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

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!

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!




Defending Play with Nancy Carlsson-Paige

Bob Greenberg of Brainwaves Productions has interviewed many thought leaders in education: Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and more. This week he gave Nancy Carlsson-Paige the opportunity to add an early childhood perspective to these voices. Her talk is titled “Defending Play” and is available on YouTube. “Play is at the root of learning, ” Nancy explains. However…

“In this era of focus on testing and accountability, and emphasis on standards, we’ve seen this increasing pressure in the early grades in elementary schools, kindergartens and even preschools to get children up to speed to learn specific skills and sub skills that are identified by standards. This has led to much more teacher-led instruction and much less play in school and there is a dramatic disappearance of play across the country.” 

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!

Premature academic instruction comes at a cost for youngest students @dey_project #2much2soon

Earlier is not better. The lively minds of children are dulled by mindless bubble filling @dey_project #2much2soon.

We are rethinking academic vs. intellectual goals. Earlier is not always better. @dey_project #2much2soon

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.