“College Prep Begins in Kindergarten” is the motto for Cornerstone Preparatory School (a charter) in Memphis. HERE. A lot of charter schools advertise themselves as college preparatory schools, and they begin marketing college at the earliest of all levels—kindergarten. How does this compare to honest-to-goodness private schools?
Secretary Arne Duncan visited Cornerstone the other day. There was a lot of hoopla, kind of like rolling out next year’s new cars, and if you watch the school video carefully, where they convince the public they are a great school, every child has their hand raised. They are all smiling and chanting and loving every minute of it. They want you to see order. They succeed at that. These 5-year-olds know how to strictly behave. And most of them eerily do it with smiles on their faces.
The trouble is should they be that structured? Should college prep really start at kindergarten? Is such order right for 5-year-olds?
This isn’t just an agenda found in charter schools. Many reformers have succeeded at forcing this message into traditional public schools too. “Rigor” is the new buzzword for kindergarten, even preschool! Children must now learn earlier than ever before. Kindergarten is the new first grade…maybe second…possibly third!
I decided to look deeper at this hard driving message to push kindergartners to achieve faster, by comparing Cornerstone Preparatory Charter School with Trinity School, the prominent New York City prep school, where parents have a harder time getting their child into the school than getting them accepted to Harvard. HERE. Trinity has a $42,540 admission fee. It is important to note, these parents are no different than poor parents in that they want the best for their kids…they just have more money to do it with.
Many of us who don’t like charter schools and the high pressured academics of today’s education reform, argue if privatization is wonderful, shouldn’t privatizing public schools, especially for poor children, mean that schools will be more like the Trinity Schools of the world?
So here are the differences I found between both these schools while looking at kindergarten:
Teachers are young, and many are not from education but other fields. Teach for America is big in Memphis. Even the superintendent of the Achievement School District, which oversees Cornerstone, is Chris Barbic, a TFA Alum. It truly is worrisome, that so many in charge of schooling today, have little background in child development. Remember, undergraduate degrees in teaching are no longer valued, and teachers are also not encouraged to obtain masters degrees. But the teachers at Cornerstone believe in what they are doing and are energetic.
Trinity says this about their teachers: “Our teachers are extraordinarily talented and dedicated. More than twenty of them have doctorates and over 100 others hold master’s degrees from selective colleges and universities around the world.” I can’t be sure, however, that their teachers have studied education pedagogy.
On the wall there are college pendants aplenty. Harvard, MIT, Stanford…you name it. When a child is test-prepping, and they look up, they won’t see the Lorax or a Star Bellied Sneetch. No Little Bear, or Hungry Caterpillar adorn their walls. Instead, they have Harvard and data lists staring down at them. Teachers use self-directing manuals to teach. And by the looks of things, everything is built around test taking. I see no art or music education—just assessment.
“Recruited for their outstanding academic achievements and their commitment to Trinity’s core educational values, teachers are encouraged to select, expand on, modify, and even invent their curricula, fostering an unparalleled sense of ownership and creativity in the classroom. This creativity is supported by a unique and well-endowed program of faculty development and enrichment grants.” Teachers seem free here. It is a concept that has been lost in public schools, by the damning of teachers and their credibility for the last thirty years.
Kindergartners do a lot at Trinity, probably too much, by the looks of the course outline. It is great that they have art and music, and their core is not Common Core. Students get language arts, math, social studies, and Science. And they have P.E. (even swimming) and woodworking (5-year-olds?). In-between learning about the artist Paul Cezanne and developing phonics skills, one wonders if the private school students are pushed too hard too.
Their redeeming value is the school doesn’t emphasize testing. But their curriculum, even though I don’t see the word rigor, seems so overly complete with things to do, that I wonder when children really have time to play. I suppose it must look like this at $42,540. And unlike Cornerstone, their school is well-rounded in subject matter.
I’m not sure how special education is handled at Cornerstone. Most charter schools are not set up to effectively identify students with a variety of disabilities and gifted students. A principal of another charter school recently told me they do serve students from special ed. but he did not elaborate.
I saw nothing listed about special education.
I’m not sure if they have a good library. School libraries, in general, have been eliminated in some places for a variety of reasons. Real librarians have been some of the first to be let go. Libraries do not seem to be valued by the reformers. They prefer technology.
They have technology. But the library experience sounds luxurious with story reading and real librarians who spend time with the children. The research shows that a good school library makes a big difference in a child’s life and in their learning. The children at Trinity School are very lucky to have such a library.
So this is a short comparison of two schools. One is a hard-driving test factory that controls young children. Little children will often, sadly, do what they need to in order to obtain adult approval.
The other school is full of rich activities that complement learning in a very fine way. But despite those so-called developmentally appropriate skills, one wonders when a 5-year-old gets to come up for air at Trinity. When do they get to sit and imagine? I don’t see any nap time here either.
Still, Trinity has story time and advertises play, and, they certainly don’t build their whole curriculum around high-stakes testing.
But make no mistake, both of these schools are pushing kindergartners to be college ready. Between the two, I’d choose Trinity if I could get my child in and had the money, but I don’t think it is perfect.
In general, I think children in both scenarios have their own extremely different crosses to bear. I think adults need to go back to the drawing board when it comes to kindergarten.
And real public schools should be a part of that picture.