Low-income students in Montgomery County performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, according to a new study that suggests economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool...
Researchers see the results as especially significant because Montgomery, one of the nation's best and largest public school districts with 144,000 students, has been uncommonly aggressive in seeking to improve the performance of students in schools with higher poverty.
It has divided the county into a high-performing, more-affluent green zone and a high-needs red zone, where schools receive about $2,000 more in per-pupil funding. And yet, the low-income students in the study performed better in the green-zone schools.
The national study, undertaken to determine how child development in 2010 relates to Gesell’s historic observations, used key assessment items identical to those Gesell created as the basis for his developmental “schedules” which were published in 1925, 1940, and after his death by colleagues Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg in 1964 and 1979.
Given the current generation of children that—to many adults at least—appear eerily wise, worldly, and technologically savvy, these new data allowed Gesell researchers to ask some provocative questions: Have kids gotten smarter? Can they learn things sooner? What effect has modern culture had on child development?
The surprising answers—no, no, and none. Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute, says despite ramped-up expectations, including overtly academic work in kindergarten, study results reveal remarkable stability around ages at which most children reach cognitive milestones such as being able to count four pennies or draw a circle. For the study, 92 examiners conducted 40-minute one-on-one assessments with 1,287 children ages 3–6 at 56 public and private schools in 23 states.
“People think children are smarter and they are able to do these things earlier than they used to be able to—and they can’t,” says Guddemi. While all children in the study were asked to complete 19 tasks, results echoed previous Gesell findings showing, for example, that a square is in the 4 1/2-year-old repertoire, but a child cannot draw a triangle until 5 1/2. These developmental milestones, Guddemi says, relate directly to what can be expected of children in kindergarten.
“The Gesell findings to me are very comforting,” says Lisa Fiore, program director for Early Childhood at Lesley University School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. She sees the data as a stroke in favor of those who find the focus on test scores—and not exploratory learning—troublesome. “I hope someone will pick up a hard copy of this study and say, ‘Listen, we should all relax.’”
Although the study shows children have the same developmental schedule they always have, Jerlean E. Daniel, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, says findings in recent years about the value of one-on-one conversations to early literacy, and music and patterns to math concepts, have added to the understanding of how children develop cognitively. Nonetheless, says Daniel, kindergarten has become more rigid and pressured. “Above all, young children need time—time to manipulate objects and ideas, time to make the information their own,” says Daniel. The Gesell study, she says, “is a resource to people who want to find greater balance in kindergarten.”