can donors help develop this initiative? 

• Read about the importance of playful learning environments. 

Kathleen McNerney recently aired a story on WBUR that suggested kindergarteners in a Boston-area school district are now “hating” school because school leaders have tried to introduce more rigid and academic approaches to student learning and achievement into their classrooms. The story documents two dozen kindergarten teachers raising concerns about how they feel kindergarten is now overly structured. The Washington Post then reported that over 400 parents signed a letter supporting the teachers, and just like that, a new front in the education wars broke out.

In many respects, this development is exactly what anyone who has been involved with early education has long feared.

Over the course of the last decade, a consensus has emerged from rigorous studies of pre-k that increased educational rigor and open-ended, hands-on learning can (and should) co-exist side by side. In 2017, the Brookings Institution issued a report clearly detailing the positive impact that a more challenging curriculum can have on young learners, as long as it’s implemented in a child-focused, developmentally appropriate environment.

This is a really important finding, because in most pre-k classrooms where low-income children are served, study after study has shown the biggest problem is too little instruction, rather than too much.

Getting this combination correct is a key focus of New Profit and The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care’s evolving collaboration to support the scale up of high-quality early childhood support organizations (ECSOs) throughout the commonwealth. This fall, these organizations will start to recruit local early childhood education programs as their partners to help implement this balanced approach to early childhood education. We will be diligent to make sure these efforts include lots of self-initiated learning choices and rigorous instructional strategies for teachers.

Read the full article about high quality preschool by Aaron Lieberman at New Profit.