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Education Rundown: Young And Ready For School

teacher with two young children
U.S. Department of Education
Early childhood education is one key to success.

Once a week, our team of education reporters would like to share stories that look at trends in education here and across the country. In particular, we want to focus on people, research and even gizmos that may help make kids learn better. This week, our Rundown looks at early childhood education and kindergarten.

Planting the seed

How do you get more city parents to want to enroll (and keep) their kids in the St. Louis public schools? Get the kids early -- with a high-quality, much-in-demand preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. Education Week recently spotlighted how St. Louis started expanding its preschoolprogram in 2011 from about 1,300 students to 2,00o this year. The $23 million expansion was paid for by money from the deseg settlement.

Obviously, the program is a response to a pressing educational need: "56 percent of the 3- and 4-year-olds in St. Louis prior to the expansion were not enrolled in any early-childhood-education programs, including private providers, district-run programs, or federally funded Head Start centers" in a district where 88 percent of students are on free or reduced-price lunch.

Besides the educational benefits to the kids, the expansion has been a successful attempt on "the part of the district and the (teachers) union to see one another not as adversaries, but as permanent partners in an effort to keep St. Louis schools viable and on a path of academic improvement." The St. Louis Public Schools still face enormous challenges, but the preschool program may be a model for how the district can move forward. (Susan Hegger)

Separate and equal

It sounds like a good theory: When twins reach kindergarten, enrolling them in different classes is a good way to help them achieve independent identities and begin a successful academic career. But like a lot of ideas that seem to make a lot of sense, this one doesn’t hold up in the face of new research. A study reported in Education Week says that splitting twins up when they start kindergarten can have a seriously negative impact on them personally while having no effect on their grades.

Professor Lynn Melby Gordon puts it this way: "School separation trauma can sometimes be profound.” And she should know. Besides teaching elementary education at California State University at Northridge, she also is the mother of fraternal twin boys and a former kindergarten teacher. Still, Gordon adds that in some cases, twins should be separated, particularly if together their behavior disrupts class or one needs space from the other. (Dale Singer)

Baby Einsteins

Sure, your child will be just barely 5 years old when the kindergarten cutoff arrives. But she’s already shown so many signs of superior intelligence, you feel bad about having her waste time in another year of pre-school. So you make sure she’s enrolled in kindergarten, even though some of her classmates may be nearly a full year older.

What could be the harm? A lot -- according to new research from Mizzou.

Education professor Francis Huang found that the youngest kindergartners are about five times more likely to be held back a year than the oldest students in the class. The result: higher costs for parents and school districts, not to mention the effect on the child. Huang thinks schools should be more flexible in helping kindergarteners of various ages so that they can go on to first grade with their classmates rather than repeat a grade and be the oldest in their class instead of the youngest. (Dale Singer)

What should you never say to a teacher?

Have you ever seen the look on a teacher’s face when someone says his job is so easy because he gets all summer off? We’re all sensitive when it comes to our jobs, but teachers may be more so than most. What do you think, after reading these 12 things you should never, ever say to a teacher? Do you have any of your own, or things that shouldn’t be said to someone in your job? Leave them in the comments below. (Dale Singer)

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.