The students in Preston's class are part of an effort in Maryland to create a new era in early-childhood education. The city's advanced introduction of rigorous academic standards, the "common core" that will be introduced in all state public schools this fall, targets its youngest learners.
Some educators nationwide have cautioned that the new emphasis could lead teachers to ignore other important lessons, including social development. And in Baltimore, some teachers were anxious about the change, fearing that "rigor" meant limiting the traditionally nurturing environments in which young children develop.
But that strategy has shown results in the city. In 2012, Baltimore kindergartners showed an unprecedented rise on the state's standardized "readiness" assessment — even as scores in the highest-performing districts were stagnant or declined. The performance of those students, among the first pre-kindergartners introduced to the revamped curriculum, also allowed the city to close in on the statewide average