Turning challenges into strengths
By Alex on December 5th, 2012
In honor of the children of the Class of 2025, who have just begun their educational journeys this fall, Scholastic has commissioned a five-part series of articles called “Closing the Gap Before it Begins.” Join 10 leaders, scholars, and researchers in education as they confront one of the most critical issues in America: disparity in academic achievement.
The fourth installment of the five part series is brought to you by Dr. Julie Washington & Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, who will discuss “Turning Challenges Into Strengths”
Continue the conversation with us on Twitter at #classof2025.
This generation of students may be the most richly diverse and most challenged the U.S. has yet seen.
In 1995, child psychologists Hart & Risley published a groundbreaking study of young children and vocabulary: by the time they enter kindergarten, there are what the authors called “meaningful differences” in exposure to language among kids living in low-, medium-, and upper-income households. Children from affluent homes, the researchers fond, have heard as many as 30 million more words cumulatively by age 3 than their low-income peers. That number—dubbed the 30 million word gap—shocked the nation and put the challenges faced by disadvantaged children into stark relief. The researchers then followed the children’s progress into third grade. It became clear the language environment of early childhood—positive or negative—correlates strongly with later school performance.
That Gap is Widening
If it has been a while since you made an appearance at circle time or read aloud to a class full of wiggly five-year-olds, take a step inside the world of the class of 2025. American classrooms are more diverse than ever. Shifting demographics now include more English language learners, children who speak different varieties of English, and children who live in poverty, not just in cities but in rural and suburban districts. Of the approximately four million children who started kindergarten this fall, nearly one million (24%) are Hispanic. That is double the number than when Hart & Risley were conducting their study 20 years ago. Just over 20% of American children speak a language other than English at home. Some of these children face a language and literacy gap that continues to widen. If we are to meet the educational needs of this new generation, and give these children their chance to achieve the American dream, we must strategically attack and close this gap.
The Strengths of Diversity
The kindergartners of 2012 will take it for granted that Americans come from a variety of backgrounds and bring a mixture of perspectives to the table. In order to help today’s diverse students thrive in an environment f more rigor, with standards like the Common Core being implemented, it is essential that we find ways to turn their challenges into strengths. And these children clearly bring particular strengths to the educational arena that we are just starting to grasp. Consider the situation of English language learners. It’s certainly true that starting school with little or no English is a disadvantage. But these kids grow up bilingual and can be biliterate. This means they will enjoy the many benefits that diversity in the classroom will offer them, particularly an increased understanding of other cultures and viewpoints. They will be as at ease with Skyping across the world as they are talking with a classmate across the aisle. That is, if we can ensure them the strong foundation for early language and literacy that they need to succeed in school and beyond. The goal must be language and reading proficiency for all children by third grade. That’s what it takes, and it won’t be easy. Continue reading…
Continue the conversation with us on Twitter at #classof2025
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