Institute Blog
Connecting the Dots…Theory, Policy, and Practice

Connecting the Dots…Theory, Policy, and Practice

by Sarah Felstiner, Curriculum Director, Hilltop Children’s Centergramling

A recent book by Michael Gramling has been stirring up vivid conversation in the early learning community. The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education takes a historical and current look at the connections (and missing connections) between what research and science tell us about children’s learning and what actually happens in classrooms. “Gramling argues that ineffective practices are the result of unexamined public policies and asserts that educators need to challenge this kind of thinking in order to make a difference in children’s lives.” (Redleaf Press)

One point Gramling stresses is that publicly funded programs intended to close the opportunity/achievement gap are actually widening it.  Meanwhile programs free from funding restrictions have more flexibility to develop innovative, child-centered practices, but are available only to the children and families who can afford them. Here are a couple of selections from the book, on that point:

Botany Downs Kindergarten - Auckland, NZ
Botany Downs Kindergarten – Auckland, NZ

“As the achievement gap became a national disgrace, and despite the very good evidence before them that language deficiency was the root of the problem, schools decided instead that since starting school at age five had not worked, then starting school at age four must be the solution—not for all children this time around, but for the most part, just for children in poverty…It is mostly for the benefit of these children that school readiness standards have been established and performance objectives identified and for whom decoding print has become a central objective.” (page 32)

“Because kindergarten readiness is measured by the child’s knowledge of a few facts while school success is dependent on the child’s ability to engage in complex communication, these children will fall further and further behind every year. They will learn how to decode print but not know how to use it to express their thoughts and their experiences or how to comprehend the ideas and experiences of others.” (page 73)

Browns Bay Preschool - Auckland, NZ
Browns Bay Preschool – Auckland, NZ

Gramling goes on to explain that because some children are being targeted for more direct instruction, they are missing out on the authentic communication and purposeful play that they need and deserve. Which provokes the question…is Play an equity issue?

On Thursday, May 12th, Hilltop is hosting a community discussion on precisely this topic, facilitated by Margie Carter, and featuring respondents from publicly funded programs in Seattle that are actively working to counter the opportunity gap.

Please register here if you’d like to join us (in person, or online) for a conversation about Michael Gramling’s book, and help us:

  • explore the disconnect between theory, policy, and practice;
  • consider the relationship of this disconnect to issues of equity, the opportunity gap, and social justice in early learning;
  • and hear from program leaders who are finding ways to reconnect their practice to what they know young children need and deserve
Awhi Whānau Early Childhood Centre - Auckland, NZ
Awhi Whānau Early Childhood Centre – Auckland, NZ

The early education program in New Zealand is a current example of how theory, policy, and practice can be effectively connected. In recent years, Margie Carter has been leading annual study tours to Auckland, New Zealand, in part because the country of New Zealand has developed a national program for early education that is strengths-based, bi-cultural, child-centered, and rooted in what we know about how young children learn.


Tomorrow evening, Hilltop is hosting the quarterly meeting of our local Reggio Roundtable discussion group, and two Seattle educators will be sharing thoughts from the most recent study tour.

Helensville Montessori - Auckland, NZ
Helensville Montessori – Auckland, NZ



The photos featured with this post are from my own visit to Aotearoa/NZ in 2013. Watch for more thoughts about the schools of New Zealand in an upcoming post…

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sarah Felstiner is the Curriculum Director at Hilltop Children’s Center, where she has worked since 1995.[/author_info] [/author]