Monday, August 17, 2015

We Could Use an Economic Frame for the Question of "Developmentally Appropriate"

Stephen Camarata:

In 2006, Dr. Ashlesha Datar, a social scientist at the RAND Corporation, conducted a study comparing children entering kindergarten “on time” to those whose parents held them out for a year. Professor Datar reported: “I find that entering kindergarten a year older significantly boosts test scores at kindergarten entry. More importantly, entering older implies a steeper test score trajectory during the first 2 years in school.”

Consider the implications of this research. Simply waiting until a child is older dramatically increases scores on kindergarten entrance exams. Is the child more intelligent? Does she have a higher potential than she had the year before? No! It is simply a matter of schools trying to teach too much too soon. Parents are responding by simply waiting until their child is more mature and his or her brain is more fully developed in order to take on academic material that should be taught to older children.

There are lots of problems with trying to cram academic work down to earlier grades, but in addition to causing avoidable frustration and bad feelings about school and education, it is also just cold-bloodedly inefficient. It is a waste of resources. I'm a bit dubious about any specific claims about kids not being able to learn certain things at certain ages in terms of brain development, in part when the discussion becomes very binary -- kids this age can't learn that. Well... maybe, but some can so...? If all this data crunching really worked, we'd be able to do more subtle analysis of the difference in the time expended to teach a concept at a certain developmental stage or age. Like, it takes 30 hours to get 75% of kindergarteners to learn X, while if you just wait until the beginning of first grade, 75% can learn it in 5 hours and be just as well off.

I would be enthusiastic about that idea if I actually believed that most learning could be chopped up and measured so finely, and if I believed that at the end of the process people could drop their preconceptions and accept that the endpoint of all their data analysis was to essentially teach less and just play more.

Also, it is a reminder of how crazy, crazy, it is that we report and analyze this data based on grade level and not age/years of schooling. It should be obvious to anyone that this convention obscures a lot of meaningful information, yet we keep going with it.

1 comment:

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