One of the joys of working in education policy is being able to discuss the trials and tribulations with actual parents. You know, the ones who dictate how a child will be educated, policy be damned. I have yet to encounter the truly crazy parent. Just those who are genuinely interested in how what happens in a policy discussion on the state or federal level will ultimately impact their children. I also tend to believe that, when it comes down to it, all parents want the best for their child and seek right solution. The kind of parents that realize there is no one size fits all child so why should there be the same approach to schooling?
I also know that when it comes to making policy sometimes not much attention is paid to the population who will be most affected. I don’t necessarily expect lawmakers to reach out to every 8 year old to get their opinion on homework but real discussion on the impact of a piece of legislation with parents should be a more regular occurrence. I say this in general terms and not only in education but in a good majority of legislative issues. Numbers are looked at, budgets are surveyed but there’s a personal aspect that is often missing. I enjoy speaking with my friends who are parents to find out their thoughts or accidentally popping into a discussion by way of Google Reader.
Such was the case when I read a post by Kristen Howerton as to what she should do about sending her October born babies to kindergarten this fall. Several options were presented but I have found that parents of late fall babies often question when to send their child into kindergarten: Put them in at age four or wait another year until they are five (almost six)? I was born on October 26th and started kindergarten at four, went to college at 17, graduated at 21, was lobbying Congress at 23. It all worked out fine in the end but I/my parents can only say that confidently some 20 years down the road. I can also recall notable moments where my socialization might not have been on par with my older peers. Specifically bedwetting until third grade even though I was only seven; taking the car out for jaunts at 16 because all of my friends had already been driving for a year; general bullying that was either because I was a socially awkward, chubby child or because kids are assholes. The point is that there were many cases where now, when I read posts/see questions as to whether or not a child is socially ready for kindergarten at four, I question my parents’ reasoning to send me ‘early’.
For the record, at the time I went to kindergarten - 1988 - the cutoff date for kindergarten enrollment was December 31st. The decision to send me at age four was because I was reading well above my grade level and had been in daycare for years therefore I seemed socially ready. I actually asked my mother about this recently and she said that she really didn’t put that much thought into it. It was presented to her, she enrolled me in half-day kindergarten and then an after-school program and I survived. The end.
Then again in 1988 there weren’t the same strictly mandated regulations as to how a third through eighth grader will do on a test no matter the age of the child being tested. There weren’t the same pressures on local education agencies or states competing for grant funding and education reform wasn’t a multi-billion dollar industry. Perhaps it was just that at the time, there wasn’t the pressure that there is now for children to perform on demand for teachers to teach to the test. There also weren’t budget issues within states and in the home so when it came to full-day schooling districts were more able to afford it and parents didn’t necessarily find themselves between a rock and a hard place. A place where there is less emphasis on actual readiness and more placed on affordability and how the district will fare. These are things that I am left to wonder about when parents find their children on the brink of ‘traditional’ schooling. What is mandated? Not necessarily “is my child ready” but “can I afford this?” It’s a tough decision to say the least and as the pressure for a child to know XY and Z by an arbitrary date becomes more and more prevalent and states grapple with the rising costs of education, I wonder how parents are dealing and the inevitable impact on their child.