Our New Report! Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose

Today, in conjunction with the Alliance foReading Instruction in Kindergartenr Childhood,  we are thrilled to release our new report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. In the report we concluded that Common Core reading requirements for kindergarten are inappropriate and not well-grounded in research. Under Common Core, students are expected to be able to read before entering first grade.

The report maintains that the pressure of implementing the reading standard is leading many kindergarten teachers to resort to inappropriate drilling on specific skills and excessive testing. Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based experiential learning that children need based on decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience.

In an effort to shift back to a developmentally appropriate, child-centered curriculum, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood call for the withdrawal of the kindergarten standards from the Common Core so they can be rethought along developmental lines.

Please check out our video for more information! 

 

Follow on Twitter and join the movement: @DEY_Project @4Childhood #2Much2Soon

Help us spread the word via social media. Here are some sample tweets:

1) #EarlyEd experts @dey_project @4childhood conclude #CCSS Kinder reading requirement is #2much2soon  http://youtu.be/DVVln1WMz0g

2) Why @dey_project @4childhood call for withdrawal of kinder standards from #CCSS http://wp.me/p2bgV6-gl

Happy New Year!

Screenshot 2014-08-31 09.26.14This year DEY has been working hard to mobilize the early childhood community to speak out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.  We created our on-line resources including our Early Childhood Activist Toolkit, Mobilization Kit and Action Mini Grants. Our article The Common Core State Standards, Are They Failing Our Kids? was featured as the cover story in the back-to-school edition of Boston Parents Magazine. And we gathered early childhood activists in Dallas, TX for our second annual organizing meeting to share resources and build connections nationwide.

As 2014 comes to a close, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to DEY. Your generosity will help us continue our work in 2015, including the January release of our advocacy report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. Please remember, you can now show your support to DEY through online donations. Check out our donation page . Thank you so much!

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The Rise of Kindergarten-Readiness Testing

We know that a big topic in the new year will be kindergarten readiness assessments. These time-consuming and often computer-based assessments are raising concerns with teachers across the country. This fall we began hearing stories of resistance building. In Maryland, where 9 out of 10 kindergarten teachers surveyed said the lengthy assessments would not help improve instruction, the Maryland State Education Association is calling for a suspension of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessments. At DEY we are offering support however and wherever we can – updating our online resources,offering Action Mini Grants, attending and speaking at organizing events and more. Experiences vary from state to state, district to district, even school to school. If you are a kindergarten teacher or administrator, let us know how the rise of kindergarten-readiness testing is affecting you, your work and your students. For more on this topic you can watch a recent EdWeek webinar featuring DEY’s Stephanie Feeney.

Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids?

Screenshot 2014-08-31 09.26.14

Please read and share DEY’s feature article, Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids? in the current issue of Boston Parent’s Paper.

Here is a snippet of our article – which outlines our concerns as well as action steps that parents can take at home and at school:

Screenshot 2014-08-31 09.40.40

Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids?

by Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin & Nancy Carlsson-Paige

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are you have seen firsthand that kindergarten has changed dramatically since you were young. There has been a well-documented, though highly controversial, push-down of academics into the earlier years. If your child is just now entering school, you may not have experienced this change – though you may have heard much debate about the Common Core State Standards.

Even comedian Louis C.K. added his ideas to the debate when he tweeted, “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core!”

Our organization, Defending the Early Years, is deeply concerned about the current direction of early education in the United States. We hear stories all the time from teachers who are struggling to balance the reform mandates with what they know is best for young children. One teacher told us with regret, “I am being forced to shove academics down the throats of 4-, 5- and 6-year-old children. I used to be proud of my teaching – now I feel that I am being forced to do wrong by my students every day.”

Click here to read the full article on the Boston Parents Paper website.

Our article noted some local parent actions that are happening – and we are wondering what actions parents have been taking in your community. We would love to be able to pitch the article to other Parents Papers around the country – with your local examples included. Leave a comment here or contact us at deydirector@gmail.com if you have thoughts about this and want to help us spread the word through the Parents Paper in your community. Thanks!

Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early

Many thanks from DEY to William Crain for publicly saying what needs to be said!

William Crain, author of Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented SocietyProfessor of Psychology at The City College of New York and DEY National Advisory Board Member, wrote the following letter to the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York:

Letter in the Poughkeepsie Journal, June 21, 2014

“Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early”

The Common Core sets its sights on children’s future needs.  Specifically, it wants to ensure that all children are “college- and workforce-ready.”  This goal seems worthwhile, but the Common Core also needs to consider the ways in which children grow and develop.

Seeing that children will need “high order” conceptual thinking in college and the workplace, the Common Core introduces such thinking early on.   For example, it introduces mathematical place value, an abstract topic, in kindergarten and the first grade. But before the age of 7 or so, children’s minds aren’t inclined toward such conceptual matters. Young children are more naturally motivated to develop their powers through the arts, play, and the exploration of nature.  They are enthusiastic about these activities, which enable them to develop their imaginations and sense of wonder.

Our educational system needs to resist the impulse to take up young children’s time with abstract material that is beyond their years.  Such instruction is unlikely to be effective, and it can cause children to dislike school and learning. Instead, educational policymakers need to pay greater attention to the capacities that children themselves are ready and eager to develop at their present stages of development.

William Crain

Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York

Poughquag, NY

Advocating for Play at School and at Home

YC0514_CoverIn the current edition of Young Child, published by NAEYC, DEY’s Diane E. Levin offers the following advice to parents:

Memo to: All Families of Young Children

From: Diane E. Levin

Date: May 2014

Subject: Advocating for Play at School and at Home

Play is essential for children’s optimal development and learning.  Through play, children use what they already know to help them figure out new things, see how they work, and master skills.  As they do this, children add new social, emotional, and intellectual knowledge and skills to what they already know.  They experience the satisfaction that comes from working things out and solving problems on their own.  They think and sometimes say out loud, “I can do it!”  This is the kind of learning through play that prepares children to feel confident in themselves as learners who see new information and ideas as interesting problems to be solved.

However, all play is not the same and today several forces can endanger quality play.  First, many of today’s toys are linked to what children see in movies and on television.  These media experiences channel children into imitating what they see on screens instead of creating their own play.  Second, the use of electronic media takes young children away from play and can make their child-created play seem boring.  Finally, growing pressure to teach academic skills at younger and younger ages takes time and resources away from the quality, teacher-facilitated play that young children need in preschool and kindergarten.

I encourage you to learn about the ways child-created active play supports learning and to advocate for play and encourage it at home.  Play will give your children a foundation for positive social and emotional health as well as later academic success in school.

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6 Reasons to Reject the Common Core State Standards for K- Grade 3

6 Reasons to Reject Common Core State Standards for K – Grade 3 and 6 Principles to Guide Policy

With the spring testing season heavily upon us, DEY has a new document which we believe will help teachers and parents understand why the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are inappropriate for Kindergarten – 3rd Grade. It will also help teachers and parents advocate against the CCSS – and for policies and classroom practices that will best meet the needs of young children. Please download and share our *NEW* 6 Reasons to Reject Common Core State Standards for K – Grade 3 and 6 Principles to Guide Policy. (Click here for Common Core color pdf or Common Core black and white pdf.) 

DEYMobilizationKitWe are also very excited to announce our *NEW* DEY Mobilizing Kit which includes ideas for planning and hosting an information meeting – including a DEY Power Point Presentation presentation outlining the issues. The PowerPoint is also here on YouTube. If you are interested in hosting a meeting or other action (such as a letter writing campaign), keep in mind that DEY offers Action Mini Grants to help.

 

6 Reasons to Reject CCSS for K – Grade 3

 

1.  Many of the Kindergarten – 3rd Grade CCSS are developmentally inappropriate, and are not based on well-researched child development knowledge about how young children learn. 1, 2

The CCSS for young children were developed by mapping backwards from what is required at high school graduation to the early years.  This has led to standards that:

  • list discrete skills, facts and knowledge that do not match how young children develop, think or learn;
  • require young children to learn facts and skills for which they are not ready;
  • are often taught by teacher-led, didactic instruction instead of the experiential, play-based activities and learning young children need; 1, 2, 12
  • devalue the whole child and the importance of social-emotional development, play, art, music, science and physical development.

 

An example of a developmentally inappropriate Common Core standard for kindergarten is one that requires children to “read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding.”  Many young children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten and there is no research to support teaching reading in kindergarten. There is no research showing long-term advantages to reading at 5 compared to reading at 6 or 7.6

 

2.  Many of the skills mandated by the CCSS erroneously assume that all children develop and learn skills at the same rate and in the same way.

 

Decades of child development research and theory from many disciplines (cognitive and developmental psychology, neuroscience, medicine and education) show how children progress at different rates and in different ways.

 

For example, the average age that children start walking is 12 months.  Some children begin walking as early as 9 months and others not until 15 months – and all of this falls within a normal range. Early walkers are not better walkers than later walkers. A second example is that the average age at which children learn to read independently is 6.5 years.  Some begin as early as 4 years and some not until age 7 or later – and all of this falls within the normal range.5 Research has shown that children who score well on early intelligence tests have only a 40% correlation with later achievement tests results3 and that one-third of the brightest incoming third graders score below average prior to kindergarten.4

 

The CCSS are measured using frequent and inappropriate assessments – this includes high-stakes tests, standardized tests and computer-administered assessments. States are required to use computer-based tests (such as PARCC) to assess CCSS. This is leading to mandated computer use at an early age and the misallocation of funds to purchase computers and networking systems in school districts that are already underfunded.

 

3.  Early childhood educators did not participate in the development of the standards.

 

The CCSS do not comply with the internationally and nationally recognized protocol for writing professional standards.  They were written without due process, transparency, or participation by knowledgeable parties.  Two committees made up of 135 people wrote the standards – and not one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood education professional.  When the CCSS were first released, more than 500 early childhood professionals signed a Joint Statement opposing the standards on the grounds that they would lead to long hours of direct instruction; more standardized testing; and would crowd out highly important active, play-based learning.  All of this has come to pass. Notably, this important Joint Statement was not even reported in the “summary of public feedback” posted on the Core Standards website. 11

 

  1.   There is a lack of research to support the current early childhood CCSS.  The standards were not pilot tested and there is no provision for ongoing research or review of their impact on children and on early childhood education.

 

The CCSS do not build on what is known from earlier long-term studies such as the Perry Preschool Project, the Abecedarian Project, the Abbott Schools of NJ, or Chicago Parent Child Centers which demonstrate what works for young children.7, 10 There is no convincing research showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge such as counting to 100 in kindergarten or being able to “tell and write time in hours and half-hours using analog and digital clocks in first grade” will lead to later success in school.

There was no research on how to effectively train teachers on implementing the CCSS.

 

5.  The standards do not take into account what young children today need when they get to school.  Children need play in school now more than ever. They need teachers who are skilled facilitators of play so the solid foundations can be laid in the early school years for optimal learning in the later years.

 

Many of today’s children are over-exposed to electronics and screens.14 Many of them  are overly scheduled and lack opportunities for sustained, unstructured, free play and especially outdoor/nature play.8, 9, 14  These conditions have led to reduced play opportunities for many children, which has in turn led to deficiencies in many of the essential foundational skills that develop through play: executive functioning, self-control, persistence, creativity, problem-solving, flexibility, attention span, and ability to call on stored knowledge when needed.15, 16, 17

 

6. The adoption of CCSS falsely implies that making children learn these standards will combat the impact of poverty on development and learning, and create equal educational opportunity for all children.

 

The U.S. is the wealthiest nation in the world and has the highest child poverty rate among industrialized nations.18 Corporate-style reformers would have us believe that we can solve the problem of poverty by mandating the teaching of basic skills in our nation’s schools. But schools cannot solve all of the problems created by societal factors that exist outside of school walls. While we do not have all the answers, years of research tell us that schools, while important, cannot solve all the disadvantages created by poverty.19  In fact, during the last decade of “education reform” – increased standards and testing, more accountability and data gathering – the inequalities in our education system have increased24 and the child poverty rate has grown.25

 

6 Principles to Guide Policy

1.  Young children learn through active, direct experiences and play.20

 

Young children learn best through active learning experiences within meaningful contexts.  They need materials that can be used in multiple ways and allow for hands-on exploration and problem solving. They need dynamic, ongoing relationships with teachers who understand child development, can build onto and extend their hands-on activities, and provide well-thought out educational experiences that demonstrate knowledge of and respect for each child. The teachers must be able to create time in the schedule to promote these active experiences between children, as peer interactions play a crucial role in cognitive learning and social-emotional development.

 

2.  Children learn skills and concepts at different times, rates, and paces.  Every child is unique.5, 26

 

Every child possesses a unique personality, temperament, family relationship and cultural background. Each has different interests, experiences and approaches to learning. Each child perceives and approaches the world differently, often taking different routes to reach the same ends. Thus, all children need learning experiences that take into account, support and build onto who they are as individuals.

 

3.  Young children learn best when their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical selves become highly engaged in the learning process. 

 

Active learning experiences and play engage multiple aspects of the child’s capacities simultaneously. A curriculum focused on academic standards and goals compartmentalizes learning in ways that are not natural for young children. Hands-on, play-based, experiential learning engages the whole child and strengthens and supports young children’s intellectual dispositions and their innate thirst for better, fuller, and deeper understanding of their own experiences. 27

 

4.  Assessments of young children should be observational in nature, ongoing, and connected to curriculum and teaching.  They should take into account the broad-based nature of young children’s learning, not isolated skills, and the natural developmental variation in all areas of young children’s growth and development.

 

Assessment methods should be developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically responsive, tied to children’s daily activities, supported by professional development, inclusive of families, and connected to specific, beneficial purposes: (1) making sound decisions about teaching and learning, (2) identifying concerns that may require focused intervention for individual children, and (3) helping programs improve their educational and developmental interventions.21

 

Assessments in early childhood should be as infrequent as possible to maintain high program quality.  Standardized tests are highly unreliable for children younger than 3rd grade and should not be used in early childhood settings.10, 13, 28 The linking of test scores to teacher evaluation or to program evaluation leads to an increase in standards and test-based instruction, and less developmentally appropriate play-based, experiential education.  Administrators need to emphasize quality educational experiences and teaching, not test scores in the early years.10

 

5. The problems of inequality and child poverty need to be addressed directly.

 

Almost one quarter of our nation’s children live in poverty.18 We need to do what other developed nations do which is to ensure that all of their children have health care, housing, and basic needs met for economic security and well being. Then we must fund our schools equitably, by giving more money to the schools and students where needs are greatest, which are most commonly schools in low-income neighborhoods. Educational funds should not be distributed to states based on their acceptance of specific education reforms, such as we have seen in the last decade. If we begin to redress some of the profound inequalities that exist for children in the U.S. today, this will be the surest way to genuinely improve schools and overall well-being and success for all of the nation’s children.

 

6.  Quality early childhood education with well-prepared teachers is the best investment a society can make in its future.

 

Research shows that early childhood education enhances the life prospects of children and has a high benefit-cost ratio and rate of return for society’s investment. The Perry Preschool Project, a major longitudinal study of a quality preschool education program, showed that investment in high-quality preschool education improved the lives of those who were in the program and paid handsome returns to society. Building a strong foundation for learning in the early years is especially crucial for disadvantaged children.22

 

The United States ranks twenty-fourth among wealthy nations in providing availability and quality of early childhood education.23 Committing to high quality early childhood education with well-prepared teachers is a crucial first step our nation can take in reducing the achievement gaps between rich and poor children and improving the lives of children.

 

1 Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

2 Miller, E., & Almon, J. (2009). Crisis in the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school. College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood.

3 Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2009). NutureShock. New York City: 12 Book Press. (pp. 99-100.)

4 Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2009). (p. 101)

5 Gesell Institute of Child Development. (2012). Gesell developmental observation-revised and Gesell early screener technical report ages 3-6. New Haven, CT: Gesell Institute of Child Development. Retrieved September 17, 2013 from http://www.gesellinstitute.org.

6 Almon, J. (2013, Fall). Reading at five: Why? SEEN Magazine, 24-25.

7 Guddemi, M., & Zigler, E. (2011). Children and schools: We know what to do, now let’s do it! [PDF].Community Early Childhood LEADership E-Kit [CD-ROM]. New Haven, CT: Gesell Institute of Child Development.

8 Frost, J. (2010).  A history of play and play environments.  New York City:  Routledge.

9 Brown, S. (2009).  Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul.   New York City:  Avery.

10 Gesell Institute of Child Development (2011).  Community Early Childhood LEADership E-Kit [CD-ROM]. New Haven, CT: Author.

11 Miller, E and Carlsson-Paige, N. (January 29, 2013).  A tough critique of Common Core on early childhood education. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/

12 Hirsch-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. (2003).  Einstein never used flash cards.  New York City:  Rodale.

13 Kim, J., & Suen, H. K. (2003). Predicting children’s academic achievement from early assessment scores: A validity generalization study. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18(4), 547-566.

14 Levin, D. (2013). Beyond remote controlled childhood. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

15 Moffitt, T.E.; Arseneault, L.; Belsky, D.; Dickson, N.; Hancox, R.J.; Harrington, H.; Houts, R.; Poulton, R.; Roberts, B.W.; Ross, S.; Sears, M.R.; Thomson, WM.; & Caspi, A. (2011).  A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety.  Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693-2698.

16 Leong, D. J., & Bodrova, E. (2012). Assessing and scaffolding: Make-believe play. Young Children, 67(1), 28-34.

17 Tough, P. (2012). How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

18 UNICEF Office of Research (2013). ‘Child Well-being in Rich Countries: A comparative overview’, Innocenti Report Card 11, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence.

19 L. J. Schweinhart, J. Montie, Z. Xiang,W. S. Barnett, C. R. Belfield, & M. Nores. (2004). Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40. Michigan: HighScope Press.

20 Singer, D., Golinkoff, R. & Hirsh – Pasek. (Eds.). (2006). Play=learning: how play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York: Oxford University Press.

21 NAEYC & NAECS/SDE. (2003). Early childhood curriculum and program evaluation. Joint Position Statement, 2.

22 Heckman, James. (2008).“Schools, Skills, and Synapses,” NBER working paper 14064, http://www.nber.org/papers/w14064.pdf.

23 Economist Intelligence Unit. (2012). Starting well. Benchmarking early education

across the world. London: The Economist.

24 Karp, S. (January 23, 2013). The coming Common Core meltdown. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/23/the-coming-common-core-meltdown/

25 Gabe, T. (2013). Poverty in the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33069.pdf

26 Zigler, E., Singer, D., Bishop-Josef, S. (2004).  Children’s play:  The roots of reading.   Washington, DC.:  Zero to Three Press.

27 Katz, L. (2012). Standards of Experience. Retrieved from www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2010/standards-of-experience

28 Duncan, G.J. et al. (2007).  School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428-1446.

Kindergarten teacher resigns over too much testing – and the TODAY show pays attention!

teacherquitsA powerful story got some much-needed attention this week. Susan Sluyter, a veteran kindergarten teacher based in Cambridge, MA, had her resignation letter posted by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post’s education blog, The Answer Sheet: Kindergarten teacher: My job is now about tests and data — not children. I quit.

In her resignation letter submitted last month, Sluyter wrote,

“I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them. 

“Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of kindergarten and PreK.  I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, ‘I can’t do this!  Look at me!  Know me!  Help me!  See me!’ ”

Garnering over 500 comments at The Answer Sheet, it is obvious that Sluyter has struck a nerve. And on Wednesday, the TODAY Show invited Sluyter on to tell her story. Interestingly, the TODAY Show, in conjunction with this story, posted a poll on their Facebook page and their Facebook page “exploded”. The question asked was, “Do you think standardized tests are the best way for kids to learn?” The results were clear: 5,692 people answered, “No” and only 41 answered, “Yes”.
TODAY show pollNext time, perhaps TODAY will invite Diane Ravitch instead of Michelle Rhee for the follow up Q & A – though very glad Michelle Rhee got to see those poll results!