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Millions of kindergarten truant: COVID red shirts

Anita Wong

| USA Today


The last school year was very hard. Denise Ladson Johnson’s son Moses ran into trouble when he suddenly transitioned to distance learning in the spring and had to say goodbye to his teachers and classmates. I don’t know when to see them again. . At that time Moses was only in front of kindergarten, which did not help.

Instability is the main reason why Ladson Johnson, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, decided to go to Moses this year, rather than let him join the kindergarten program in his area. Radson Johnson said that there is too much “uncertainty.” How can six-year-old Moses learn courses and social skills remotely?

She didn’t want him to spend his days in front of the computer. She hoped that he would like to be a kindergarten teacher.

Ladson Johnson is one of potentially thousands of parents who have decided not to allow their kindergarten-age children to attend traditional schools this school year.

Although there are no national statistics, an NPR survey last fall surveyed more than 60 regions in 20 states and found that the decline in kindergarten enrollment was particularly pronounced – on average, there were fewer kindergartens in these regions than in 2019-2020 16% of the school year. A separate analysis of 33 states by Chalkbeat and the Associated Press found that kindergarten withdrawal was the biggest driving force for the decline in the total number of K-12 enrollment, accounting for 30% of the total decline.

The report points out that in some school systems, from the Groveport Madison area in Columbus, Ohio to the Nashville area in Tennessee, the kindergarten population has decreased by approximately 40%.

In order to meet the demand, many private schools have sprung up, and many daycare institutions have developed temporary programs for those who are about to become kindergartens. At the same time, according to the latest analysis of 330 such pods by the Reshaping Public Education Center, the learning pods in the era of the national pandemic seem to be aimed at young students or specifically targeted at young students. Or other non-school environment.

Jody Britten is an educator and researcher in the Indianapolis area. She oversees the National Early Learning Alliance Network. She said that from July to September last year, at least 16 new private kindergarten programs appeared in the area. Some preschool providers she surveyed said that those who wish to become kindergartens accounted for the vast majority of enrollment this school year.

The recent trend toward alternatives to kindergartens makes sense-zoom schools are challenging for students of many ages, and more and more research shows that this is especially true for young children.

In addition, 2018 federal data shows that most states do not need to attend kindergarten.

However, educators believe that the decision to opt out of kindergarten now may have an impact beyond the current school year, especially if elementary schools fail to adjust their expectations for kindergarten and first graders after the pandemic subsides.

Another form of red shirts

In a typical year, about 5% of children who are likely to become kindergarten wear red shirts, which means that their enrollment time is delayed. Historically, these children tend to be white, male and relatively wealthy. This kind of thinking believes that in the long run, compared with peers, going to kindergarten is earlier.

Author Malcolm Gladwell (Malcolm Gladwell) hyped the academic red shirt movement in his 2008 book “Outliers,” and pointed out that a study showed that the age deadline for kindergarten can predict children’s admission. Opportunity to go to university.

Traditionally, red shirts have been viewed as a way of playing a game system, partly because despite the limitations and instability of distance learning, some parents decided to enroll their kindergarten students in public schools this year. “This is unfair, because so many people don’t have the option to withdraw their children from the school system,” said Joshua Pierce, whose children are 4 and 7 years old. , Attended a bilingual public school in Boston.

Pierce continued: “It is more important than ever to support public schools and work with them to ensure that your children go to school as much as possible.” He pointed out that “Enrollment is a huge driver of school funding.”

more: COVID-19 means more preschoolers cannot go to kindergarten

However, as experts suggest, this year is not the unprecedented tsunami that parents who want their children to have an advantage over others suffer. This is a tsunami of frustration caused by a pandemic. What is worrying is the quality of the Zoom kindergarten and their children’s need for friends and personal attention.

Britton herself is the parent of a kindergarten teacher, and she spent this school year in another private program: “She is very happy to go to kindergarten, so excited,” Britton said. However, because Britton’s son suffers from health complications, it seems too risky to let his daughter participate in normal kindergarten classes.

Britton said: “She is a child and needs to be with other people.” The private alternative is the perfect solution. It has a lot of “flexible space” and emphasizes outdoor activities.

Academic Dean and Professor Nonie Lesaux said that the trend of leaving public school kindergartens is also “about American health, safety, and race.” This is the same as that of Harvard University’s Saul Zaentz (Saul Zaentz). Jointly guided by educational initiatives. Their communities have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic and want to protect their children.

Long-term impact

Nevertheless, recent trends may also exacerbate the achievement gap. The level of preparation for next year’s kindergarten and first grade classes may be very different.

Compared with peers who have not yet been exposed to structured learning, many kindergarten-age children who have participated in alternative programs this year but plan to re-enter kindergarten may be more advanced, or at least mature, than their peers. On the other hand, many first-year students may not be prepared for development before the start of the school year. This may be because their kindergarten experience is limited to distance learning, or because they have taken alternative courses with a lower emphasis on academics. .

For children who continue to attend public kindergartens, experts say their performance depends largely on their family environment. The kindergarten teacher said in an interview that those students who do not have full-time homework parents to help them go to school are the most distressed.

Limited access to the Internet and devices have exacerbated this gap: A recent study found that nearly three-fifths of students participated in online learning this fall, and 10% of them did not have sufficient Internet and device access rights . It is worth noting that 36% of the children of black parents with high school education lack this technology.

Digital divide: One year after the pandemic, tens of thousands of students still have no access to reliable WiFi Internet education. The digital divide is worse than ever.

In addition, the decline in enrollment may lead to huge changes in public schools next year, partly because the population of kindergartens will exceed the average and the number of first graders will decrease. This phenomenon will inevitably complicate the staffing, and may conduct a comprehensive inspection of the content of each grade.

Another problem is that all regions are struggling to pay for additional expenditures related to personal protective equipment, hygiene and technology. (States generally provide funding for public schools based on the number of students enrolled in the previous school year.)

Britten and others worry that the school district is not doing its best to adapt to all possible changes, and therefore worry that young children, their teachers and parents will be abandoned.

Britton said that for one thing, schools tend to “go back to kindergarten.” For example, the widely accepted rule is that students should be able to independently read longer books before the third grade, which usually determines the reading standards in kindergarten. “our [school] Britten said, “The system is moving towards the status quo, but we have not entered the status quo for five years.”

Due to the turmoil of the pandemic, teachers may be forced to set the standards for kindergarten and first graders at a level that is no longer suitable for development. It is certain that more students have defects. As Britten said, this will definitely have long-term mental health effects on children and their parents.

Britton said: “Next year, we will have 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds bearing the burden of the pandemic and the impact on education.” “We can’t just let them sit in front of interventions, they will magically make up for one. Years. That’s not how it works.”

Teacher’s response

The kindergarten teachers said they were ready to consider the students for next year. Ashley Ross Lansdell, a senior kindergarten teacher in the Indianapolis area, said that in the past ten years or so, kindergartens have been teaching less and less “ABC and 123”, and more about reading and other academic skills, depending on Communicate with children’s abilities and follow the rules, and keep routine

She said: “Next year we will definitely have gaps, they will enter all different levels.” But this is true every year-some children can read books, some don’t know their letters. “In any case, you can play tricks and differentiate your own teaching to meet the needs of all students.”

Petrina Miller, a long-time kindergarten teacher in south-central Los Angeles, worries that kindergarten students lack the interaction that promotes their social and emotional development, most of which are conducted through games. She said: “We can’t go out to play games and do all the interesting things.”

Therefore, although she has been emphasizing the academic rigor of kindergarten, her focus for the next school year is to “return to [kindergarten] It used to be… to build a sense of community and security, and basic social and emotional content must be established before we can focus on scholars. “

In any case, next year will be different. One reason is that the rise of the red shirts may continue. Some private kindergartens that Britton spoke with said they have filled 75% of the seats for the upcoming fall.

Ladson Johnson, the mother of South Carolina, said that if the situation continues to be unstable, she is ready to go to school Moses again. She said that this year, Moses made considerable progress in family education. They spent the whole day browsing the courses she found on the Internet, and the rest of the time they rode bicycles, went to the farmers’ market, and used their creativity in handicrafts. He is also with his cousin, which is a way of interacting with his peers. If he insists on distance learning, he may not get it.

The early childhood education report of “USA Today” was partly provided by Save the Children. Save the Children does not provide editorial opinions.

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