Our opinion: Education at all levels


A trio of reports concerning all levels of education recently grabbed our attention ....

Dateline Montpelier:

The Vermont Senate on Monday passed H.270, the universal prekindergarten bill, which will reinforce the state's pre-school education efforts and better prepare children to enter school.

According to a recent study from the Agency of Education, more than half of Vermont children are not ready for school when they enter kindergarten.

And, as a recent report from VTDigger points out, educators, business and children's advocacy groups for years have pressed the Legislature to enhance support for preschool programs.

"While most of the state's 270-plus districts already have programs for pre-K students," VTDigger reports, "37 do not. The universal pre-K bill will bring about 1,800 additional 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds into preschool programs. The total number of children who would take advantage of the program is expected to be about 6,000, or 60 percent of the state's 11,284 preschool-aged children."

Specifically, the new law will require school districts to offer at least 10 hours of instruction for 35 weeks to any preschool-aged child. The state will reimburse districts of qualified pre-kindergarten programs offered by private or public providers.

Last week, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said that Vermont students entering school were not ready to learn, and extra time was being spent bringing them up to speed. Reaching children early, he said, could possibly reduce special education costs and, looking further ahead, reduce incarceration rates among teenagers.

"Investing in our youngest Vermonters is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do," Gov. Peter Shumlin said, following Monday's vote. "When children and families thrive, Vermont thrives. ... Now access to strong programs for young children will no longer depend on where you live. I am proud to live in a state that will provide every child an opportunity to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn."

We concur with the governor. A good education starts with a good foundation. A more robust and available preschool system, combined with renewed efforts from parents and guardians, will help Vermont's young boys and girls start their schooling on the right foot. Thirteen years is a long time (to be in school); If it's a struggle from the first day, no wonder many children give up before completing 12th grade.

Dateline Washington:

In a major national assessment known as the nation's report card, only about one-quarter of U.S. high school seniors performed solidly in math. In reading, almost 4 in 10 students reached the "proficient" level or higher.

These findings, as pointed out by a report from the Associated Press, reinforce concerns that large numbers of students are unprepared for either college or the workplace.

"In both subjects on the 2013 exam there was little change from 2009, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress was last given to 12th-graders," according to the AP report. The results, which were released Wednesday, come from a representative sample of 92,000 public and private school students.

"Achievement at this very critical point in a student's life must be improved to ensure success after high school," said David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the exam.

In a statement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed out that even though there has been some good news related to graduation rates and scores in younger grades, high school achievement has been flat in recent years.

The "report card" shows racial disparities and offers some context for fluctuations in the results (discussions on readings made reading more enjoyable for some; the higher the level of math being tested, the better the results). However, the bigger takeaway, in our opinion, is that teachers and teaching institutions need to do a better job of engaging students and tailoring their education around their abilities (within reason). We hear time and again that undue focus on test scores and results, in lieu of actual, interactive education leads to poor results in the classroom.

Dateline Vermont:

According to the results of a 2012 survey of Vermont high school seniors by the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, females in the state are much more likely to plan to enroll in postsecondary education than males.

The study, taken by eight out of 10 seniors in Vermont, found that while 74.8 percent of all seniors planned to enroll in either postsecondary education or a training program, a strong gap existed between males and females -- 82 percent of females aspiring to receive education after high school, compared to only 67 percent of males. Furthermore, Among first-generation students (defined by the study as students whose parents do not have a four-year degree), 76 percent of females plan to continue their education, compared to only 55 percent of males.

"Today's economy demands a skilled workforce," Scott Giles, VSAC's president and CEO, told the Bennington Banner. "Education and training after high school is not a luxury, it's a necessity. The purpose of this study is to draw attention to one of the most important social justice and economic inequality issues facing our state. Only by acknowledging these issues will we come together to solve them."

According to the report, parents' recommendations to students played a large role in their decision whether to seek education after high school. The report also provided recommendations aimed at improving postsecondary opportunities for Vermont students, including to "develop strategies to encourage parents to begin conversations about education and training after high school as early as possible," to "explore alternatives for how, who, and when to provide career and postsecondary education information and adapt the delivery of this ‘aspiration curriculum' to meet the individual needs of the school and its students," to "target students with the specific supplemental services needed to complete a rigorous high school curriculum," to "expand the availability and use of Introduction to College Studies, dual-enrollment, and early college programs by first generation and low income students," and to "ensure that every high school senior has the means to develop and begin executing a career, education, and training plan prior to graduation."

There's a running theme in these three news items: From a very early age, children need family members and/or guardians to encourage and foster the importance of a solid education. This support starts at a very young age, continues into preschool and throughout a 13-year school career. It starts with parents, continues with educators, and is supported at the state and national level.

Today's support will pay off exponentially with strong-minded, intelligent men and women who will one day lead our communities. Don't they deserve our help and support?


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