The holidays have given me some time to finally read through the Five-Year Action Plan for the District of Columbia Public Schools that Chancellor Michelle Rhee released in late October. (Yes, I know, I'm clearly a girl who knows how to have a fun holiday season.) (Yes, I know, I should have gotten to it sooner.)
There's a lot of good stuff in there, but one glaring omission that really troubled me: A total lack of attention to early education. The word "preschool" appears exactly once in the document, as part of a series of early education programs given a passing mention in a section dealing with parental engagement. Pre-kindergarten or early childhood education? Not a mention. Kindergarten? Nope. On the upside, early literacy does get mentioned twice, and Rhee is proposing a solid, research-based approach to early literacy, including increased use of tiered interventions for struggling readers.
Now, I realize that fixing DCPS is a complicated undertaking that involves addressing a whole lot of problems. But to ignored the role of pre-k and kindergarten early education in improving children's performance in DCPS strikes me as a huge mistake. After all, Rhee already has substantial numbers of 4-year-old children enrolled in pre-kindergarten classes within her own school buildings. And the District of Columbia Council recently passed ambitious universal pre-k legislation to expand access to pre-k programs and to improve their quality. That legislation could provide a real opportunity for Rhee to transform the too-often lackluster pre-kindergarten instruction taking place in DCPS and use quality pre-k as the base for building a high-quality system of aligned Pre-k to 3rd education within DCPS elementary schools.
Rhee's plan places an admirable emphasis on improving the quality of not only academic but also social and emotional supports available to students in DCPS schools, and on implementing and aligned curriculum with accompanying instructional supports. But both those reforms should begin at the pre-k and the preschool level, to help ensure that children build a solid base of basic academic and social-emotional skills by the end of third grade.