Children Ready for Kindergarten or Kindergarten Ready for 21st Century Learners?

Back in the 1970s during the creation of the Penn Valley Community College campus in Kansas City, the college was chosen to develop a nursey school training program. The program was a first of its kind in Missouri for the expanding field of early education. During those years, nursey schools were privately run programs and required little professional training of its workers. Today, the field of early learning is still evolving into a professional field of study and practice to assure every child enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.

As we move to integrate preschool into the continuum of traditional public education systems, the question then becomes: is preschool about preparing children for a system influenced by decades and decades of rote learning practice, or should public education recognize the value of preschool methodology and adjust accordingly to better meet the needs of 21st century learners?

Ready to Learn

Early learning has evolved in part due to substantial amounts of early brain research findings along with studies on the economic impact of high quality early learning programs. This evolution was predicted and called for years ago by many scholars including former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Ernie Boyer. Nearly 40 years ago, Boyer was calling on public education to ratchet down its traditional delivery system by two years to capture younger children and create a more advanced path of study to advance career and college readiness. In Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation published in 1991, the foundation proposed a 10-year campaign to enable the country to meet the national education goal of having every child start school ready to learn.

Today, early learning in a number of communities is considered part of the traditional K-12 public education system, rather than an “add on” program to promote school readiness while providing support for working families (day care). Consider the fact that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education now counts a percentage of preschool children in its Average Daily Attendance count (ADA) just as they would a third grader. While this source of funding is only offered in Saint Louis and Kansas City, it represents a formal recognition of the value of preschool in getting each child started right.

The 21st Century Learner

As we crossed over into the 21st century, more than 400 experts from education and other fields of study answered the call to meet on Capitol Hill in 2001 to discuss how education will serve the changing needs of the 21st century learner.  They concluded that lifelong learning should be a continuum – with formal and non-formal learning opportunities complementing one another and reflecting the realities of a new age. These same scholars recognized learners in this new age would likely be internally motivated and prone to seek knowledge. They concluded:

“Public education should change to meet this self-directed learner in a way that would be more responsive to individual needs and interests. Public education, facilitated increasingly by technology should become unconstrained by time, place or formal learning structures.”

It is interesting to note that the majority of preschool curricula promotes the “child directed” model of learning. Instead of the “teacher directed” practice of creating literacy, math and science skills, those skills are wrapped around the child in their discovery of the things they are most interested in learning.

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Jerry Kitzi currently serves as the director of the Office of Early and Extended Learning for Kansas City Public Schools and oversees the district's Head Start, Early Childhood Education, and Parents as Teachers programs. Kitzi also serves as the district's charter school sponsor liaison. 

Prior to joining KCPS, Kitzi worked with the Francis Institute for Child and Youth Development, the Francis Family Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, and Kansas City, Kansas Wyandotte County Department of Health. 

Kitzi earned his Bachelor’s degree in education from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri.  Subsequently, he earned an M. Ed. from the University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, and an MBA with the Executive Fellows Program at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri. Kitzi and his wife, Maureen, have two sons and three grandchildren.