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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are Schools Ready for Children?

While much of the research on school readiness has focused on children, a group of researchers in North Carolina is looking at the issue from the opposite perspective: Are schools ready for the diversity of young children who walk through their doors?

Richard Clifford, a senior scientist at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s FPG Child Development Institute, says that closing early learning gaps depends in large part on addressing the mismatch between what today’s children need and what schools currently provide.

A U.S. Census report released in May 2006 found that nearly half of all children under 5 in the United States are from racial or ethnic minority groups. The fastest-growing segment is Hispanic children, many of whom are from families where Spanish is spoken at home.

“We have very large numbers of children coming to school from backgrounds that are associated with their being at risk for school failure,” Clifford says. “Yet schools are struggling to have staff that have facility in a language other than English or are reflective of the population of children who are here.”

The FPG Child Development Institute, which conducts research and helps schools around the country design effective programs for children in preK through grade 3, has formed a committee at the institute that will specifically examine how prekindergarten through early elementary schools can support diverse learners in four areas:

practices that address the specific learning needs of English-language learners
“early intervening” to address the needs of young children who may be eligible for special services
“culturally responsive practices” that take into account the diversity of children’s ethnic and racial backgrounds
early childhood inclusion programs to support more widespread education of young children with special needs in mainstream classrooms
“These are the areas where teachers are really struggling,” says committee cochair Virginia Buysse, also a senior scientist at UNC’s FPG Child Development Institute. “Most teachers just don’t have the training or experience to meet the needs of these children.”

For Further Information

FPG Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #8180, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; tel.: (919) 966-2622.

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