Bluff City Education is a relatively new, valuable Memphis blog offering an important perspective of Shelby County Schools and educational issues – the perspective of teachers.  It’s impossible to disagree with the blog’s stated purpose: “to ensuring that the teacher voice is heard in the Memphis educational discourse.  We care about our city and believe whole heartedly that the teacher voice is a crucial component to ensuring a bright future for our children.”

Individual writers/contributors to the blog (they are looking for additional contributors if you’re interested) are Jon Alfuth, Soulsville Charter School geometry teacher; Casie Jones, teacher at MLK Transition;  Elana Cole, former Memphis City Schools and charter educator; and Tamera Malone, specialist for Aspire Public Schools in the Achievement School District at Hanley Elementary.

We encourage you to put Bluff City Education on your regular reading list.

Last Friday, we wrote about the unwelcome interference by State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, into the Memphis referendum about increasing local option sales taxes by 50 cents per $100 to fund Pre-K.  Mr. Dunn’s anti-Pre-K op-ed column in The Commercial Appeal was all about driving a political agenda with faulty facts, and because of it, we thought of the following post from last month’s Bluff City Education blog:

The Importance of Pre-K: A Teacher’s Perspective

Posted on September 24, 2013

TN Pre-K_2

ABCs, 123s, red, blue, green, and yellow! These are the least of skills one Kindergarten teacher believes all children should know upon entering her class.  “I would expect a student to know his name, how to spell and recognize it, know the alphabet, letter names, numbers one to ten, colors, and shapes,”  stated D’ Angela Keys, a Kindergarten teacher with the Achievement School District.  Kids are expected to know or to have had some exposure to these skills when they enter kindergarten on day one.   Bethanie Moore, a Pre-K teacher says “The top three skills I most desire for my students to master prior to leaving my classroom are counting to 30 or more using one to one correspondence, recognizing all letters of the alphabet and their sounds, and writing independently.” However, that is not the case for many students. Keys has found herself spending great amounts of time on name recognition and spelling and alphabet recognition and sounds with many of her kindergarteners.

THE IMPACT OF POVERTY ON EDUCATION OUTCOMES: 100% of the students in Keys class are growing up in poverty.  This means academically the odds are against them because they may not have had access to resources needed to develop a solid foundation to be successful learners.  Growing up in poverty means families may have to worry about basic necessities for survival including housing, meals, and healthcare. This may cause families, though not intentionally, to neglect providing a child with the skills needed to progress as successful learners. In the early stages of life, children need to be exposed to reading and to books.  They need to be talked to which helps increase their vocabulary.  They need to interact with peers to develop social skills. Children that do not have these experiences risk entering kindergarten with social, behavior, and academic deficits causing them to fall behind their more affluent peers; thus, widening the achievement gap.

PRE-K MAKES A DIFFERENCE: When a child enters Kindergarten lacking the necessary skills to be successful, it becomes difficult to move him or her forward.  When a teacher gets a child who cannot express himself or herself because of limited vocabulary or a child that does not know how to follow directions or positively interact with his or her peers, it affects her ability to teach the kindergarten curriculum because she has to help build the foundation that should have been built before entering kindergarten.   Ms. Keys stated that she notices a difference between students who have had access to some type of quality pre- kindergarten experience and those that have not. “If the student attended an effective pre-k program then there is a difference between him or her and the students that did not.  I also saw more success with students who had parents that really invested a lot of time and energy into their child’s future,” says Keys. From my experience, students that have positive developmental experiences have a higher vocabulary, are more able to follow directions, are more confident, and have the ability to soar high.  I worry about students that are behind.  They have a higher chance of being referred to special education, performing low on achievement tests, and falling further and further behind which could lead to dropping out of high school.

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