A provocatively titled article in November's Scientific American, "The Death of Preschool?", raises the question of whether child care, as we know it, is dying. Congress's No Child Left Behind Act has done exactly what many early childhood educators have feared for years. By providing financial penalties for schools that don't meet certain achievement standards for 3rd grade children, the Act has pushed schools to implement stricter academic standards for younger children.
Many of us who have been early childhood educators for many years have watched 1st grade standards become Kindergarten standards. Now, as we have feared, it seems that those Kindergarten standards are becoming the new preschool standards. Where does it end?
The problem is filled with irony. First, both long-standing and current research indicate that a developmentally appropriate education is by far the most important early start that we can provide for children. A developmentally appropriate program provides a solid educational background while encouraging exploration, creativity, and social interactions. Second, the parents who seem to be pushing hardest for the academic transformation of preschools are often the more educated, wealthier parents. Those who have the most options for the care of their children are often choosing the least appropriate programs.
As child care professionals, it is up to us to maintain our standards. We must be knowledgeable of current research and best practices for the education of young children. We must continue to provide learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate. And, we must be able to explain to parents why our developmentally appropriate programs are much better for their children than heavily academic programs. We must continue to do what is right for children, regardless of outside pressures.