Where are my social dividends?










Forewarning: I do not have a strong statistical background so I am always skeptical when I read something as I need to think about and evaluate the information a bit longer than others to make sure I understand. If I miss a detail, please be kind enough to send a correction.

Charter schools are a business entity. They are considered non-profit due to how they re-apply their ‘earnings’ instead of giving the earnings to shareholders. In what one might call a twist up of words, non-profits are supposed to be for the benefit of the community which is why they have certain tax advantages, etc. This means instead of being an individual shareholder obtaining dividends, you in effect become a stakeholder in your community and should receive the type of social dividends which benefit your community and make it better.

 With this in mind, I find it important for charter schools to be accurate in reporting their statistics in the same manner a for profit corporation on the NYSE reports. There are GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) rules and any accountant should be able to read and interpret the information in the same way if the books are not cooked and the aim of the company is not to mislead the shareholders. Unfortunately, charter schools are by and large allowed manipulate the books in a variety of ways (this includes grant reporting and ADA monies) and they do. This then allows them to also manipulate and actually distort the data as there are even less people willing to spend the time on non-financial information evaluations.  Charter schools follow ‘data’ on how to appeal to specific groups of people as indicated by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey  which was conducted June 21 through July 22, 2013. This data demonstrates how different categories of parents think, hence, it is easier to market targeted materials.

 The issue at hand is how charter schools report out students who go to college, graduate college and indeed produce a social dividend for a community.  This is how all great non-profits should be evaluated. Unfortunately, charter schools have never been called to prove the social dividend. I had to question this issue as I worked for a charter school and later continued questioning the morality and ethics of charter schools based on what I now know about the background story.  The story of self promotion to those who wish to promote charter schools rarely matches the reality, thus, there must be a marketing department to distort and mis-convey the facts.

Here is another look at data from a different view.

According to Jill Tucker over at The San Francisco Chronicle, I should note there is a difference  between college ready, expecting to get a high school diploma or taking the GED.  I believe this is called journalist clarity.

In 2009, about 600 African American males started high school in the Oakland school district with Thomas and Olajuwon. Of those, an estimated 80 to 100 graduated college-ready. Another 200 were expected to get their diplomas, but not with UC or CSU admission requirements. Others took the GED, or would continue in adult school. Still others spent time in jail.

During those same four years, 31 Oakland public school students ages 11 to 19 were killed across the city. Most of them were shot and most were African American males.

I note this as college ready does not mean the same thing as going to college, completing college, obtaining a degree and providing social dividend.  For charter schools to actually do something different from any other public school, they need to produce the same amount or greater of students who actually attend college and graduate as every other public school in America is charged with getting students college ready – the goal of public education.  This being said, it should be easy peasy for Aspire Public Schools (the largest in California) and KIPP to produce statistics which demonstrate this trend.  This, to my knowledge has not occurred. In fact, what has occurred is the actual removal from Aspire Public Schools of the map showing where their graduates go to college and no evidence can be found on the website for how many students (after 20 years in business) have graduated college, producing a societal dividend substantially different from other public schools.

Out on 21 August 2013 is data from ACT showing:

“The readiness of students leaves a lot to be desired,” said Jon Erickson, president of the Iowa-based company’s education division.

The ACT reported that 31 percent of all high school graduates tested were not ready for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills. The other 69 percent of test takers met at least one of the four subject-area standards.

Just a quarter of this year’s high school graduates cleared the bar in all four subjects, demonstrating the skills they’ll need for college or a career, according to company data. The numbers are even worse for black high school graduates: Only 5 percent were deemed fully ready for life after high school.

The report’s findings suggest that many students will struggle when they arrive on campus or they’ll be forced to take remedial courses — often without earning credits — to catch their peers.

The data reveal a downturn in overall student scores since 2009. Company officials attribute the slide to updated standards and more students taking the exams — including many with no intention of attending two- or four-year colleges.

Under ACT’s definition, a young adult is ready to start college or trade school if he or she has the knowledge to succeed without taking remedial courses. Success is defined as the student’s having a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade and a 50 percent chance of earning a B, based on results on each of the four ACT subject areas, which are measured on a scale from 1 to 36 points.

My sense would be every charter school in the U.S. would wish to report out their great ACT and SAT scores for the reason it resonates to some extent the READINESS for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills.  Any charter school should be tooting their horn regarding the average scores of their students.

I do not have the documentation (hopefully as you read this, you will be able to supply it to me if you know the piece I am referring to), however, I did hear a piece on KQED which regarded how getting a student to college is not enough. In fact, not all colleges are the same and getting children of color to college if the college is not top tier, does not improve rocking the boat and changing the social dividends – in stead it perpetuates it as status quo.

Aspire Public Schools has managed to use data from CREDO (The Center for Research on Education Outcomes – Stanford University) in an odd context. When I read the full report, noted in the URL above, there is a distortion of how one would perceive what is in the full report vs. the carefully selected portions Aspire pulled out to use.

CREDO uses data to show the minute detail of how charter schools have developed their students over time in comparison to other similar schools.  In looking at the data over a 20 year time period, there is an improvement although I would be negligent in stating this improvement is earth shattering or worth of great praise. I will let the data speak for itself.

The national study shows the following for reading and math: Although there is study improvement, 56% of charter school students have no significant difference in reading scores as measured by CREDO than regular public school students. 25% have shown a significant improved difference and 19% show a significantly worse difference.   There is no specific data from Aspire as they are lumped into the national study. In either way, they neither benefit from or substantially detract from the rather sad statistics.

If I break this down, it means only 25% of students in charter schools have shown gains while 75% of students in charter schools were comparable or worse……..Is the effect of changing 25% of students enough social dividend in reading? Should the amount of students positively effected be greater as Aspire has been around for 20 years. Aspire touts how they have the best teachers, systems and data….the statistics are not demonstrating, in my mind, substantial social dividends which I could not have gotten with just improving the public schools over all.

For math, the data is even worse. 40% of charter school students showed no significant difference in gains for math, 31% of students in charter schools fared significantly worse and 29% of students fared better. This means 29% of students in charter schools nationally had improvement while 71% fared the same or worse. Again, this is not sufficient data to show any charter school has leveraged a better system overall.

When more students show no benefit or worse benefit, there is something wrong with your program. It should be the other way around.  If this were a business having to report to shareholders instead of stakeholders, this company would fold.

As a social investment, I am not seeing where charter schools are delivering the goods.

Careful where you set your aim. The charter sector is getting better on average, but not because existing schools are getting dramatically better; it is mainly driven by opening higher- performing schools and by closing those that underperform. Our analysis suggests that the standards of performance are set too low, as evidenced by the large number of underperforming charter schools that persist. The point here is that, as with students, setting and holding high expectations is an important feature of school policies and practices. More focus is required of authorizers and charter school governing boards to set high performance and accountability standards and hold charter schools to them. – CREDO

This is where the Papa John’s piece on Yahoo comes in.  You can call your ‘ingredients’ whatever you wish. You should also be willing to let outsiders examine the ingredients and most of all, you should be proud enough to add in your own data as comparison. In this instance, Aspire Public Schools has failed. I am guessing this is the same for other charter schools as there have been no interesting news flashes in any of the usual educational journals which would love to pounce on this great news.

Another aspect of this issue is how Aspire is spreading to Tennessee.  Aspire needed to do this as financially they could not make it on the same budget as other public schools in California. They were ‘drowning’ and in fact have not merited the same amount of donations year over year as they had hoped for.  The CFO has been cautious in how he couches this scenario, however, the original goal of Aspire was to EXCEED the other schools in the region on the same budget. This has not happened or at least not in a statistically relevant manner.  This relates to the piece from The New York Times on how Philadelphia is borrowing money to open the schools and people are questioning if the schools are even worth opening, which leads back to the quote two paragraphs up from CREDO.

While charter schools continue to advertise their wares, I continue to be skeptical.  I need to see the following and wish CREDO could produce the data:

Just how many students of charter schools have gone to college, how many have graduated in 4, 5, 6 years?

After 20 years, I would think Aspire Public Schools has to have some of this substantially important data.

This would tell me if the taxes I pay which pays the ADA of charter schools is yielding social dividends in my community.


Why ‘grading’ the teacher is not only wrong, but ineffective. Part II of II Blogs

Gawande, Atul, Personal Best, The New Yorker 3 October 2011  p. 44, 46-50, 51-52

This is Part II of two blogs begun March 2012 which addressed Dr. Gawande (New Yorker Magazine Article). He has a  quest for ‘coaching’ to continue developing  into his Personal Best.  I felt it necessary to analyze the article written by Dr. Gawande in order to address a professional sense of self-reflection, that of a professional surgeon.  Dr. Gawande so thoroughly addressed his personal role in medicine AND all the other potential factors  of medicine that I was compelled to use this as an example.   Dr. Gawande admitted the fault of being human and demonstrated humility in  not being  God.  He noted that the human condition is imperfect yet there is a way to learn and continually improve ourselves over time,  most often with self-reflection and insight from others as it is difficult to view ourselves while being ourselves.

Only by carefully observing other professionals outside the field  of education can we begin to develop a consciousness of  professionalism, what it means to good, better, best, great and so forth and look for tools to apply to the teaching profession.  Focusing only on education assumes the worst case scenario – teachers are distinctly different in the world of humans, but instead of being viewed as deities, in America, they are viewed as pure evil by many, often including their own administrators and the government at state and federal levels.

When we see what others do, we get past the misanthropic view of one group of people (non- teachers)  regarding teachers and notice more of  the similarities between teachers and other professionals.  Once back from the brink of insanity,  we can address the multitude factors which effect the outcomes of education, which are not strictly the result of teacher quality.  Many outcomes in education have everything to do with poverty, parental involvement and  self motivation/will.

If we were to blame only surgeons and doctors for ALL medical outcomes, no one would have surgery any more. It is both a science and an art.  There is not ‘perfection’, rather there are gradations of success based on a whole slew of issues above and beyond the doctor/surgeon.  We may seek perfection –  this involves coaching and improving professional practice.  It is NOT the golden bullet to prevent all problems.  Doctors can not account for your DNA, what you choose to eat, how you choose to take care of yourself.  Doctors have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations, they obtain a positive outcome as they take an oath to do no harm.  In the case of doctors, we need to look from within regarding outcomes of surgery,  because we came to the doctor damaged.

When we grade a teacher, we wish to push results and outcomes on people whom have the least control over what goes on in a child’s life. Teachers have only 40/168 hours, including sleep. Take out sleep (which is substantially important) and you have 40/118 hours assuming kids sleep a 10 hour night. In both cases, 40 hours is very little and yet so much is expected.   Teachers, like doctors, have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations will produce positive outcomes in nine months of the school year of eight-hour school days.  Let me be clear – most kids do not sleep even eight hours a nigh.t Not all school days are actually eight hours so the numbers I present are skewed by things such as testing, minimum days, staying up late at night for a variety of reasons and a multitude of other issues (lockdowns, snow days, illness, etc.).  Grading a teacher on amount of time of ‘influence’ alone is inadequate.

In order to explore  various ideas within education reform, I also sought out different pieces of writing from others who address the ideation of grading teachers.   It is not enough to say something is a  bad or good idea, rather one needs to support different views and perceptions so the discussion can center on what is best for children, not what is best for our sense of power over things we lack control.

As Dr. Gawande indicates, coaching is costly and rarely something schools can afford. It is awkward – in the hospital and in the classroom.  Obtaining coaching can be (and often is viewed outside sports and singing) seen as an admission of failure instead of the converse – an admission of willing to improve.  When coaching is used as punishment in education, it automatically infers substandard performance.  To change the perception of coaching in education will be no different or easier than the exact experience Dr. Gawande addresses at the end of his written piece.   Demonizing teachers does not improve their quality – it does slowly wear them down and destroy them which could not be good for students.

I am done picking at the bone of grading teachers with  a public which hates  teachers, who think denigrating and demeaning teachers (public humiliation/bullying/ exposing student success or failure on our backs) is reform.   This bone is from a  recently dead animal which was left rotting on the street, run over by a car and bits of it are smashed into the concrete. The piece of bone left has tendons and muscle hanging from it, smells of horrible decay and clearly would be of no use to the mammal it came from so we need to start over and not be so willing to kill.  Bloodsport does not ever portend to good.





So, to use a quote:

New Yorker Magazine cartoon (5 Dec 2011) by Victoria Roberts: “There’s an elephant in the room and no zookeeper.”

Let’s try to find a better course of action because grading teachers is not working the way we assumed it would.  Here is a smattering of examples of alternative perspectives.  What would be awesome is if the people who hired teachers had as much interest in teacher success as their own rise to power.

Almost all men can stand adversity, but if you want to judge a man’s true character, give him power.   (I have been unable to find the source in order to attribute this quote – if you know it, please comment!)






When society begins supporting ways for teachers to improve their personal best, obtaining the caliber of teachers  wished for will be in reach.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital in MA and Harvard University are fortunate to have such a self reflective staff member AND some one so willing to share their personal experiences in order to help others.  By supporting Dr. Gawande and his willingness to strive for better, these institutions and patients benefit greatly all the way around.

We would do far more to improve education by creating a positive environment for teachers.   It is our choice – surgically destroy education with reforms that have little to nothing in offering actual  improvement or healing what happens in the classroom by owning our locus of control and assisting teachers in achieving their personal best.

CSI: Education in America


It seems each generation gets a bit closer to identifying and capitalizing on the  magic of the educational process and I am eternally thankful.  I believe I speak for all teachers worldwide in stating that if some one could identify specifically the magic needed to be the best teacher in any classroom, we would all use it, no questions asked. It is not for a lack of desire to be a better teacher, rather, there are no direct and linear one answer fits all situations and  works.

My generation (which obviously tells you my age) was raised on Fred Jones and his Tools for Teaching as well as Harry K. Wong and his The First Days of School.  From doing a quick scan of Amazon.com, there are many, many books designed to help teachers become ‘better’ at their craft. I am thankful so many professionals want to share their insights. Sadly, I do not see how year over year test scores (the current leading indicator of success in America) have improved in spite of all these people sharing their hard earned wisdom.

While I wish Mr. Lemov well and am sure he has best intentions, I can’t help but note that nothing in the article Elizabeth Green wrote (noted above) talks about PARENTS and parenting.  If indeed a proper autopsy was done, it would find that when children are parented and come to school with age appropriate literacy and behavior, learning does occur. 

Parenting includes prenatal and post natal nutrition, medical care as necessary, access to a library and parents who brought children into the world willfully, spending time with them each day to help them develop.  Parenting includes sacrifices of many things for the joy of parenting. Parenting is not about abdicating a child to the teacher for babysitting services when a teacher is for teaching, anymore than you would not drop a child off at a doctors office for day care.

If, as Mr. Lemov states, teachers can be improved upon and taught how to be better by micromanaging every detail/step/motion and content can equally be dispersed, this does not explain why education is not  in such dire straights in India, Korea, China, most of Europe – essentially any place which is not America.  Reasonably speaking,  education seems to be occuring quite favorably in other places and surely no one has put nearly as much effort into analyzing how to make bot teachers.  To my knowledge, Malcolm Gladwell has not addressed the dissociation of education from parenting although he did a piece on selecting a football player for two situations-NFL and universities and came up with some analogies which are fitting to this situation.   Me thinks we are not using the evidence properly as the focus has been on how to pretty much kill off any joy in teaching and has been for many years. Teachers stand to be the accused without counsel, without a jury of their peers, without actual evidence which can be corroborated.

If indeed,  skill sets are teachable/learnable, why have we not figured out how to stop having surgeons with major malpractice law suits……..we have gotten close as now the body part where the operation is to be performed is labeled and some one inventories what goes in and out of the body (scalpels, sponges) during surgery but still malpractice continues.  Why on earth could we not have ‘stopped’ the Wall Street meltdown as math is very easy to follow – you can not have multiple outcomes, there is indeed only one right answer and yet Wall Street went to the wall and slid to the gutter.  Isn’t it reasonable that with all the training we give police we should not have to read one more time about some one being shot accidentally (sometimes accidentally on purpose…).  Since teaching is as much an artful practice, it can not be run through a microscope nor assayed like DNA.

Surely it would be more cost effective if each and every child was given $500 in a future college bank account bearing interest if they came to school with basic literacy in kindergarten and another $500 for getting through algebra in Gr 7 ($250 for Gr 8 passing and $100 for Gr 9) and maybe $100 here and there for some other landmarks.  If they never went to college, the money is returned to the government. It is a reasonable investment for the future and it sets the precedent of teaching parents how to save for the future (another skill set Americans are sorely lacking in). 

By finding immense fault with  teacher’s practices and not putting any focus on what else is at the crime scene seems to delimit the art of investigation.


The Very Best Reason(s) to Go Read and See “Alice in Wonderland” AGAIN!



SINCE “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Alice is Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford dean; the Lory and Eaglet are Alice’s sisters Lorina and Edith; Dodgson himself, a stutterer, is the Dodo (“Do-Do-Dodgson”).

But Alice’s adventures with the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and so on have often been assumed to be based purely on wild imagination. Just fantastical tales for children — and, as such, ideal material for the fanciful movie director Tim Burton, whose “Alice in Wonderland” opened on Friday.

Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice’s search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson’s field.

In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In “Alice,” he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

Early in the story, for instance, Alice’s exchange with the Caterpillar parodies the first purely symbolic system of algebra, proposed in the mid-19th century by Augustus De Morgan, a London math professor. De Morgan had proposed a more modern approach to algebra, which held that any procedure was valid as long as it followed an internal logic. This allowed for results like the square root of a negative number, which even De Morgan himself called “unintelligible” and “absurd” (because all numbers when squared give positive results).

The word “algebra,” De Morgan said in one of his footnotes, comes from an Arabic phrase he transliterated as “al jebr e al mokabala,” meaning restoration and reduction. He explained that even though algebra had been reduced to a seemingly absurd but logical set of operations, eventually some sort of meaning would be restored.

Such loose mathematical reasoning would have riled a punctilious logician like Dodgson. And so, the Caterpillar is sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah — suggesting that something has mushroomed up from nowhere, and is dulling the thoughts of its followers — and Alice is subjected to a monstrous form of “al jebr e al mokabala.” She first tries to “restore” herself to her original (larger) size, but ends up “reducing” so rapidly that her chin hits her foot.

Alice has slid down from a world governed by the logic of universal arithmetic to one where her size can vary from nine feet to three inches. She thinks this is the root of her problem: “Being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.” No, it isn’t, replies the Caterpillar, who comes from the mad world of symbolic algebra. He advises Alice to “Keep your temper.”

In Dodgson’s day, intellectuals still understood “temper” to mean the proportions in which qualities were mixed — as in “tempered steel” — so the Caterpillar is telling Alice not to avoid getting angry but to stay in proportion, even if she can’t “keep the same size for 10 minutes together!” Proportion, rather than absolute length, was what mattered in Alice’s above-ground world of Euclidean geometry.

In an algebraic world, of course, this isn’t easy. Alice eats a bit of mushroom and her neck elongates like a serpent, annoying a nesting pigeon. Eventually, though, she finds a way to nibble herself down to nine inches, and enters a little house where she finds the Duchess, her baby, the Cook and the Cheshire Cat.

  Chapter 6, “Pig and Pepper,” parodies the principle of continuity, a bizarre concept from projective geometry, which was introduced in the mid-19th century from France. This principle (now an important aspect of modern topology) involves the idea that one shape can bend and stretch into another, provided it retains the same basic properties — a circle is the same as an ellipse or a parabola (the curve of the Cheshire cat’s grin). Taking the notion to its extreme, what works for a circle should also work for a baby. So, when Alice takes the Duchess’s baby outside, it turns into a pig. The Cheshire Cat says, “I thought it would.”

 The Cheshire Cat provides the voice of traditional geometric logic — say where you want to go if you want to find out how to get there, he tells Alice after she’s let the pig run off into the wood. He points Alice toward the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. “Visit either you like,” he says, “they’re both mad.”

 The Mad Hatter and the March Hare champion the mathematics of William Rowan Hamilton, one of the great innovators in Victorian algebra. Hamilton decided that manipulations of numbers like adding and subtracting should be thought of as steps in what he called “pure time.” This was a Kantian notion that had more to do with sequence than with real time, and it seems to have captivated Dodgson. In the title of Chapter 7, “A Mad Tea-Party,” we should read tea-party as t-party, with t being the mathematical symbol for time.

 Dodgson has the Hatter, the Hare and the Dormouse stuck going round and round the tea table to reflect the way in which Hamilton used what he called quaternions — a number system based on four terms. In the 1860s, quaternions were hailed as the last great step in calculating motion. Even Dodgson may have considered them an ingenious tool for advanced mathematicians, though he would have thought them maddeningly confusing for the likes of Alice (and perhaps for many of his math students).

 At the mad tea party, time is the absent fourth presence at the table. The Hatter tells Alice that he quarreled with Time last March, and now “he won’t do a thing I ask.” So the Hatter, the Hare and the Dormouse (the third “term”) are forced to rotate forever in a plane around the tea table.

 When Alice leaves the tea partiers, they are trying to stuff the Dormouse into the teapot so they can exist as an independent pair of numbers — complex, still mad, but at least free to leave the party.

 Alice will go on to meet the Queen of Hearts, a “blind and aimless Fury,” who probably represents an irrational number. (Her keenness to execute everyone comes from a ghastly pun on axes — the plural of axis on a graph.)

 How do we know for sure that “Alice” was making fun of the new math? The author never explained the symbolism in his story. But Dodgson rarely wrote amusing nonsense for children: his best humor was directed at adults. In addition to the “Alice” stories, he produced two hilarious pamphlets for colleagues, both in the style of mathematical papers, ridiculing life at Oxford.

 Without math, “Alice” might have been more like Dodgson’s later book, “Sylvie and Bruno” — a dull and sentimental fairy tale. Math gave “Alice” a darker side, and made it the kind of puzzle that could entertain people of every age, for centuries.


Why ECE is Actually More Valuable Than We Realize

The Scientist in The Crib  

 Gopnik, Allison

  • ISBN-10: 0688177883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688177881
  • The Three Pound Universe  

    Hooper, Judith

  • ISBN-10: 0874776503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874776508
  • Don’t   by Jonah Lehrer  

    The New Yorker May 18, 2009

    A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop in the bay area for ECE and school age teachers  (generally up to Grade 8 ) including after school programs. It was ‘dirty science’ or, things involving dirt (a.k.a. earth science).   I had been planning on this workshop for at least a month and a half since a woman I had met at another workshop suggested  me to the organizer.  It was exciting as I was able to share my enthusiasm for science and make a generalized mess (I cleaned it up) for a rather large group (45+ adults).

    The morning of the workshop was a bit more of a ridiculous adventure than I had expected.  Mapquest gave me bad directions so I was running late. I forgot my pull cart at home (I drive a tiny car so the pull cart goes in at very last minute or nothing else could fit in car) as I was rearranging my subbing materials with workshop materials.  There was a tornado in my head (supposedly it is called hayfever, however, I like to pretend the tornado will go back to it’s native nothingness, if I choose not to believe it exists) and my class was to be taught on the second floor of a building at the furthest point from th assigned parking.  I put everything I needed in a pile outside my car and decided to just methodically move it in successive piles until I found some one with a cart who would share.

    Some people were walking by, noticed the piles, asked if I needed help (I of course said, “YES!”) and  this group of four helped me carry some things to the main building.   I apologized for what appeared to be a true mess and explained that it had to do with shifting things from subbing and being in the middle of  a move to Kenya (when my work permit comes through)  and my life was truly chaotic under the best of circumstances. Two of the people said, “Wow – how exciting” almost in unison.  A  third person asked where Kenya is located.  Had it not been for the fact I was juggling a huge clay pot with a dead plant in the soil (we were going to excavate the roots and eplore erosion, etc.) and the fact that it was an opportunity to sport some maturity, I would have died laughing.  Instead, I took it in stride, stated it was East Africa and asked what workshops everyone was taking that day. Sheesh – quick, good escape with no exasperation.

    I realized that these very people who were kind enough to help me were also responsible  to some degree for educating little ones (not that knowing where Kenya is located is   an indicator either way of intelligence-although it has gotten a great deal of press since our President’s father is from that country, so it made me worried that some one could not even pin it to a continent) and surely we should all expect more of those discharged with such a serious duty – but how do we do it? What is the expectation of what we want pre-school teachers to know and what is it we wish for them to share with little ones in their care?  While I was mulling this over later, I decided to re-read a couple very important books about neuroscience.

    These books (listed above and one current article of research on impulse control) helped me reflect back upon my training in speech pathology and my understanding of educational development and come to a more informed way of wrapping myself around the issue.  It also helped inform my May 19, 2009 vote regarding  ECE funding in CA.  I really spent some time thinking about the differences of child care vs. pre-school, in which pre-school is an academic environment for a limited period of time, unlike child care which could be completely unstructured.

    Questions wending through my head include: At what point is unstructured play time educational?  How does day care provide for success in kindergarden any more than limited parenting, and sometimes is a replacement for limited parenting?  Can day care be an effective replacement for pre-school? Should we expect this ability of day care providers, and if so, how do we pay them for child care that is sort of pre-school but not exactly?  How much time should be structured?  If day care provides a structured activity, how do we measure the success?  Is homework help in daycare considered a structured activity which assists in learning and development? Should children in daycare be expected to read? Should TV be allowed? Videos?

    At a certain point I decided that day care/child care should provide a safe, nurturing environment for a child under the age of five while the parent(s) are working.   Pre-school is more than ‘care’ and requires structure, planning and some degree of education (what exactly do you say to a four year old who asks, ‘Where is Kenya – I heard it on TV?’).  Determining the ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment with structured and meaningful developmental activities is something different – I am just not sure how to define and measure the difference.  While play time in the garden is a joy for anyone, especially children, it is best done when portions of it have some educational import – this is a seed, this is a leaf, this is a worm, etc. and books are read, seeds planted and monitored over time, etc.

    As I was reviewing the books regarding what is now known about the human brain, it became clear to me we need to expect more from child care providers and pay for what we expect.  How do we create meaningul experiences for pre-schoolers when there is essentially no funding anywhere for education (welcome to the 21st Century) of any kind, at any grade? It would stand to reason that ECE providers need to have a little more developmental psychology under their belts and should be required to do continuing ed, much as I do for my credential.  I don’t know what that would look like, however, it seems to me we must instill the value of what ECE providers do to THEM.  It is not a cush, easy job. 

     ECE is, based on what I know and keep up with in current research, the most significant component to a childs development other than interactions with parents from birth onward.  The development of language is crucial and scientists know that the development of language starts right after birth – long before the baby can speak.  A baby listens and starts ‘sorting’ sounds, meanings, facial expressions, soundless nuances.  Impulse control seems have the possibility to be taught as a manner of thinking/processing a problem.  Our capacity to learn is not ‘locked’ in, we are malleable, yet we are only as malleable as our environment allows.  Lack of stimulation, lack of language, etc.  = lack of ability to learn on a number of levels.  It is with this knowledge that we need to expect, require, demand and pay more for ECE.   Between parents and ECE is a whole lifetime of success or chronic failures that are not easily ameliorated. 

    No matter how people go about delivering care, structure and ECE, I hope it includes dirt, play time in the garden and lots of fresh fruit and veggies.    In spite of everything, I still believe that dirt/soil has some magic in it- some portent to do good in helping children learn and become wonderful adults.  If it were not for the dirt of sub-Saharan Africa, we – as upright humans, would not exist.