Whatever Happened to Childhood?
I thought I learned
my lessons well in developmental psychology,
but apparently I’m wrong.
That is the conclusion
I must draw based on the recent decision by
corporate America to re-institute a retention
policy for NYC third graders. Although all
research proves that holding children back
doesn’t work in the long-run, and despite
the fact that we tried it in New York City
and it failed, the newest managers of the NYC
public schools think that they can make it
I’m not sure on what they’re basing that decision. My opinion, however, is based upon what I learned at Hunter College earning my master’s
degree in education, what I learned by experience
teaching elementary school, and what I observed
in my many years of service at all levels of
The first graders
I taught hadn’t reached any of the ‘normal” developmental
milestones and had little in terms of life
experiences from which to draw. I needed to
broaden their life experiences and I needed
to combine a first-grade curriculum with a
kindergarten readiness program until, with
one exception, everyone was writing, reading
sentences, and communicating in English.
Two of my students had been held back. They were way ahead at the beginning of the year, but to my amazement, by early spring, almost everyone had caught up with them, and some had moved ahead.
Here’s what I learned from that year’s
experience and many other experiences: Holding
children back is not the answer. We must better
prepare our youngest children so they can meet
the demands of an elementary school curriculum.
am calling for universal pre-kindergarten for
all children ages 3 and up. If we are going
to compare all these children later on in their
school years—and hold them back for “failing”—we need to even the learning field. We must stop punishing them for social problems we have not, or cannot, address. We must stop punishing them because some of their parents don’t
speak English, are poor, are uneducated, and,
in some cases, are irresponsible. We must stop
punishing families who are using all their
energy to survive.
I call on the State Education Department to completely overhaul our existing system of day care/early childhood education. We must staff our early childhood classes with licensed professionals. We must have licensed supervisors with expertise in early childhood to watch over the delivery of early childhood education. We must pay these professionals appropriately and stop treating them as if they are baby sitters.
We must implement child study teams to identify academically needy youngsters. We must assess their specific needs and design a plan to address the deficits.
As for the third-grade
retention policy that Mayor Bloomberg recently
implemented, I challenge him to find any research
that proves it works. I don’t question
a few children may benefit, but the majority
will suffer; some will develop life-long scars.#
Jill Levy is President, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators