Last Sunday, The New York Times described Waterford’s Upstart online program for preschoolers, describing it as better than nothing, or, as “closing a gap.” They described communities that could not (or would not) raise money for preschool, so, online instruction seemed like the default choice.
Who’s reviewing these programs?
Waterford Upstart is flawed. This can be determined by viewing one of the video samples that they chose to promote in The New York Time’s report. After reviewing this video, it would seem like a child would be better off without the program!
Waterford Upstart was created by the Utah legislature and has been funded by groups intent on privatizing public schools with technology. The Audacious Project through TED is helping to fund it.
There’s increasing distrust over how school district officials try to convince their communities they can’t find money for school programs including preschools, but, with the help of the state or federal government they can fund online programs (see below). It’s poor children who wind up with digital programs, as The New York Times indicated.
The video is no longer available but here’s what was wrong with it.
Analysis of What’s Wrong with The Video
- Adult perspective. The video is from an adult perspective and lectures children.
- Preschoolers can’t read yet. Most three, four, and even five-year-old children are not reading fluently. The bottom ticker tape words, even if the narrator reads along, are pointless.
- Assumes preschoolers write advanced words. Most preschoolers are not yet writing. They won’t understand the concept of writing the silent gh.
- Third grade words. Night, sigh, light, and high are third grade words, or late second grade. In a picture book these words might mean something to an early reader, but standing alone they likely won’t be meaningful to a preschooler.
- Boring. Preschoolers might like the cute horses, but the cartoon is lackluster and repetitive.
- Letters difficult to comprehend. The video moves quickly. Letters jump around the screen. At one point they are half off the screen.
- ABCs vs. silent GH? Preschoolers are becoming familiar with the ABCs. Introducing the concept of silent GH is confusing and age-inappropriate.
- Advanced phonics. If phonics is emphasized it would be bbb…bat or ccc…cat, other simple rhyming words.
- Difficult concept. Dropping the gh into the words is confusing. It would be difficult to master one word let alone four.
- Doesn’t connect. If a preschooler analyzed this video they would say so what? Sounds need to transfer to something meaningful.
- Poor introduction to the joy of reading. If a child learns this is reading, why would they care about it?
It’s puzzling that the Education Innovation Research section under the US Department of Education approves of Waterford Upstart, and fund it for $14.2 million. Who made that decision? Are there no early childhood specialists vetting such programs?
Waterford Upstart refers to what appears to be an independent study promoting the program by a nonprofit or for-profit (I’m not sure) called the Evaluation and Training Institute which has worked with k12 another substandard online program that has notoriously sucked money away from public schools for years.
The $14.2 million would have been better spent supplying families with picture books so parents could read to their children. Picture books capture a child’s attention when it comes to rhyme or the repetitive use of words that children find interesting. They can observe the words while Mom or Dad read to them and move as quickly as they want through the story. Or they can slow down and savor the meaning of the words in relationship to the picture.
Picture books with rhyming verse read by a loving parent or caregiver would be much more fun and exciting and helpful to a child.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.
Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.
And so many more! If one book isn’t interesting to a child another will be.
North Carolina Republican Representative Craig Horn is pushing Waterford Upstart. He said, “even though I absolutely agree that a face-to-face, high-quality pre-K is the best option…when it’s not an option for the child, I refuse to ignore that child.”
But they don’t have to ignore children. They can sponsor decent preschools and encourage strong school libraries and picture books. And before they choose programs for children they should get early childhood specialists with experience working with children to determine what makes a great preschool program. They could start with the teachers at Defending the Early Years.
Preschool is not about drilling three and four-year-old children to sound out letters and read. It’s not sitting them in front of computers for their preschool experience, even for 15 minutes, especially force feeding them letter-sound combinations that are way over their little noggins.
It’s time to invest in what helps children with real language development that will lead to a love for reading. Find funding for preschool and quit throwing money at computer programs that push age inappropriate reading as preschool.
Previous Writings about Waterford Upstart:
What Preschool Isn’t: Waterford UPSTART and Any Other Online Program! April 16, 2019
The Devil is in the Details, Utah. September 9, 2016.
The clip above is nonsense. When I was a child I watched Sesame Street and other shows of education merit. These were a little too advanced for 4 and 5 year olds though the show was marketed as educationally usefull to children at that age. Seame Street and similar shows are very useful for slighlt older kids maybe 7 or 8 years old. At least Sesame street was created by professionals. This reminds me of the general concept of incorrectly marketed children shows. This made me think about another group of animated Ponies. The cartoon “My Little Pony”. This show was marketed at preschool aged children at first, but now most who watch it are teenagers. The slighly complex storyline and satire of “My Little Pony” are not completely understandable to children under 10.