Education Week - February 14, 2018 - 23
to convince their new principal that posting a
daily learning objective on the board wasn't reasonable-or readable-for preschoolers and that
most 4-year-olds cannot stay silent in the hallways. These teachers were not only frustrated,
but frightened: Their annual evaluations-and
hence their salaries-were tied to policies that
didn't make sense for 4-year-olds.
School and district leaders aren't the only ones
who could benefit from basic pre-K knowledge.
In New Jersey, pre-K teachers told me that kindergarten and 1st grade teachers were unfairly
blaming them for graduating 4-year-olds who
hadn't learned to read, rather than recognizing
the critical social and self-regulation skills those
children had learned. Early-grades teachers
could be better prepared to build on the foundation of pre-K if they knew what skills they
should and should not expect children to know.
Even secondary educators could benefit from understanding the value of investing district funds
in the preparation of their future students. But
too few teachers, especially at the secondary
level, are required to receive thorough training
in child development.
School-based pre-K has been successful in districts where early-childhood education is treated
as a thoughtfully developed specialty. Boston's
early-childhood program has 20 staff members
who provide age-appropriate curricula and ongoing coaching for pre-K teachers. Studies of
the program show that the children are better prepared for kindergarten and show fewer
achievement gaps across racial groups than their
district peers who didn't attend the pre-K program. The program's 2007-09 cohorts also scored
higher on standardized reading and math tests
in 3rd grade.
As other school districts think about incorporating high-quality pre-K, here's what school
leaders and educators outside of the pre-K classroom should keep in mind:
* Preschoolers learn at different paces.
In the same way that toddlers learn to walk and
How We Get ADHD Wrong
talk at varying stages, different children concentrate on specific skills at different times, so both
their teachers and curricula need to be flexible
and expectations about what children can master need to be realistic.
* Preschoolers need support to develop
self-regulation skills. No 4-year-old has mastered the art of waiting patiently or solving
disagreements. Teachers and administrators
should support the development of those skills,
not punish children for lacking them. Behavior
management approaches that are popular in
older grades, like color-coded behavior charts,
can confuse and possibly even harm young children.
* Preschoolers don't need disciplinarians. Some parents and educators suggest that
strict discipline better prepares children to succeed academically. But research shows just the
opposite: Focusing on students' self-regulation
skills and hands-on learning lead to later academic success.
Early-grades teachers and administrators
who understand the real benefits of quality
pre-K and how to deliver them can leverage
the strengths their students bring, rather than
expecting children to accomplish sophisticated
reading and math milestones by age 5. Teachers of upper grades can learn valuable strategies
from early-childhood educators, such as how to
differentiate instruction and help children cope
with individual frustrations.
While educators outside of pre-K classrooms
don't need to be early-childhood experts, a little
bit of training could go a long way. Some basic
knowledge of what the youngest students need
to thrive can make those students more successful-and little kids, as we all know, eventually
become big kids. n
By Elizabeth Heubeck
SUZANNE BOUFFARD is a writer, developmental
psychologist, and the author of The Most Important
Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children
tion officials, we both know this will not be easy, but we also know
what's possible when courageous leadership is coupled with a
shared vision for educational equity, excellence, and opportunity. n
JUNE ATKINSON is an educator, author, and child advocate. From 2004 to
2016, she served as North Carolina's superintendent of public instruction.
DALE CHU is an independent, Colorado-based education consultant.
He served as the assistant superintendent for innovation and improvement
in Indiana from 2009 to 2013 and as chief of staff in Florida's Department
of Education in 2013.
Today, more than 10 percent of all
children ages 5-17 in the United States
receive a diagnosis of ADHD, despite
the American Psychiatric Association's
estimation that only 5 percent actually
have the disorder. The disparity is even
starker for boys, 14 percent of whom
end up diagnosed with the disorder.
My son is one of those
millions of boys who
have been diagnosed
with this greatly overused label.
My 15-year-old son
has been dubbed a "slow
processer"-the kind of
kid who tends to stare
out the window during
class as he gathers his
thoughts or daydreams.
His reading has hovered slightly below
grade level since teachers began assessing it.
His organizational habits are less than stellar:
Homework assignments, school clothes,
sports equipment tend to land where
So, a few years ago, when my husband and I took our son to an educational psychologist (at the suggestion
of his middle school's learning specialist) for an evaluation that required several trips and cost thousands of dollars,
I was expecting the doctor to uncover a
mild learning disorder and recommend
cognitive and organizational strategies.
Instead, she told me she wanted him
to go on an ADHD medication "trial,"
during which she planned to re-test
our son to see if his scores improved.
At no point did she discuss classroom
management or behavioral strategies
in addition to or in lieu of the immediate prescription of medication.
When I told the doctor I was worried
about putting my son on a daily stimulant, she barked: "Well, this is what I'm
worried about," pointing to his poor
grades and low test scores.
Uncertain of my next steps, the doctor thrust at me an ADHD questionnaire for my son's teachers and me to
fill out. The questions seemed skewed
toward finding evidence of the diagnosis. They asked things like: "Does John
Doe ever seem fidgety in class? Does he
ever lose focus in class?" I wonder how
often teachers and parents witness a
child, particularly a boy, who doesn't
exhibit these traits to some degree.
There is no blood test for ADHD. There
are no biomarkers tested to identify for
it. ADHD is diagnosed when respondents (usually teachers or parents) give
an affirmative response to at least six of
nine questions in a simple survey. That's
it. What often happens next is this: A
child is given a prescription for stimulant medications intended to curb "fidgetiness" and promote focus. Never mind
that many of these medications often interrupt sleep patterns, suppress a user's
appetite, and can be highly addictive.
I felt strong-armed into placing my
son on a medication that would interfere with his sleeping and eating habits (which are crucial, by the way, to the
ability to focus properly). After using the
medication a few months, he developed
some additional, undesirable side effects: physical tics and anxiety bordering
on paranoia. Disturbingly, his pupils became dilated and his eyes were rimmed
red. And that was on the very lowest
dose. His test scores did rise marginally
while taking the drug. But the increase
was not significant enough to compensate for the worrisome
I suppose I'm more of
a worrier than most, because an ever-increasing
number of children use
stimulants for ADHD
for years on end, despite
no reputable research to
suggest that the drugs
have a positive effect
over the long term. One
landmark research project from the late 1990s
(the National Institute of Mental Health's
Study of Children with
ADHD") is still often cited when referring to ADHD stimulant medication's
effectiveness, even though the study
only monitored subjects' outcomes for 14
months. Yet, many children take these
medications for several years.
In fact, when the researchers checked
back in on the original MTA study
participants in 2009, they found that
"children who were no longer taking
medication at the eight-year follow-up
were generally functioning as well as
children who were still medicated."
In light of this and other similar findings, some scientists are beginning to
question how the medical community
treats ADHD. Dimitri Christakis, a
pediatrician writing in the Journal of
American Medical Association Pediatrics two years ago, concluded that instead of handing down a hard-and-fast
label of ADHD based on a simple questionnaire, we should consider instead
that children's attentional capacity lies
somewhere on a spectrum.
When I asked the doctor who diagnosed our son where on the spectrum
of ADHD he fell, she paused, before
answering haltingly, "probably mild,
or moderate." I can't say for sure why
she hesitated. I wonder if she was concerned that, had I heard my son's case
of ADHD was mild, I would question
whether it was wise to medicate him.
My son currently is not medicated
for ADHD. He attends a rigorous college prep high school. He sits in the
front of classrooms. He receives oneon-one tutoring from a generous math
teacher once a week. He gets extra time
on tests. He turns in his homework on
time, excels in classroom participation
and presentations, and struggles to
memorize large chunks of content. Unlike when he was on ADHD medication,
he is no longer anxious, sleep deprived,
or without an appetite. He's a work in
progress, like all adolescent boys.
It's time to re-evaluate how we label and
treat ADHD, especially among boys. n
ELIZABETH HEUBECK is a freelance writer
EDUCATION WEEK | February 14, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 23