The problem with pre-school

An editorial from The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — West Virginia passed legislation in 2002 requiring public schools to expand access to pre-school education programs that were originally implemented in some local districts in 1983.

Since then, the state has ranked high nationally, coming in at No. 6 for pre-kindergarten enrollment for 4-year-olds, and No. 8 nationally for enrollment of 3-year-olds.

In 2013, some 16,000 West Virginia children were enrolled in pre-school programs at a cost of approximately $6,000 per student a year, or approximately $96 million a year.

Providing high-quality pre-K and rich educational opportunities to all children is paramount to their future success, said state schools Superintendent James Phares.

“Kindergarten teachers will tell you children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten ready to learn with skills that children who don’t attend pre-K have yet to develop,” Phares said in 2013. “It kick-starts learning.”

Not everyone is in agreement.

Melanie Cutright, a principal in Wood County, told lawmakers in Charleston last week that West Virginia’s strong push into pre-K education may actually be hurting kids.

Cutright was referring to the practice of including 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in the same classroom, which she said creates an impossible environment for teachers and students since kids at that age develop at such different rates.

Parents of 5-year-olds have some expectation of their children being prepared for kindergarten the next year, she said, but with an age and developmental range so disparate, lesson planning is challenging.

“It’s difficult to make sure instruction is appropriate for a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old,” she said.

Cutright was not condemning pre-K education, but concerns about its worth — both to young children and to taxpayers — are growing…

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