Shael Polakow-Suransky & Nancy Nager: Playful Classrooms are Our Smartest Investment

“It has long been noticed that the smartest mammals—primates, cetaceans, elephants, and carnivores—are the most playful,” anthropologist and neuroscientist Melvin Konner wrote in his epic work, The Evolution of Childhood. But as all early educators know: these are tough times on the playing fields.

The work of children is disappearing, the casualty of trickle-down education reform policies that have foist worksheets, drill skills, and standardized “bubble” tests on our youngest students. This process is by no means a new phenomenon, but the pace has accelerated mightily in the years of No Child Left Behind and Race to . . . Read full article →

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Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K Expansion: A Model for Other Cities?

Universal prekindergarten is a hot topic these days, stirring up big emotions. Do we target scarce resources to those children most in need? For about a year, I was stalked on Twitter by a woman who fiercely believes that’s the way to go. Anytime I mentioned the words “universal,” or “preschool for all,” she was there, haranguing me for my wrong-headed response. This was often, as you might imagine.

Or do we make preschool available to all? Many argue that the only way to ensure sustainability is to get buy-in from middle class parents. This policy debate has been . . . Read full article →

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The Case Against Summer Vacation: Something Smells Fishy

This week, as kids and adults were wilting in the heat, Christina Duncan Evans, a high school teacher in Baltimore, made the case against summer vacation. “With so many huge education-reform ideas under discussion,” she asks, in a piece at Education Week, “why isn’t altering summer vacation on the table?”

Evans talks of the loss of knowledge and skills—or “summer slide,” as it’s now known—during the nine to ten weeks of the U.S. break. A danger, in particular, for low-income students, as the New America Foundation noted in a recent forum on the phenomenon:

The . . . Read full article →

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Empathy is Great, But It’s No Silver Bullet for Ed Reform and Poverty

Empathy is the bedrock of our civilization. Without it, we might as well pack up our tent and leave the planet. We can’t have enough of it—in government, in schools, in families, in communities, and the world.

Kids develop empathy earlier than we ever could have ever imagined, as Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology and philosophy at Berkeley, has been reminding us for years. Such a revelation. But they do so with other human beings—in a dance choreographed from birth. As the human ecologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, wrote:

In order to develop — intellectually . . . Read full article →

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