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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wasilla and Woodbridge

Wasilla, Alaska -- where Sarah Palin was mayor before recently becoming governor of that state -- has a population smaller than that of Woodbridge, Connecticut.  According to the 2000 Census, Woodbridge had a population of 8983, compared with 5470 for Wasilla. . .  

8:23 am edt 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Technology and Education

A recent New York Times article offers an update on the integration of technology and education:
August 17, 2008
Essay:  At School, Technology Starts to Turn a Corner
"As a new school year begins, the time may have come to reconsider how large a role technology can play in changing education."

Lohr writes, "Worries about the nation’s future competitiveness led to the creation in 2002 of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a coalition whose members include the Department of Education and technology companies like Apple, Cisco Systems, Dell and Microsoft. The government-industry partnership identifies a set of skills that mirror those that the New Technology Foundation model is meant to nurture. Those skills include collaboration, systems thinking, self-direction and communication, both online and in person."

Relevant resources range from Google Teacher, nationally, to
Concepts for Adaptive Learning in New Haven and now other Connecticut cities.  Concepts solicits and refits donated computers and then provides them to families for free, along with training to support the education and job preparation of parents and public school students.  See:

Also of possible interest, the following book chapter:
"Harlem Snapshot: Schooling in New Technologies"  pp. 143-149 in Children and the Media, Everette E. Dennis and Edward C. Pease, editors -- available through Google Books. 

10:23 pm edt 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Suburban Municipalities, Regional Cooperation

Related to the May 27 post below on regionalism, here is a recent story about the possibility -- so far unfulfilled -- that two suburban towns might merge their police departments:

New Haven Register, August 22, 2008  Madison, Clinton Police Not Merging,” by Amanda Pinto

10:36 pm edt 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Preschool: Public Policy Gets Personal, Early Childhood Resources and Research

The search for a preschool and now my daughter’s imminent enrollment prompt these reflections on early childhood resources, policy, and research – in the New Haven region, across Connecticut and beyond. 

About 70 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. attend center-based programs, while fewer than half of 3-year-olds do.  Studies in Oklahoma and elsewhere suggest the academic among other benefits of preschool, though those benefits depend on program quality. (See, for example, National Institute for Early Education Research, as well as other sources cited below.)

We should seek not only safe, playful, learning-rich early experiences for our own children, but also a system in which such opportunities are available to all.  In that spirit and inspired by reports like this one – which called for “more constructive cross-fertilization among the domains of science, policy, and practice” – this post aims to connect the personal and the public.  Readers may find practical information about local early childhood resources, along with context for those different “domains.”

My daughter starts preschool in September at Creating Kids, associated with the  Connecticut Children's Museum.  Because the program also offers care for younger children, there is a possibility that my son – not yet a year old – will eventually join her.  (It’s unclear whether there will be a spot there for him or exactly when and on what basis my wife will return to working outside the home.)

We were encouraged to discover that, in contrast to the particular scarcity of slots in accredited centers for children under age three, there are more options once a child turns three.  Still, decisions are difficult, especially due to the pressures of timing and partial information about lotteries, waiting lists, and of course costs.

Considerations include safety, overall quality, social development elements, pure play versus academic/cognitive orientation, indoor versus outdoor and physical components, location/convenience, schedule, facilities, experience and turnover of educators, and therefore salaries and costs.

The rewards of high-quality programs are evident, as are the emergence of achievement gaps by the time many children enter kindergarten or first grade.

Economists increasingly are making an explicit cost-vs.-benefits case, emphasizing return on investment:

*James J. Heckman, at the University of Chicago, has written of  "Schools, Skills, and Synapses."  He and Dimitry V. Masterov articulate "The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children." 

*Arthur Rolnick, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, is known for work on "the economics of early childhood development." 

Testimony comes also from expert medical doctors such as Harvard’s Jack P. Shonkoff, who chairs the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, which combines scholars in neuroscience, developmental psychology, pediatrics, and economics, and who visited Connecticut for a presentation in January 2008.  Shonkoff’s collaborator Deborah A. Phillips, a psychologist at Georgetown, co-edited with him “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development.”

Counterparts are at institutions including Yale and its Child Study Center, whose recent work on infancy and early childhood is summarized here, with disabilities such as autism among the concerns addressed.  Yale's Edward Zigler Center (formerly Bush Center) in Child Development and Social Policy has extensive links here. 

Selected research centers beyond Yale include the Harvard Family Research Project, the National Center for Early Development and Learning , and the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Foundational research includes the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study and Carolina Abecedarian Project.  A study of Chicago preschools, described in a May 9, 2001 New York Times article “Gains Found for the Poor in Rigorous Preschool,”  provides another example.  In the Chicago case documented in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the preschool program, operated by the public school system, required parents to participate in children's homework assignments and helped families arrange health care and social services. According to the Times account by Jacques Steinberg, ''It's more than just providing basic literacy skills,'' said Arthur J. Reynolds at the University of Wisconsin, who led the study. ''You've got to put parents in classrooms, as well as kids.'' Diane Ravitch agreed the Chicago study was encouraging, demonstrating “if you have a clear focus, you can improve language and literacy, and have other good effects.''  Further evidence for the importance of involving families comes from the Parent-Child Home Program.  A recent ETS summary report, by Paul Barton and Richard Coley, examined “The Family: America's Smallest School.”

In our state, policy, advocacy, and child literacy organizations include:

Connecticut Commission on Children

Connecticut Voices for Children, which regularly produces related reports, including “Investing in the Early Years: A Great Return for Kids and for Connecticut,” by Cyd Oppenheimer.  This brief argues for increased “funding for Care4Kids child care subsidies; adequately funding initiatives like State-Funded Child Development Centers, Head Start and School Readiness; enacting paid family leave; and investing in professional development opportunities and other quality enhancement initiatives.”

Discovery initiative of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund  

Early Childhood Education bureau of the State Department of Education

Early Childhood Research and Policy Council  and Early Childhood Education Cabinet, which prepared "Ready by 5 and Fine by 9: Connecticut's Early Childhood Investment Framework"

First Years First, a Community Foundation for Greater New Haven effort

Greater New Haven Literacy Coalition

New Haven Reads and its Book Bank, which offers free books to families and tutoring for kids

Read to Grow

Success by Six, a United Way effort

In exploring waiting lists and various child-care centers’ areas of focus, philosophies, facilities, policies, and schedules, my wife and I learned about a range of programs, some of which accommodate only children three and up, some of which also have offerings for children under age three.  (We were seeking a program that might serve both of our kids, three and younger, throughout the year.)

Local resources include the New Haven Public Schools Magnet Office (for lottery and school tour information) and Early Childhood Office.  Preschools are at Barnard, Daniels, Davis, Jepson, King/Robinson, Mauro, and MicroSociety magnet schools, with information available in January for enrollment the following fall.  See: http://www.nhps.net/magnet/

In addition to the magnet preschools, New Haven offers “Early Head Start, Head Start, School Readiness, and DSS daycare programs. . . . Daycare and Early Head Start programs serve children 6 weeks to 3 years, while preschool programs serve 3-5 year olds.”  For more information: http://www.nhps.net/earlychildhood/index.asp

Other local organizations that my wife and I have encountered -- far from a comprehensive list -- include:

All Our Kin

The Connecticut Children's Museum and its Creating Kids program

Bethesda Nursery School

Calvin Hill Daycare Center 

Children’s Preschool

Creative Arts Workshop

Edith B. Jackson Child Care Program

Leila Day Nursery

Neighborhood Music School

Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center

Yale-New Haven Hospital Day Care Center

Recent news stories are evocative, including the following from the New York Times:

August 6, 2008
Where the Race Now Begins at Kindergarten By WINNIE HU
With the recent boom in the city’s under-5 set, the competition for kindergarten places can rival that of Ivy League admission.”

July 15, 2008
New Vision for Schools Proposes Broad Role By SAM DILLON
Randi Weingarten, the new president of the American Federation of Teachers, says she wants to replace a focus on standardized testing with a vision of public schools as community centers.”

An earlier opinion piece  addressed related topics.

. . . . .

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, more than half of the young children in the U.S. receive care of only poor or fair quality, with care for infants and toddlers notably substandard.  (Judith Warner cites the figure of 61 percent in the December 7, 2006 edition of “Domestic Disturbances.”)

Confronting this problem, the “Knowledge into Action” section of “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development” asserts that

"Resources . . . should be devoted to translating the knowledge base on young children's emotional, regulatory, and social development into effective strategies for fostering: (1) the development of curiosity, self-direction, and persistence in learning situations; (2) the ability to cooperate, demonstrate caring, and resolve conflict with peers; and (3) the capacity to experience the enhanced motivation associated with feeling competent and loved. . . . The time is long overdue for society to recognize the significance of out-of-home relationships for young children, to esteem those who care for them when their parents are not available, and to compensate them adequately as a means of supporting stability and quality in those relationships for all children, regardless of their family's income and irrespective of their developmental needs. . . . It does appear, however, that development of the neural systems supporting cognitive, social, and emotional competencies remains open to experience at least through adolescence. In fact, the brain's ongoing plasticity enables it to continually resculpt and reshape itself in response to new environmental demands well into adulthood. It is important to emphasize that these findings do not in any way diminish the importance of the early years. They simply remind us of the continuing importance of the years that follow."

Such a balanced, reasoned approach can animate efforts to ensure as positive as possible an early learning experience for every child, without abandoning those young people whose first years fall short.

The New Haven Early Childhood Council has an urgent mission: “All children will enter Kindergarten with the skills, knowledge, love of learning and support necessary to succeed.” (For additional background, see here.)

Together, educators, parents, and the broader community are pursuing this mission.  Yet much remains to be done, locally as well as nationally not to mention globally, to counter inequities that often constrain children’s prospects to learn and thrive.  Opportunity, prevention and early intervention are needed from the prenatal stage forward. But it’s never too late to expect more from, and to bolster, a young learner.

11:34 pm edt 

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