An Ounce of Prevention

Elizabeth Street School Baseball (May 13, 1947) GC36
Worcester: Elizabeth Street School baseball – 1947. From the Worcester Historical Museum collection.

By Edith Morgan

Prevention is always better and cheaper than trying to cure the disease, after the trouble has really begun. But, unfortunately, we seem to be reactive rather than preventive. That mindset is pretty evident when one looks at our budgets on the State and Local levels and it is worse at the National level.

As a retired school teacher, I can remember how, in Kindergarten, I could pretty accurately predict which students would have trouble mastering the basic skills needed to transition from “learning to read“ to “reading to learn,” which happens after fourth grade. And those children who do not make that transition at that time, seem doomed to years of remediation and often, ultimately, end up not graduating or in the “school-to-jail pipeline.” Remediation and jail are expensive for the taxpayers – and often go on for many years.

So it makes sense to try a variety of things to get our children started right, early. We now have full-day Kindergarten for all our Worcester public school pupils. That should help give many a good, early start. But there is still a great divide even that early between those children who have gone to pre-school and those who have not. Since pre-school is quite expensive, it does not take a genius to figure out who is able to take advantage of the early learnings offered by pre-school. (It is true that if a child has a disability, special education is available from age three on.)

There is now proposal before the Worcester Public Schools Administration to create a combination K-1 grade, which would enable those needing more time to master the skills needed to get into grade 2 to remain in this class another year and get a good foundation.

This proposal is in the hands of the school administration for study and will be presented to the Worcester School Committee for approval.

Whatever comes out of that study, we know it will mean additional costs at the beginning of school. This means that the State of Massachusetts will have to appropriate money for this plan, if accepted. We expect to be told that there is no money (what else is new?!), but there is always lots of money for remediation, and for jail …

Many years ago, when I was still active in the public schools north of here, the director of special education and I used to discuss just what could be done to avoid the great and increasing burden of special education and remediation. We both agreed that if every child entering our schools were to have an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) we could be ready to teach each child at the level he/she is upon entering school.

As it is now, we expect the student to be ready for school. What if the school were to be ready for the child – knowing at what level his/her skills were, and begin teaching there?

No failing, no repeating, just learning at the student’s comfort level, and no moving on until the child is ready. That, of course, would require drastic changes in the way we do things. But meeting each child at his/her level, teaching to the proper learning style, and not rushing things.

Many years ago I heard this conversation: Question: What is the best education system?
Answer: Mark Hopkins on one end of a log, the pupil on the other.