eSN Special Report: Closing Gaps Early

As more students enter kindergarten already behind their peers, closing these gaps quickly is critical to their success. Here’s how software can help

Here’s a closer look at how some schools are succeeding at closing learning gaps early.

Located in Marion County, a rural area of north central Florida, the town of Weirsdale doesn’t offer many opportunities for preschool education. The median family income in the county is around $37,000, or $12,000 less than the state average, and about one in 10 families lives below the poverty line.

As a result, many children are starting their formal education already well behind where they should be, according to the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS, or “flickers” as it’s known to the state’s teachers). In fact, some students enter kindergarten not knowing any letters or sounds, said Chris Sandy, principal of Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School.

“It’s amazing to me that a child can walk in the door and not even know the letter ‘M’ for McDonald’s,” Sandy said, noting that the normally ubiquitous fast-food chain hardly exists in her community.

The staff at Sandy’s school work tirelessly to get these students up to speed as quickly as possible, using a combination of software and other supports. A central component of their efforts is the Waterford Early Learning program from the nonprofit Waterford Institute.

“It’s a full-court press to close those gaps and give students a chance at a high-quality education,” she says.

But these efforts are paying off, as Sandy says all of her students are functioning at or near grade level when they leave kindergarten.

The challenges facing Stanton-Weirsdale are common to many elementary schools nationwide, as the number of children arriving for kindergarten already behind their peers is on the rise.

Successful readers have had about 3,000 hours of pre-literacy training by the time they reach first grade, wrote Marilyn Jager Adams in her 1990 book Beginning to Read.

But children who come from poorer, less educated families have had between 20 and 200 hours, on average, because they have not been read to as often—and their homes aren’t as rich in verbal communication. At best, that’s only about 7 percent of what they need, Adams warned.

If these gaps aren’t closed early on in a child’s education, they will only get worse. That’s a tall order facing the nation’s early childhood educators; but fortunately, software such as Waterford and other early learning programs can help.

In this Special Report, we’ll take a closer look at how some schools are succeeding at closing learning gaps early.

Dennis Pierce

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