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Preschool is no longer seen simply as a place where children play and have fun with their age-mates. Concerns about the educational attainment of the country’s children have refocused attention on early childhood settings as places where children also get ready for school. For those concerned with the issues presented by an increasingly diverse student population, preschool education has become a focal point of differing views about how best to accommodate the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in American society and to prepare children from diverse backgrounds for school success (Jipson, 1991). Opinions range from those who advocate acculturation to mainstream educational materials and practices, including immersion in English language, to those who support instructional approaches that have as a primary objective the maintenance of children’s home culture and language.
The workshop participants considered the practical implications of existing knowledge about cultural influences on early learning. In general, they were extremely cautious about taking the step from research to practice. As stated by David Dickinson: “Any suggestions that we have obvious connections to practice need to be heavily laden with caveats.” With this in mind, the participants framed a set of issues that they believed could contribute to a more informed discussion of the early education of children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
A charter school is a new public school that is created and managed by a group usually consisting of parents, teachers, and/or community leaders. Also, some for-profit businesses run charter schools. Charters receive funding from the state where they are located, and they are free from many of the regulations governing other schools that are overseen by a local school district. Most are small and have only a few grade levels. Some serve a specialized group of students.
The schools are begun for several reasons. Their founders believe that students will receive a better education when parents and school administrators have a clear vision of how the school should operate, and first-hand knowledge of the students’ needs. They also think that teachers and administrators who don’t have so many bureaucratic rules to follow can develop more effective curriculum and teaching methods. Charter schools are very popular in urban areas where existing schools are overcrowded and underequipped, segregated, and not very successful in helping poor and minority students achieve.
Most charter schools have only been operating for a few years, so it is too soon to know whether they are more successful than other schools. Many of them show promise, though, so it’s useful for parents to consider whether their children would do well in a charter school.
Rebecca, a tiny ponytailed second-grader, sits in class at a Westside gradeschool that is among the best in Los Angeles. She is contemplating her personal journal, the latest classroom rage for teaching kids to read. She toils with a pencil, filling a page with her crooked sentences, then proudly hands the work to me, a visitor. “I can’t spell,” Rebecca says shyly, “but I know what it means.”
I read the page. It begins, “I go t gum calls.” This, Rebecca explains with a slight frown, means “I go to gym class.” I read on, but cannot do so without Rebecca’s help. I cannot determine where her sentences end, since she has not been taught punctuation. Nor can I gleen her meaning by relying upon key words, because they are incomprehensible. Seed is written “sd”, for example, smile is “sinil.”
Although Rebecca is clearly tense and worried, the teacher cheerfully tells Rebecca she will “do just fine” in time. Indeed, Rebecca’s teacher tells me later that she considers barely legible personal journals to be “very good,” and red correction marks on a student’s work by an authority figure to be “bad.”