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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

This is not baby school: Deficit-based assumptions about young children of color in urban public preschools
by Hawley, Rebecca, Ed.D., Mills College, 2010, 164; 3397145
Abstract (Summary)

Low socio-economic status (SES) African American, Latino/a, and ethnic minority preschool age children have few options when it comes to enrolling in quality preschool programs that are developmentally appropriate in practice. State preschool programs and pre-K programs that are affiliated with local school districts are a viable option for families who cannot afford alternate forms of care. State-funded preschool programs are increasingly targeted as a mechanism to “close the achievement gap,” based on (faulty) assumptions that the K-12 educational performance of African American and Latino children is based in their early home settings. This has led to the adoption of curriculum mandates, teaching pedagogies, and early academic testing that stress school readiness skills, which are defined solely as the mastery of early academic concepts. These assumptions have also caused a corresponding shift away from using a more whole-child-centered approach to “school readiness.”

Using a strict mandate that stresses academic readiness for some children (poor children who rely on state preschools), but not others (who can afford private preschool), puts us in grave danger of replicating – rather than ameliorating – the current inequities that we see in today's public educational system. In addition, it implies that “some” children have pre-existing deficits that need fixing, while others do not. A heavily academic curriculum with an emphasis on early literacy and numeracy limits opportunities for preschool age children to focus on social-emotional development. It also limits opportunities for children to learn through exploration and play with the support of teachers and more capable peers.

This study utilized case study research design in an examination of two Child Development Centers (CDCs) that are affiliated with a large urban district in California. Data collection included weekly observations over a period of six weeks, open-ended interviews with head teachers, document analysis of mandated curriculum and the accompanying teacher's pacing guide, and looking at children's work samples from the curriculum workbooks and lessons. The effect of using strict curriculum mandates and the impact that it had on both the children, and their teachers, was observed and evaluated. As a result, the following three main themes emerged: (1) Deficit-based assumptions of why this is necessary: “It's what these kids need to catch up;” (2) The rush to kindergarten, illustrated by teachers who were frequently heard to say to preschoolers, “This is not baby school. You all will be in kindergarten soon. We need to get to work!;” and (3) No time to waste, exemplified by teachers reporting that they feel pressure to compromise their teaching practices in order to “make the time needed” to deliver the lessons and administer individual assessments to preschoolers.

This data will be discussed in terms of how policy changes (e.g., implementing a new, more academic curriculum in state-run preschools) are deeply rooted in a deficit view of poor, urban students of color. When we argue that children of color from lower-income backgrounds need to “catch up” – before even entering the public elementary school system – we are clearly, if implicitly, placing blame for students' performance on families and communities, and not on schools.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zirkel, Sabrina
Commitee: Ketelle, Diane, Perez, Linda, Ramier, Malia
School: Mills College
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 71/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Early childhood education, Curriculum development
Keywords: Children of color, Curriculum, Developmentally appropriate, Preschool, Standards, Teacher-directed, Teachers, Urban education
Publication Number: 3397145
ISBN: 978-1-109-68045-4
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