Educators in Montgomery County Maryland recently announced that boys (and African-Americans of both sexes) who attend a full-day pre-kindergarten program do better academically. The study is intended to provide support for public full-day programs at a time when many districts are cutting early childhood programming due to economic pressures.
So is more school the answer for our boys?
Not necessarily. The Maryland study compared kids in full-day preK programs to kids in half-day preK programs. It did not include, measure or assess kids in full-time family care. It does not answer what I consider a most basic question: Is school a better option than parental care and nuturing?
A few years ago, I was researching an article about full vs. half-day kindergarten. (Notice the incremental creep: Seven or so years ago, educators were still debating whether full-day KINDERGARTEN was in the best interests of our kids. Now it's full-day PRESCHOOL.) A number of my experts implied that full-day kindergarten was especially helpful for kids who never attended preschool, because they needed more time to attain school readiness skills. But were there any studies, I asked, assessing the academic and social readiness of children who stayed home, in parental care, vs. kids who attended preschool? The answer was no -- and the reason for the answer was quite revealing.
Studies like this are basically conducted in a quest for money. If enough studies demonstrate a benefit to full-day kindergarten (or preschool), school districts have the data they need to support spending on new programs and teachers. If the studies don't show a benefit, why would school districts pour time and money into a program with no proven benefit?
Virtually no research has been conducted on kids who stay home because there's no economic incentive to do so.
Think about that. We have headlines blaring at us, almost every day, telling us which academic programs are best for our son. But there have been almost no studies examining the effect of a supportive, nuturing family environment.
That's a glaring overview, in my opinion, because far too many parents read the headlines and conclude that their sons need something "more" than Mom and Dad. One of the saddest comments I ever heard was from one mom to another. Mom A had enrolled her son in a local preschool; Mom B's four-year-old son was still home with her. Mom B couldn't afford preschool and felt she was somehow shortchanging her son: "I'm sure your son is getting so much more at school than mine is at home," she told Mom A.
The comment saddened me because Mom B is the kind of mom who takes her kids to story time at the libary and on interesting excursions. She talks to her kids constantly, creates projects with them at home and encourages their creativity. The kids live on a farm and spend plenty of time outside in nature. Yet somehow, the ubiquity of school -- and the constant message that school is best -- caused this mother to devalue her own contributions.
Boys (all children, really) need time and attention to thrive. Does that time and attention really have to be provided in an academic setting? I'm thrilled that some boys in Maryland are getting the help they need, but I remain concerned about the trend toward earlier formal education, especially for boys.