The silver bullet in education is … everything


I’ll open with an unsolicited plug for a friend. One of my fellow students at the Humphrey school recently started blogging for the Young Education Professionals—Twin Cities (YEP-TC) group. She’s got a post up about what we as a state can expect from the new legislation providing all-day kindergarten to the whole state. It’s well-researched, fair-minded, and accessible, and you should go read it before coming back here. I’ll wait…

OK, good. As you just read, there are several positive impacts associated with all-day kindergarten, including increased academic readiness for first grade, a smoother early childhood experience from pre-k into the elementary years, and benefits to working families that won’t need to rely on (or pay as much for) external child care.

What we can’t expect are significant long-term impacts on student achievement. All-day kindergarten on its own provides a short-term increase in academic readiness, but that tends to fade out over time. It’s a story we’ve heard before about other early interventions, especially when they’re occurring in isolation. To use the cliche, all-day kindergarten isn’t the silver bullet.

Then again, nothing else is either. It’s one of the more frequent turns of phrase in education: “Program X is not the silver bullet.” That’s what the people with the most knowledge of pretty much any program will say (unless they’re trying to get you to buy it). When we move from the land of research to the topsy-turvy world of politics and real-world policymaking, that caveat tends to get lost. At best, it gets lip service.

When Program X turns out not to be the silver bullet, it gets left by the wayside if it’s lucky. If it’s unlucky, it gets actively derided. So it goes.

This is kind of silly when you think about it. Our educational equity gaps are the result of generations of racism and classism at many levels of our society. There’s little reason to expect any one initiative will take down that particular werewolf.

All-day kindergarten has benefits and will make worthy contributions as part of our broader focus on educational equity. We should see it as one part of a much bolder effort to build a start-to-finish system that better serves and supports students (and their families and neighborhoods). Call it the silver shotgun, the silver cannonball, whatever. The point is, doing this job right requires lots of pieces working and improving together.