In the A Nation at Risk, 25 Years Later edition of education week, I was happy to hear someone emphasize the early grades. Ed Hirsch Jr. might as well have been a secondary insider. His critique was this: we’ve done high school reform acrobatics since A Nation At Risk with no overall effect, so the reform arena should recognize that early grades matter.
I can confirm that many secondary teachers spend a considerable amount of time aghast and powerless in the face of forces they seem to have no control over – the child’s parenting, personality and energy, for example. However, we feel particularly bitter when students arrive without the skills and background knowledge to participate in our class. We inevitably curse their primary experience.
I’m not necessarily in agreement with his argument that elementary curriculum needs to have more actual content rather than a focus on skills, nor that there needs to by a unitary curriculum. I’d instead focus on the raw talent, pay, respect toward and parent involvement with elementary teachers. But, as a former High School teacher and victim of the secondary reform acrobatics, any efforts by foundations and think tanks towards primary school is a much appreciated endeavor. They need you.