Constance Kamii’s Critical Look at the K-3 Common Core State Standards for Math

KamiiCover5.15Today we release a new report, Selected Standards from the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Grades K-3: My Reasons for Not Supporting Them by Dr. Constance Kamii. In this report, Kamii shows that the Common Core math standards for grades K-3 are not grounded in the large body of research on how young children learn mathematics.  Dr. Kamii is a member of the DEY’s National Advisory Board and a leading scholar and researcher studying children’s understanding of mathematics.

Read a two-page summary of the report here.Summary

Dr. Kamii’s research and pedagogy have been the cornerstone of early childhood math education for decades. She starts with the theory that math is made up of mental, logico-mathematical relationships. While these relationships can’t be taught directly, teachers help children construct them when they encourage children to think as they engage in activities and interact with hands-on materials.  Dr. Kamii’s goal for math education is for children to become independent thinkers.

Dr. Kamii has worked for many years with early childhood teachers, experimenting with new ways of stimulating children’s independent thinking. She has described many kinds of specific activities. She has also conducted systematic research to assess how well children understand mathematical concepts as a result of doing these activities.  In the process, she has developed a solid sense of the kinds of mathematical concepts that children can be expected to construct at each grade.

In this report, Dr. Kamii explains that most of the CCSS are written as if the authors are not aware of logico-mathematical knowledge; they seem to think that the facts and skills in the mathematics standards can be taught directly.  Dr. Kamii goes on to explain why the CCSS are set at grade levels that are too early.  She selects specific standards for each grade from kindergarten to grade 3 and shows, based on her research, why young children cannot grasp the mathematical concepts these standards require.  Dr. Kamii’s explanations are thorough and grounded in child development research and understandings. They will give any interested reader a deep appreciation for the term “developmentally inappropriate.”

According to Dr. Kamii, in an effort to meet the standards, teachers will try to accelerate learning by directly teaching specific and too advanced concepts and skills. This, she explains, will result in empty “verbalisms” – children learning by rote what they don’t truly understand. Children will learn to accept answers on the basis of what teachers and books say and will lose confidence in their own ability to think for themselves.

LivelyMindsThe powerful ideas found in Dr. Kamii’s paper are echoed in the recent essay released by Defending the Early Years in April, 2015 called Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children by Dr. Lilian G. Katz (Katz, 2015). Dr. Katz is Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Dr. Katz is Past President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the first President of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children. She is an influential leader in the field of early childhood education.

In Dr. Katz’s paper, she explains the importance of intellectual goals for young children and contrasts them with academic goals. Intellectual goals and their related activities are those that address the life of the mind in its fullest sense – reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning – and include a range of aesthetic and moral sensibilities. Academic goals, on the other hand, involve mastery of small discrete elements of disembodied information designed to prepare children for the next levels of literacy and numeracy learning. Items designed to meet academic goals rely heavily on memorization and the application of formulae versus understanding. As Dr. Katz explains, intellectual dispositions may be weakened or even damaged by excessive and premature focus on academic goals.

In Dr. Kamii’s critique of the Common Core Math Standards, she shows how many of the standards further academic goals but not intellectual goals. Many of the standards she describes require children to master discrete bits of information and rely heavily on rote learning. For Dr. Kamii, genuine math learning engages children’s intellectual dispositions. In her opinion, the CCSS redirect education away from thinking and genuine meaning-making and focus it on more limited academic goals.

For both scholars, Dr. Katz and Dr. Kamii, an appropriate curriculum for young children is one that supports children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, their natural inclinations. In Selected Standards from the CCSS for Mathematics, Grades K-3: My reasons for not supporting them, Constance Kamii makes plain that most of the CCSS involve logico-mathematical knowledge and are therefore not directly teachable.  Dr. Kamii also maps out clearly in each of the examples why specific standards for the early grades are set at grade levels too early and are therefore developmentally inappropriate. She asks why the authors of the CCSS did not consider the large body of data available from research. And she concludes that any teacher of children in grades K-3 would easily understand that the standards are too hard for most children.

At Defending the Early Years, we are persuaded by the evidence from early childhood experts about the many failings in the CCSS for young children. We therefore call for removing kindergarten from the Common Core and for the convening of a task force of early childhood educators to recommend developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive guidelines for supporting young children’s optimal learning from birth to grade 3.

The Incredible NPE Experience

Last weekend the Network for Public Education (NPE) hosted their second annual national conference. It was, to say the least, an inspiring experience. About six hundred activists from around the country gathered in Chicago to share ideas, resources, success and struggles. What an honor to mix and mingle with all of these warriors in the fight to reclaim public education. As NPE says, “We are many. There is power in our numbers. Together we will save our school.”

If you were not able to attend, the keynotes and many of the sessions were live-streamed. These videos are becoming available at the NPE website. Please, do not miss NPE President Diane Ravitch in conversation with Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis who closed out the conference; Tanaisa Brown and Jitu Brown who gave the inspiring opening remarks that set the tone for the next few days; Yong Zhao from MIT, who was hilarious as well as brilliant; and Diane Ravitch in conversation with NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT’s Randi Weingarten.

Afterwards, Diane Ravitch wrote, “The keynotes were wonderful. The panels were led by activists sharing what they had learned. Most of them had overflow crowds. One in particular was especially enlightening–Jesse Hagopian’s discussion of the racist history of standardized testing, accompanied by Rita Green, the Director of Education for the Seattle NAACP, which has endorsed the opt-out movement. Green told the audience that the NAACP locals do not share the enthusiasm of the national organization for standardized testing. The room for that session was packed, with audience members sitting on the floor and lining the walls.”

Here is the video of the outstanding discussion featuring Seattle teacher-leader Jesse Hagopian and Rita Greene, education director of the Seattle NAACP.

There is way too much to write about here – however if you search Twitter using the hashtag #NPEChicago you will find a wealth of information and inspiration.

Our Defending the Early Years session was fantastic – we heard from folks from across the country who shared their stories. We heard many, many thanks for the resources we have been providing. These resources are helping educators and parents defend good classroom practices for young children. We took notes on what more is needed – and these notes will help us formulate some of our next steps. For sure, one next step is to start translating our resources into Spanish. Our DEY session was live streamed and when the video becomes available we will let you know.

And in other great news…the plans for next year’s NPE conference are already in the works! And if you can’t wait that long…join the BAT’s Teacher Congress in Washington, D.C. July 22 – July 26th.

Onward!

Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children

LivelyMindsIn the wake of the Common Core academic push down on America’s kindergartners, a new report by Lilian G. Katz argues that excessive and early formal instruction can be damaging to our youngest children in the long term. Today, Defending the Early Years is proud to release Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children.

Author Lillian G. Katz, Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, argues that the common sense notion that “earlier is better” is not supported by longitudinal studies of the effects of different kinds of preschool curriculum models.  Furthermore, her report maintains that a narrow academic curriculum does not recognize the innate inquisitiveness of young children and ultimately fails to address the way they learn.

“Young children enter the classroom with lively minds–with innate intellectual dispositions toward making sense of their own experience, toward reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning and learning,” says Dr. Katz.

“But in our attempt to quantify and verify children’s learning, we impose premature formal instruction on kids at the expense of cultivating their true intellectual capabilities – and ultimately their optimal learning.”

While the report concludes that an appropriate curriculum for young children is one that focuses on supporting children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, some basic academic instruction in early years is needed. “Academic skills become necessary for students to understand and report on their own authentic investigations,” explains Katz.  “These skills can then serve as a means to the greater end of fostering and advancing children’s intellectual capabilities.”

Watch and share this video about this new report!

Download and read the full report here: Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children

Help us spread the word about the importance of intellectual pursuits for young children using social media!

Consider tweeting:

#CCSS replaces wonder with worksheets, investigation with memorization. Preserve the lively minds of children! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM

Premature academic instruction comes at a cost for youngest students @dey_project https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM #2much2soon

Earlier is not better. The lively minds of children are dulled by mindless bubble filling @dey_project #2much2soon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM

We are rethinking academic vs. intellectual goals. Earlier is not always better. @dey_project #2much2soon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM

DEY endorses excellent, intentional literacy experiences in kindergarten

Reading Instruction in KindergartenToday’s post is written by DEY’s Senior Adviser Nancy Carlsson-Paige. She just posted the comment below on Diane Ravitch’s blog, to help clarify our message in the report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Much to Lose and Little to Gain.

When we issued our report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten, we had a concern that our main message might be misunderstood.  That message is that research does not support the Common Core requirement that all children must read with purpose and understanding by the end of the kindergarten year.  But we did not want this message to be interpreted to mean that children should just play in kindergarten and that maturity would take care of skill development.  We want to make clear that we do support providing children with an excellent, intentional early literacy curriculum.  For this reason, we included two sections in our report that specifically describe what such a curriculum should look like.  However, it seems, based on the blog comments by Bill Honig, that the full message of our report has been misunderstood, despite our efforts.

First and most important, Mr. Honig states that we should teach foundation skills for reading in kindergarten and we entirely agree.  But building foundation skills and expecting children to read with purpose and understanding are not the same thing.

Children build a strong base for learning to read and write in kindergarten through the many activities good teachers present.  In addition to oral language experiences such as story telling and story acting, and opportunities for using symbols with a variety of materials, teachers provide myriad opportunities for specifically engaging children with print. Teachers read big books, poems and charts using pointers and props that isolate letters.  Children are encouraged every day to draw and write with invented and conventional spellings.  Teachers take dictation from children and help them write their own stories. In organic and meaningful ways, teachers use print throughout the day to label block structures, cubbies, and interest areas, write recipes, and transcribe the children’s stories.  They make charts for attendance and classroom jobs and review these daily with children.  Teachers understand the developmental progressions in early reading and writing and encourage skill development based on each child’s level of mastery.  This ensures that the skills children learn develop a solid and meaningful foundation for making sense of print.

The Common Core standard requiring children to read in kindergarten has resulted in an erosion of excellent early literacy experiences such as those just described.  Many kindergarten teachers are now resorting to inappropriate didactic methods of instruction in order to meet the requirement of this Common Core standard.  Every contributor to the discussion on this blog shares the same goal: to ensure that every young child learn to read and achieve success in school.  Our grave concern is that the Common Core standards for kindergarten are harming and not helping us reach this goal.

First Grade Teacher Speaks Out Against CCSS

Today in the Albany Times Union, first grade teacher Peter Rawitsch from New York shared his powerful reflections on the negative impact of the Common Core State Standards. Rawitsch has decades of classroom experience and is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. He is an expert in the field and he knows what he is talking about! We applaud his courage and share Rawitsch’s words here, with his permission, to inspire other early educators to stand up and speak out.

 “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Depending on the day, my six and seven year old children might answer: “soccer player,” “princess,” or “veterinarian.” Sadly, most of them will have to put their dreams on hold because they’re too busy working on someone else’s dream of them becoming “college and career ready.” I think it’s a nightmare.

 Six and seven year old children are active learners. They use all of their senses to learn in a variety of ways. Each child learns at their own pace. Play is their work. Using materials they can manipulate helps them think about how things work, use their imagination, and solve problems. They construct knowledge through their experiences.

As a 1st grade teacher with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, National Board Certification in Early Childhood, and 37 years of classroom experience, I’m deeply troubled by what is being demanded of our young learners.

For the past 2½ years I have been trying to help the children in my classroom become proficient in the 1st grade Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Because the children are at different places in their development, some have been successful with the new standards, but for too many, these new expectations are inappropriate and unfair. They’re being asked to master material they simply aren’t ready to do yet.  Among the flaws of the CCSS is the assumption that all students in a given grade are capable of learning all of the same grade level standards by the end of a school year. But many of the current 1st grade standards were, just a few years ago, skills that 2nd grade students worked on.

 The Gesell Institute of Child Development has studied the cognitive development of children three to six years of age since 1925. In 2010 it reported that young children “are still reaching developmental milestones in the same timeframe,” meaning, that while the learning standards have changed, the way children learn has not.

The fact is, no experts in early childhood education worked on the development of the CCSS.  There were no early childhood educators on the Board of Regents when the CCSS were adopted in New York. The result has been, that in order to help my students meet the CCSS, I’ve had to create longer blocks of time to teach reading and writing, prepare them for similar looking answers on multiple choice math tests, and help them practice locating and bubbling in small circles on answer sheets. Students are also required to keep up with the “pacing” calendars and curricula many school districts have adopted because they are synchronized with the reading, writing, and mathematics testing that is now given throughout the school year.  This means that there is much less time for Science, Social Studies, exploration, and play.

It’s time to take action! Parents need to ask teachers about how the CCSS have impacted their child’s school day. How much more sitting are the children doing for reading and writing activities? How have additional paper and pencil tests affected when and how things are taught? Which activities and experiences that once enriched the school day and fostered a love of learning have been pushed out? Teachers need to talk about child development and appropriate academic standards at School Board and PTA meetings. Together we need to speak up and advocate for an education that celebrates and honors our young learners. Our children’s dreams matter.

DEY’s Director Responds

Reading Instruction in KindergartenLast week, Senior Fellow and Vice President for External Affairs at the conservative Fordham Institute, Robert Pondiscio published a critique of our recent report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. His essay “Is Common Core too hard for kindergarten?” was published in the Common Core Watch blog at the Fordham Institute. After reading his essay, a few things are quite clear.

First, it is not surprising that the critique comes from this corner – the Fordham Institute has been a key player promoting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In fact, the Gates-funded Fordham Institute, which has been rating education standards for years, has been pushing the CCSS even in places where they have rated the existing state standards higher than they have rated the CCSS.

Second, it is surprising how our paper and our position have been completely misunderstood by Pondiscio. Not only does he dismiss early childhood expertise out of hand, he misrepresents our arguments. This is even after participating in an hour-long panel discussion on KQED’s Forum with one of the report authors, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. Pondiscio further debases the intellectual competence of early childhood educators when he describes our researched-based advocacy report as “complaints”.

Pondiscio writes that our report “complains” that “expecting kindergarteners to read is ‘developmentally inappropriate’”. In fact, we agree that many kindergarteners do learn to read. It is precisely something that we expect. Our deep concern is over the CCSS expectation that ALL children learn to read in kindergarten. As we state in the report, “Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten, yet the Common Core State Standards require them to do just that. This is leading to inappropriate classroom practices.”

Pondiscio describes our position as simply stating the “Common Core is too hard for kindergarten”. He uses this reductive phrase “too hard” repeatedly throughout his essay. In fact, our argument is much more nuanced than that. We do state, “When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy and confusion.”

To bolster his critique, Pondiscio offers a link to a chapter in a book published by Scholastic (no author given) that references a study by researchers Hanson and Farrell (1995). We were able to find this study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Chicago, though it is not clear if this research was published in a peer-reviewed journal. We shared the research with a trusted education researcher who responded that it is difficult to evaluate this “poor and old piece of evidence,” as some important technical information is missing – such as the standard deviations – making it hard to estimate the size of the claimed effects.

Pondiscio writes that “If teachers are turning their kindergarten classrooms into joyless grinding mills and claiming they are forced to do so under Common Core (as the report’s authors allege), something clearly has gone wrong.” Here, Pondiscio contributes to the on-going national narrative of teacher-bashing. The onus here is on the teachers, he claims, not on the misguided CCSS or the pressure from school administrators, district superintendents and state departments of education to produce high-scoring test results.

It is insulting for Pondiscio to imply our intended message is “children should not be reading by the end of kindergarten, or that they will read when they are good and ready.” We clearly state that there is a normal range for learning to read. We know that many children learn to read at five, four or even three-years-old. Many will learn to read in kindergarten. That is not a problem. We also understand quite fully that learning to read is highly individualized and that it is part of the craft of good teaching to know your students well and to understand why, how and when specific supports are needed. The CCSS one-size-fits-all, lock-step expectations do not allow for teacher judgment. We know that the CCSS has led to a shift in reading assessments that have been around for a long time. For example, reading experts Fountas and Pinnell used to suggest that ending kindergarten in the A-C of books range was okay. Now, with the CCSS-informed shift, if a student has not progressed past level B by the beginning of first grade, he is designated as requiring “Intensive Intervention.”

There is much more to refute in Pondiscio’s essay, though we have given him enough of our attention. To read more on the issue, we suggest Susan Ochshorn’s response to Pondiscio here.

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Director                                                                     Defending the Early Years (DEY)

Concerned About the Upcoming PARCC tests? Read on!

no-parccing1The upcoming PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career published by Pearson) have raised the concern of teachers and parents nationwide. Below is a public letter written by Blakely Bundy, a member of DEY’s National Advisory Board to other parents in her community. You can read more about PARCC from some well-respected educators and bloggers here, here and here. Thanks to Blakely Bundy for sharing this letter – which we hope inspires others to take action. Did you know that  Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka recently criticized PARCC  and publicly supported parents who choose to “opt out” of taking the PARCC! 


 

Feb. 4, 2015 Dear Winnetka Parents,

I am contacting you to express my deep concern about the upcoming PARCC test that will be given to all Winnetka 3rd through 8th graders this spring. The PARCC was created as a Common Core test by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Superintendent Trisha Kocanda eloquently expressed her concerns about the PARCC in the monthly Winnetka Wire, which was picked up by the national press. I echo these concerns, which include:

 Time:

  • Administration of the PARCC will take 13-14 hours.
  • The ISAT took no more than seven hours.

Impact on instruction:

  • With one test unit administered each day, students will be tested over a twoweek period, interrupting many instructional days.
  • Additional time—2-3 hours– allocated to familiarizing students with the online testing experience.
  • As the tests are taken in computer labs and resource centers, most regularly scheduled classes cannot take place for approximately six weeks.

 Stress:

  • The length of the test, the rigor, and the change of routine may cause stress and discomfort for many students.

As a long-time educator, a national advocate, a former Winnetka parent, and a current Winnetka grandparent, my additional concerns are listed below:

 “Guinea Pigs”

  • Our children are being treated as “guinea pigs.”
  • The PARCC was quickly rolled out, not allowing enough time to develop test logistics nor to verify its validity or reliability, yet schools, teachers, and children will be judged by its results.

 Keyboarding Skills

  • The online testing format is especially challenging for students who may not yet have the sophisticated keyboarding skills needed to complete the test.
  • The format is completely inappropriate for 3rd graders.

 Inappropriate questions

  • The questions tend to be intentionally tricky and convoluted. People with Ph.D.’s are finding some of them impossible to answer!
  • Children may feel anxious and inadequate.

 No diagnostic or instructional value

  • As parents, students, and teachers never see the test results, they have no diagnostic or instructional value.

 Lack of participation

  • Initially in 2010, there were 26 PARCC member states, but, since then, 17 states have pulled out as they discover the many downsides of the test.
  • Now, only 9 states—including Illinois—plus the District of Columbia remain. Why is Illinois still participating?

 Access to data

  • The PARCC was created by a private company that controls the extensive data collected from the tests – data about each and every child who takes it.
  • According to the website stopcommoncoreillinois.org, “The PARCC consortium will make the data, including identifiable records, available to a variety of federal government agencies and research firms. Student data privacy laws have been loosened to allow for this data sharing and parents will not be notified.”

What can you as a parent, do?

 The federal law mandates that schools must administer assessments, but not that children must take them. While there is no “opt out” provision in Illinois, children can refuse the test (but must do so each day the test is given).

  • Let your child’s teacher know that your child will be refusing.
  • Rally a group of children in your child’s class to say “no” together.

 Write, write, write – to your Congressman, Senators Kirk and Durbin, Governor Rauner, Secretary Duncan, and President Obama.

 Make your opinion known in letters to the editor, on Facebook, and on Twitter. As a concerned parent, I urge you to join the growing outcry–both in Winnetka and on the national scene–that the PARCC is wrong for our schools and wrong for our children.

Sincerely,

Blakely Bundy Executive Director Emeritus and Senior Advisor, The Alliance for Early Childhood; National Advisory Board Member, Defending the Early Years, http://www.deyproject.org