DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige receives Hero in Education Award from FairTest

This evening DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige was awarded the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award by our colleagues at FairTest. We are deeply honored to share Nancy’s acceptance speech here:

Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb.  Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.


When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here.  So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf—all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.


It’s wonderful to see all of you here—so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all– not just some–of our children.


I have loved my life’s work– teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.


So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.


Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed.  We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively—they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”


And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal–as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe.  Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners.  Or watch a 4-year old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.


But play is disappearing from classrooms.  Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”


I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers.  Stress levels are up among young kids.  Parents and teachers tell me:  children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school.  Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.


I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess—often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even Pre-K.  Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends.  They spend their first days getting tested.  Here are words from one mother as this school year began:


My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task.


By the time I picked her up, she did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.


The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this.   Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking—these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.


Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments.  Somehow the data gleaned from these tests is supposed to be more valid than a teacher’s own ability to observe children and understand their skills in the context of their whole development in the classroom.


The first time I saw for myself what was becoming of many of the nation’s early childhood classrooms was when I visited a program in a low income community in north Miami.  Most of the children were on free and reduced lunch.


There were ten classrooms–kindergarten and Pre-K.  The program’s funding depended on test scores, so—no surprise—teachers taught to the test.  Kids who got low scores, I was told, got extra drills in reading and math and didn’t get to go to art.  They used a computer program to teach 4 and 5 year olds how to Bubble.  One teacher complained to me that some children go outside the lines.


In one of the kindergartens I visited, the walls were barren and so was the whole room.  The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer at the side of the room.  There was no classroom aide.  The other children were sitting at tables copying words from the chalk board.  The words were:  “No talking.  Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.”

The teacher kept shouting at them from her testing corner:  Be quiet!  No talking!


Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was sitting alone.  He was quietly crying.  I will never forget how these children looked or how it felt to watch them, I would say, suffering in this context that was such a profound mismatch with their needs.


It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests.  Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning.  It’s poverty—the elephant in the room—that is the root cause of this disparity.


A few months ago, I was alarmed to read a report from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that more than 8,000 children from public preschools across the country were suspended at least once in a school year, many more than once. First of all, who suspends a preschooler?  Why and for what?  The very concept is bizarre and awful.  But 8,000?  And then to keep reading the report to see that a disproportionate number of those suspended preschoolers were low income, black boys.


There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing.  They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply.  Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.


I came home from that visit to the classrooms in North Miami in despair.  But fortunately, the despair turned quickly to organizing.  With other educators we started our nonprofit Defending the Early Years.  We have terrific early childhood leaders with us (some are here tonight: Deb Meier, Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin and Ayla Gavins).  We speak in a unified voice for young children.


We publish reports, write op eds, make videos and send them out on YouTube, we speak and do interviews every chance we get.


We’ve done it all on a shoestring.  It’s almost comical:  The Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million dollars just to promote the Common Core.  Our budget at Defending the Early Years is .006% of that.


We collaborate with other organizations.  FairTest has been so helpful to us. And we also collaborate with –Network for Public Education, United Opt Out, many parent groups, Citizens for Public Schools, Bad Ass Teachers, Busted Pencils Radio, Save Our Schools, Alliance for Childhood and ECE PolicyWorks —There’s a powerful network out there– of educators, parents and students—and we see the difference we are making.


We all share a common vision:  Education is a human right and every child deserves one.  An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful– with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate—actively and consciously–in this increasingly fragile democracy.

Geralyn McLaughlin, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Lani Guinier

Geralyn McLaughlin, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Lani Guinier








DEY at NAEYC’s Annual Conference

Thursday, November 19th from 3 – 4:30 pm at the Orange County Convention Center, Room W110B.  DEY will be hosting a session titled Cognitive Development and the Challenge of Common Core Standards at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. With the Common Core State Standards impacting many early childhood classrooms across the country, teachers are faced with the complicated task of meeting the needs of young learners who are challenged by the new expectations and the push-down of academics. This session will draw on the expertise of leaders in the field who will share their thinking around the math and literacy standards and how these relate to cognitive development theory and what we know about how young children learn. Diane Levin will be the facilitator and Lilian Katz, Constance Kamii and Joan Almon will be our presenters.
Dr. Denisha Jones will speak at DEY’s 3rd Annual Organizing Meeting for Early Childhood Activists
Vinetta C. Jones, Ph.D.Friday, November 20th from 6 – 7:30 pm in the Hilton Orlando Hotel, Lake Hart Room. Dr. Jones will share her expertise in organizing and advocating for young children. We will be hosting what promises to be an inspiring meeting! Download and share our flyer. Please RSVP to

Preschool Suspensions: Young Children Who Are Being Left Behind

DEY advisers Diane Levin and Denisha Jones have joined forces to write Preschool Suspensions: Young Children Who Are Being Left Behind, published this week at the Huffington Post. Here is a snippet:

Young children have now begun the new school year, many for the first time. How many will not be allowed to finish the school year due to being expelled or miss significant time in school due to suspension for unacceptable behavior or for violating some mandatory school policy? The most recent figures available come from a 2011-2012 study from the US Department of Education found that more than 8,000 public preschool students were suspended at least once, and almost half of those children more than once.


As early childhood educators who train teachers to promote the optimal development, learning, and overall wellbeing of all young children, we read these figures with deep concern. And we have many urgent questions that are not being adequately addressed at any level of society.


• Who are these children who cannot make it through a preschool program year? The Department of Education study found that a disproportionate number were black, low income, boys, disabled and/or English-language learners. These patterns represent many of the disparities that will continue throughout the school years and beyond.


We urge you to click here and read the entire essay at the Huffington Post and to join Defending the Early Years in working towards equity and the protection of the rights and needs of all young children.

DEY Fall Events and Information

DEY at NAEYC’s Annual Conference
 Here at DEY we strive to understand the complications and confusions that many of you are facing around the implementation of the Common Core. To support early educators and to help shed some light on this critical topic, DEY will be hosting a session titledCognitive Development and the Challenge of Common Core Standards at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. Diane Levin will be the facilitator and Lilian Katz, Constance Kamii and Joan Almon will be our presenters. As soon as we know the time/date of this sessions – and other DEY related sessions – we will let you know. The conference dates are November 18 – 21.
Dr. Denisha Jones to speak at DEY’s 3rd Annual Organizing Meeting for Early Childhood Activists on Friday, Nov. 20th
Vinetta C. Jones, Ph.D.We are thrilled to have Dr. Denisha Jones of Howard University joining us for our third annual organizing meeting of early childhood activists. Dr. Jones will share her expertise in organizing and advocating for young children. We will be hosting what promises to be an inspiring meeting on Friday, November 20th from 6:00 PM – 7:30 pm. Exact location in Orlando, Florida to be announced – so stay tuned.
FairTest is pleased to honor Harvard Law Professor Lani Guinier and Lesley College Professor Emeritus Nancy Carlsson-Paige with the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education awards. Please join us for the ceremony to recognize these two fighters for equity and high quality in education and society.

When: Nov 11, 2015, from 6:00 – 8:30 PM

Where: Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge, MA
More details coming soon.
Look for an op-ed on preschool suspension from DEY’s Diane Levin and Denisha Jones – we will share the link as soon as we have it. Also, we will be publishing our Open Letter to NAEYC in response to their spring reportDevelopmentally Appropriate Practice and the Common Core State Standards: Framing the Issues. Stay tuned!
Many thanks to those of you who have already taken advantage of our summer special! This offer below will be available through September 21st – don’t miss this chance to support DEY and receive our research-based  advocacy reports!
  • Donate $50.00 – we will send you a copy of Lively Minds!
  • Donate $100.00 – we will send you two reports – Lively Minds and Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose
  • Donate $200 or more – we will send you all three reports! Lively Minds, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose PLUS Kamii’s paper on the CCSS math standards K-3!

We thank you for your continued support!

How can you defend play to your school administrator?

We received the following question from a friend and former student who is now a kindergarten teacher:

 “I am public school kindergarten teacher, who is trying to convince my principal to let there be play in the kindergartens in my school.  Can you recommend books to give him to help convince him that this can do positive things for the children’s skill learning, especially in social studies and science areas?”

Below is what we suggested…what would you add??

Here are a few quick ideas we culled from our recommended reading/resources page at DEY

book: A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool: Applying the Scientific Evidence by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Laura E. Berk and Dorothy Singer, Oxford University Press – (this book includes many references to kindergarten as well as preschool)
paper: The Crisis in Early Education: A Research-Based Case of More Play and Less Pressure by Joan Almon and Ed Miller (Alliance for Childhood states: “This four-page article succinctly makes the case for play-based education.”)
article/blog: Education Reform is Malpractice by Steve Nelson, Huffington Post on July 22, 2015
article: The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents by Peter Gray, American Journal of Play, volume 3, number 4. © 2011 by The Strong. (a .pdf)

article: The Serious Need for Play, by Melinda Wenner for Scientific American Mind, February/March 2009

video: The Role of Play in the Overly Academic Kindergarten by the Gesell Institute. This seven and a half minute YouTube video is well worth your time and is easily shared with others. “Play is being banished from kindergarten classrooms across the U.S. Learn how this is impacting the nation’s youth. Narrated by Marcy Guddemi, Executive Director of the Gesell Institute”
video: DEY’s video Lively Minds
What other resources would you use to advocate for play in your kindergarten? Let us know so we can add them to our list!

Tell Congress: Keep Federal Accountability Mandates Out of a New Education Law

The following message from our allies at FairTest is a critical one:

Now is the time to make sure a new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the best possible replacement of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) that we can win at this time.

The House and Senate conference committee to reconcile their respective versions of ESEA will begin work soon. A new law that ends federally mandated accountability will be an important step forward, even though neither house reduced the test-every-kid-every-year mandate.
There’s still a real danger that diehard test-and-punish proponents could insert destructive “NCLB-lite” accountability provisions into the compromise bill. We need to stop that threat in its tracks! At the same time, we need to protect the right to opt out and encourage better assessments. Your letter will help ensure victory on these critical issues.

Send this letter or call or fax your Senators and Representative today. (For Senate phone and fax numbers, go to; for the House, go to

Send your letter to Congress using this link:

Why are our CCSS concerns ignored?

On Twitter this week, a teacher asked DEY why our concerns regarding the Common Core State Standards and young children are being ignored. One big part of the puzzle is money. The Gates Foundation has spent $200 million dollars creating and promoting the Common Core State Standards. And corporations such as Pearson are laughing all the way to bank. Political commentator/comedian John Oliver described Pearson has having a “shocking amount of influence over American schools” in this scathing report on standardized testing. And POLITICO reports that Pearson “has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division. But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards.” Read more.

It is incredibly difficult to break through all the money that is flowing in support of the Common Core, in order to get our message across. This recent letter to the editor of the Boston Globe by DEY’s director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin helps illustrate what we are up against (published July 21, 2015 under the title A David-Goliath clash over what’s best for young kids):

CHRIS BERDIK does an excellent job outlining Defending the Early Years’ arguments against the Common Core standards for kindergarten in the June 14 Ideas piece “The end of kindergarten?” He also reports on the support for the Common Core from another nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners.

Here are some important additional notes for your readers: Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core. In 2012 Student Achievement Partners was given $6.5 million in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, the Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million to implement the Common Core.

Defending the Early Years was founded, in 2012, by a coalition of concerned early-childhood educators who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to fight back. Last year our operating budget, all from donations from our supporters, was about .006 percent of what Student Achievement Partners received from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Our mission is clear, grounded in research, and based on what is best for young children.


Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Director, Defending the Early Years


It is true that here at DEY we have a tiny fraction of the budget that the CCSS promoters have, but what we DO have is early childhood expertise, experience, and decades of research on our side. The only thing we are working to promote is what is in the best interest of young children. And we are concerned that this entire focus on the Common Core has become a distraction, based on fallacy, from the underlying inequalities brought on by poverty. In fact, the CCSS has created another layer of stress in the lives of children – many of whom are already growing up with toxic stress.

With our limited budget, we have already reached millions of people with our three research-based advocacy papers published this year. We are making some noise and are pushing the conversation in the right direction. We want to do more and we need to keep going. For example, we are starting to translate some of our work into Spanish. We know this is important and we are committed to making it happen. If you are moved to support DEY with a tax deductible financial contribution, now is a great time. We have actually have a summer special (see below). We also urge all of DEY’s friends and supporters to continue to fight the good fight and to speak out with well-reasoned arguments in defense of developmentally appropriate curricula, standards and assessments for our young children.

This summer we are offering a special thanks to all donors:
  • Donate $50.00 – we will send you a copy of Lively Minds!
  • Donate $100.00 – we will send you two reports – Lively Minds and Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose
  • Donate $200 or more – we will send you all three reports! Lively Minds, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose PLUS Kamii’s paper on the CCSS math standards K-3!
  Please check out our donation page. Thank you!