This guest post is from Becky Fisher, a talented writer, artist, musician, educator, adventurer and blogger. She writes about innovation in educational technology, design thinking & art. You can find her on Twitter at @BFish921. She is also the marketing and community manager at Kidaptive, an educational and storytelling project for the iPad.
The achievement gap is widening. This is a phrase we’ve all heard before, and in America it generally points to differences in race or family income. As a society we are constantly looking for and experimenting with ways to narrow this gap, but we have yet to pinpoint a silver bullet solution. Perhaps there is no silver bullet; instead there are a variety of solutions to remedy disparate issues within our education system. And if there are in fact a variety of solutions, we must correctly identify the variety of issues by thoroughly investigating the real causes of an achievement gap—who is affected, when it begins, where it’s occurring, and ultimately why this is happening. Only when our educational problems are properly diagnosed can we begin to build fruitful solutions.
Professor Sean F. Reardon at Stanford University recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times titled “No Rich Child Left Behind”. It refers to some alarming statistics and warns us: The gap in educational success between high-income and low-income students has grown throughout the last few decades. After high school graduation, 15% of students from highincome families enrolled in “highly selective” four-year colleges, as opposed to 5% of students from middle income families and 2% from low-income families. Maybe this is not news to anyone. Students from a wealthier demographic have access to things like summer camp, travel, academic tutors, and test prep programs.
However, Reardon says that this achievement gap has increased by 40% between 1960 and 2010. He also demonstrates through research that the gap between students of families with the highest and lowest 10% of incomes in America is almost double that between black and white students (which is still quite large). Based on these statistics, Reardon states, “family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.”
Luckily, Professor Reardon has properly diagnosed this problem for us, and it’s not based on race or test scores. Reardon says, “the academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle class students.” In other words, students exposed to more substantial pre-K cognitive development are more likely to achieve academic success.
Kindergarten readiness has become one of the strongest predictors of down-the-road success in school. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed the importance of early childhood education during a press conference recently, where he was proposing to implement head start programs across all fifty states. The government has previously voiced a desire to invest heavily in early childhood education in order to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to be school ready when they enter kindergarten. By providing “universal preschool”, we can offer a potentially successful solution to this widening achievement gap.
However, I believe there are other factors at large here that we have not yet discussed. Parents with financial resources often have other resources like time, which can provide incredible benefits to a child’s cognitive development. But what about parents with financial resources but very little time to spend with their children, i.e. double income families?
Wealth, in this case, is not the only issue, though I recognize that it still provides advantages like high quality childcare and preschool. The issue that I am defining is the luxury of time that many people, even families with ample financial resources, cannot afford. Many parents do not have an excess of time to spend with their child, and in today’s society, this time is crucial to early childhood cognitive development.
Parents want to make the most of the short time they get to spend with their kids, and providing an educationally rich experience is not always easy. So I am offering another solution to a somewhat separate problem: we need to optimize that short time by providing parents with tools that ensure cognitively beneficial parentchild interactions. In other words: Parents, put your teacher’s hats on.
There are many ways to provide busy parents with the tools to become better teachers, but one that stands out in my mind (and from field of work) is technology. Technology by nature is designed to create simple solutions to difficult problems. There are even apps available that are designed to support early childhood education in a positive and beneficial way.
Apps such as the EyePaint series from Curious Hat and Little Fox Music Box by Shape Minds and Moving Images provide opportunity for creative co-play. Additionally, Interactive storybooks like Goodnight Safari by Polk Street Press and The Monster at the End of this Book by Sesame Street, provide ample co-learning opportunities for parents to explore with their children.
These are tools and solutions that will work for some families, but not for others. Access and “Tech Equity” are still problems that should be clearly defined, researched, and solved in the (hopefully near) future. But for those families who are pressed for time and looking to build a better early childhood learning experience for their kids, learning apps can provide a helpful solution.
Professor Reardon diagnosed a broad problem that is leading to a widening achievement gap—children are not getting the cognitive development and earlychildhoodeducation they need before kindergarten. I am not offering a silver bullet. I am only offering a well designed and research based solution to busy parents who are looking for ways to enhance educational interactions with their children. Technology is offering a teacher’s hat for parents to wear.
Becky Fisher is the Marketing and Community Manager at Kidaptive, Inc. She loves building things that promote creativity and believes that education technology should be cultivating a generation of passionate learners. Becky has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. You can find her on Twitter at @bfish921 or on Linked-In at http://www.linkedin.com/in/bfish921.
Read the New York Times piece from April 2013 & article from February 2013, that inspired this post here:
Now it’s up to us to put that hat on – thank you Becky for the inspiration! What apps or other resources have you discovered that might help busy parents engage in co-viewing, reading and learning with their children? Please let us know in the comments …