School puts nearly 100 kindergartners in one class in a teaching experiment

(No, the headline is not from The Onion.)

Brenda Scott Academy of Theater Arts is a high-poverty preK-8th school in east Detroit that is part of the Education Achievement Authority, a district run by Michigan authorities for schools identified as being the lowest-performing. Brenda Scott has an extended calendar and won’t end its current school year until Aug. 7.


Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder read “The Rainbow Fish” book to youngsters in a Detroit school last year. (By David Coates/Detroit News/AP Photo)

Last February, administrators began what they thought would be a worthwhile teaching experiment: combining three classes of kindergartners into one “hub” and instructing nearly 100 youngsters together for a good part of the day. Kids are tracked into smaller groups — determined by ability — for math and reading lessons as well as for homeroom, according to this story in the Detroit Free Press.

Why would school authorities decide to buck overwhelming evidence that young children learn better in small classes? The newspaper said that EAA authorities contend the system allows the three teachers to give more individual attention to students, though it’s not exactly clear how they they are able to do that.

Incidentally, the lead teacher is 30 years old, another teacher is in her second year and the third is in her first year.

The “Kindergarten Hub,” which is located in what used to be the school’s library, can get noisy, EAA deputy chancellor Mary Esselman conceded, but the kids, she said, are learning anyway. The newspaper quoted her as saying:

“Our model is we expect to see kids working independently in pairs and small groups. I would rarely expect everyone to be doing the same thing.”

The principal of the school, Marques Stewart, was quoted as saying:

“Research has shown smaller sizes work, but this model has pretty much in a sense, early on, has kind of proved that wrong.”

Exactly how he knows that is unclear, given that the hub experiment only started in February.  Besides, the Education Achievement Authority has been criticized for some time for a failure to launch, so to speak; the 15 Detroit schools that were put into the EAA have failed to make real progress, and plans to expand it have, as the Free Press said in this article, “have fizzled.” Last month, John Covington, the man who was hired in 2011 to head the EAA and turn around the lowest-performing Detroit schools, resigned a year before his contract expired amid questions about finances and teacher turnover, the newspaper said.

Early childhood experts recommend that kindergarten students have a teacher-student ratio of no more than 1:12.

Just add this to other stories about what kindergartners today are being subject to in this era of “accountability” in public education, in which standardized tests -- even for kindergartners — are of prime importance and class schedules have become so jam-packed that sometimes there is no time for recess.

The URL on the Detroit Free Press story about this new experiment in teaching young kids captures the problem well  (emphasis is mine):

http://www.freep.com/article/20140721/NEWS01/307210032/Brenda-Scott-kindergarten-overcrowded

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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