The momentum of resistance to the Common Core State Standards and high-stakes testing is growing, as we highlighted in a recent DEY blog post. We urge you to share Early Learning: This is Not a Test far and wide as resistance continues to build.
Earlier this week DEY’s Senior Adviser Diane Levin published the piece Media Literacy for Young Children: Essential for School Success in Today’s World in her education blog at the Huffington Post. Levin describes why she testified before the Massachusetts Legislature’s House-Senate Joint Committee on Education in favor of media education for all children in the state. Levin has been looking closely for decades at media’s impact on children’s lives. Her writings and research on the topic are extensive. Her new book Beyond Remote Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age (NAEYC, 2013) is a much-needed resource for teachers who are seeking ways to support children (and families) whose lives and learning have been impacted by today’s media-saturated world.
This issue speaks directly to DEY’s concerns about the loss of play as well as the increase in scripted curricula and testing in early childhood classrooms. Levin writes:
“If passed, Massachusetts will become the first state in the country with the wisdom and foresight to remove the blinders that most of today’s policymakers and educators are wearing as they fail to take into account the impact of media and technology on children’s optimal development and learning in their more and more narrowly-scripted educational mandates in schools.”
“Technology is affecting most aspects of children’s lives. I have used the term Remote-Controlled Childhood to capture the fact that more and more of children’s time, ideas and behavior are controlled and conditioned by what they see and do on screens–by following programs created by someone else. The more educators understand and work to counteract the resulting remote-controlled learning and behavior, the more successful they will be at promoting optimal learning in children.”
This piece was written by our colleague Blakely Bundy. Bundy is the Outgoing Executive Director of The Alliance for Early Childhood, based on the North Shore of Chicago. We share her story here as an illustration of what is happening in too many kindergarten classrooms across our country.
A Grandmother’s Story about the Impact of Today’s Kindergarten on One Little Boy
I wanted to relate my “tale of woe” about my grandson’s experience in kindergarten this fall. I will call him William. I know that it’s a common story now, but this is a first for me on a personal level. Aside from being William’s grandmother, I am a former teacher and have been involved as an early childhood professional in several different capacities for my entire career.
Over the summer, my daughter and her family moved from Winnetka, IL, a progressive school district on the North Shore of Chicago, to a town on the East Coast. They chose that town after doing quite a bit of research on the schools and I even accompanied them and talked to teachers and administrators in three of the communities that they were considering. We thought that the town they chose was the most similar to the school system they had just left.
William, a third child with two older sisters, had had a happy, fulfilling experience at Willow Wood Preschool in Winnetka , a half-day (afternoon), play-based, NAEYC accredited program (where I had actually taught for 10 years in the 80s and early 90s). He had eagerly looked forward to going to kindergarten at Hubbard Woods School, his sisters’ beloved elementary school, which has a half-day, play-based kindergarten, with a long history of a progressive, child-centered philosophy that has survived since it was put in place in the 1920s. In our area, under the umbrella of The Alliance for Early Childhood, there are articulation meetings between the preschools and the area kindergartens each year and the message is loud and clear that the kindergartens have no academic expectations for their incoming students but hope for some social and emotional indications that children are ready for kindergarten (sitting still to hear a story, love of books, ability to wait and take turns, etc.).
The first clue that the new school was going to be different was when we learned that the first day of kindergarten would be a full day, 9 am to 3:15 pm, with no time or plans for transition beyond a reception for families in the kindergarten room two days before. The second indication was the set-up of the classroom and, while there were blocks and a small housekeeping corner, there were also a lot of folders with the kids’ names of them for “reading,” “math,” and other academic indications and posted class schedules that indicated a lot of “work” and not much play.
My daughter expressed concern to the kindergarten teacher about the lack of a transition plan and the long first day (and the teacher completely agreed, but could do nothing about it). William went off like a trooper. After a long six and a quarter hours of waiting to see how it had gone, William and his classmates marched out to the pick-up spot at the front of the school (no parents allowed into the school) or, I should say, “dragged” out. I’ve never seen so many exhausted kindergartners in my life (and all with the required large backpacks on their backs)! The next two days, William went off to school somewhat reluctantly. Though teary, the teacher emailed my daughter that he had recovered enough to participate in some of the activities, including some table work. By the fourth day, William wasn’t sure that he wanted to go back to school. There were emails from his teacher and the social worker and the social worker met us at the front door and escorted William to class. (Again, no parents allowed in).
Later that day, my daughter and I met with William’s teacher and the school social worker to brainstorm how to proceed. Calling on my many years as a teacher and early childhood professional, I suggested going back to transition procedures you might use with younger children, i.e., mom in the classroom and engaged with her child the first day; mom in the classroom but “busy” with a book or helping the teacher the second day; mom in and out of the classroom the 3rd day, etc. Alas, both because of school procedures and the fact that they already knew that it was a challenging class with many crying children who would all want their mothers, that plan was vetoed, although, again, William’s teacher was sympathetic and truly wanted to do what was best for William. We also learned that they had done an “informal” evaluation of William’s academic abilities and that he was “low.” William reported that he hated the table tasks and said to us that he “couldn’t do them” and that they were “hard.”
By the way, this is a little boy who can spend hours creating elaborate block and Lego structures, inventing scenarios for his cars and trucks, which all have names and personalities. Also, his fine motor skills are ahead of many five year old boys, as he observes and copies his sisters’ drawings. On the other hand, he is not as interested in spending a great deal of time on art projects and drawing and has not indicated an interest in learning letters and numbers yet, although he adores being read to and has a long attention span for some fairly sophisticated books, including those of his sisters.
On the fifth day of kindergarten, William locked himself in his room and refused to go to school. I raced over to their house to help my daughter. I was able to get into William’s room, but, by then, he was hiding under his bed and refused to come out. I tried to talk him out, but he wouldn’t budge. The school’s social worker arrived downstairs but my daughter wisely decided that she needed to keep “school” out of William’s safe home and the social worker departed. It’s then that we decided that we needed to find a different school for William. We knew that this was not going to work!
My daughter had asked other moms and had learned that people have dealt with the highly academic kindergarten in this town in two ways. Those who can afford it, send their children to an extra year of preschool. Those who can’t send them to two years of (free) kindergarten. At the open house that we attended, many of the boys were a head taller than William and, of course, had been “redshirted.”
We asked around and got some wise advice from a helpful early childhood colleague who happened to live in the town. She knew all about the highly academic kindergarten and mentioned that she had stopped teaching kindergarten in a neighboring town for just that reason. We eventually found a nearby preschool program with a young 5s class, which would help William with transition and also had room for him. Although that school is play-based and child-centered in their philosophy, it introduces some more academic tasks during the school year to prepare children for what’s ahead when they enter the public kindergarten.
I often say that schools in Winnetka and surrounding communities are like an “island” in a “sea” of over-tested, push-down academics and this story certainly illustrates that fact. I wanted to tell this story as one more indication of what is happening in kindergartens throughout the country. We must keep fighting and educating and working on making changes! And I understand more than ever– now on a personal level– how vitally important this work is and how many hundreds of thousands of “Williams” there are who are impacted by what’s going on in our nation’s too academic kindergartens –and who may not have families able advocate for them.
We want to let you know about an exciting project that has just been completed. DEY has collaborated with United Opt Out to produce a fantastic new resource – A Guide for Parents: Advocating for Your Child in the Early Years.
United Opt Out is a nonprofit registered in Florida. It is a group of parents, educators, students and social activists who are dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education. The guide we collaborated on is part of their “Back-to-School Protest Pack” and is specifically geared to parents of young children who are just entering the public school system.
The guide includes many ideas for what parents can do to advocate for their child in the midst of our current testing mania. Click here to see the guide. Please share it far and wide!
Many early childhood teachers across the nation are gearing up for the new school year just a few weeks away (even sooner in some parts of the country!). If you are looking for inspiration, there is a great book by Patricia M. Cooper called The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
Vivian Paley is arguably the best known early childhood educator alive today. The quintessential observer of children, she is reflective and prolific. Paley has written over a dozen books reflecting on her journey as an educator and the craft of teaching young children. Here, Cooper takes a look at the work of Paley, and what we can learn from her experiences. Notably, Cooper also expertly describes the misguided shift in our country from early childhood education to early literacy education.
With The Classrooms All Young Children Need, Cooper inspires (or re-inspires) early childhood educators with what we know is good practice – capturing the stories of young children and bringing these stories to life in the classroom. Literacy begins with language, and imaginative play is where real learning takes place. This book reminds us that not only is it okay, it is in fact essential to stop and listen to young children at play; to take time to observe them closely; to ask questions to extend their thinking. In the current climate of education reform pushing direct instruction at younger and younger ages, The Classrooms All Young Children Need is like oxygen to the suffocating early childhood educator.
This morning, Valerie Strauss posted a DEY op ed on her education blog “The Answer Sheet” at The Washington Post. Our op ed, The disturbing shift underway in early childhood classrooms, takes a close look at the results of our survey of Pre-K to 3rd grade teachers. We are hoping to help spread the word about current education policies and how they are having a negative impact on young children and the teachers who work with them. Please take a few minutes to read the op ed, and then share it far and wide. Thank you!
“The data from this online survey of early childhood educators reveals that teachers of young children in general do not feel that current education policy mandates are benefiting children. Public school teachers expressed concerns in greater numbers than did private school teachers, whose programs are not dependent on federal and state funds that mandate standards, testing, and accountability.”
To read the entire op ed click here.
In the midst of current education policies that are harmful to young children, Susan Ohanian is a champion of young children, teachers, and developmentally appropriate education. You may remember she wrote What Happened to Recess and Why are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten in 2002. During the past decade, education policies have increased the testing and decreased the play in young children’s lives. Still, Ohanian fights on. Here, at the Edu4 conference, she brilliantly sums up the current state of early education and helps unpack how we’ve gotten here.
We urge you to view Ohanian’s video – along with a collection of other inspiring and provocative videos – on the Reclaiming the Conversation on Education website. From their website:
On May 4, 2013, teachers, parents, students, scholars, and administrators gathered together at Barnard College in the city of New York to work toward the common goal of reclaiming the conversation on education. In the one day conference, they shared their experiences with educational “reforms”, imagined equitable and sustainable alternatives, built coalitions and supported resistance to the standardization, privatization and corporate take-over of education. These series of video interviews tell the story of the educators, scholars, leaders, parents, and activists in their fight for education reform. Watch, and join us in continuing the conversation.
Diane Ravitch posted this letter on her blog…and is hoping it goes viral. This powerful letter is written by Paul Horton, a history teacher. And we share Ravitch’s and Horton words here to help spread the word. Here is the full text of Horton’s original letter.
From Ravitch’s blog…
Horton asked whether the senator was aware of the corporate influence on Race to the Top and the Common Core standards.
Horton told the senator that critics of these programs are not extremists:
“In fact…critics of the RTTT mandates and the CCS come from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. In the national education debate, the status quo agenda that is being pushed comes from the corporate middle of both parties that is backed by many of those who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the current economic “recovery” in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan (and Westchester County) and large foundations.”
Horton urges Senator Harkin to call Secretary Duncan to a hearing to testify under oath and answer the following questions:
“How many of your staffers have worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Who are they, and why did you hire them?
“What role did these staffers and Bill Gates have on the formulation of the RTTT mandates?
“How much classroom teaching experience do the principal authors of the RTTT mandates have, individually, and as a group?
“Why are these individuals qualified to make decisions about education policy?
“Were you, or anyone who works within the Department of Education in contact with any representative or lobbyist representing Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, or InBloom before or during the writing of the RTTT mandates?
“What is the Broad Foundation? What is your connection to the Broad Foundation? What education policies does the Broad Foundation support? How do these policies support public education? How do these policies support private education? What was the role of the Broad Foundation in the creation of the RTTT mandates?
“How many individuals associated with the Broad Foundation helped author the report, “Smart Options: Investing Recovery Funds for Student Success” that was published in April of 2009 and served as a blueprint for the RTTT mandates? How many representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation assisted in writing this report? What was their role in authoring this report? How many representatives of McKinsey Consulting participated in authoring this report? What was David Coleman’s role in authoring this report?
“Do you know David Coleman? Have you ever had any conversations with David Coleman? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with David Coleman? Did anyone within the Department of Education have any connection to any of the authors of the Common Core Standards? Did anyone in your Department have any conversations with any of the authors of the Common Core Standards as they were being written?
“Have you ever had any conversations with representatives or lobbyists who represent the Walton Family Foundation? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with the Walton Family Foundation or lobbyists representing the Walton Family Foundation? If so, what was the substance of those conversations?
“Do you know Michelle Rhee? If so, could you describe your relationship with Michelle Rhee? Have you, or anyone working within the Department of Education, had any conversations with Students First, Rhee’s advocacy group, about the dispersal foundation funds for candidates in local and state school board elections?
“This is just a start. Public concerns about possible collusion between the Department of Education and education corporations could be addressed with a few straightforward answers to these and other questions.
“Every parent, student, and teacher in the country is concerned about the influence of corporate vendors on education policy. What is represented as an extreme movement by our Education Secretary can be more accurately described as a consumer revolt against shoddy products produced by an education vendor biopoly (Pearson and McGraw Hill). Because these two vendors have redefined the education marketplace to meet the requirements of RTTT, they both need to be required to write competitive impact statements for the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice.”
This is an extraordinary letter. Please read it. Send it to your friends. Send it to everyone on your email list. tweet it. These are questions that should be answered by the Secretary, under oath, in public hearings.
American education is being radically reconstituted and centralized, with little or no democratic deliberation. The public hears bland assurances about “high standards for all,” “college and career readiness for all,” and other unproven claims and assertions about sweeping changes that have not been subject to trial or open debate or careful review.
Horton asks tough questions. The American public deserves real answers–not flowery rhetoric– about who made the decisions to reconstruct the nation’s education system, with what evidence, and for whose benefit.
On Thursday evening, many educators gathered in Cambridge, MA to honor Jonathan Kozol as he received the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award. The event was sponsored by our colleagues at FairTest – the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Monty Neil, FairTest Executive Director, welcomed us to the event with an uplifting account of the ground swell of protests to high-stakes testing that have emerged this school year – and especially this spring. The movement continues to be “embryonic”, though it does feel as though parents, teachers and students across the country have begun to find their collective voice of resistance. Chicago Public Schools cancelled a district-mandated assessment for their youngest students last month – this followed quickly on the heels of the “Play-In” protest a CPS headquarters and a boycott of the state-mandated Prairie Achievement Exam by high school students. These parents, students and teachers who are standing up, boycotting, rallying and protesting are also heroes in education.
On a related note, educators in New York are gearing up for a Rally for Public Education in Albany on June 8th. They’ve asked us to spread the word. Below, see a Top Ten list of reasons for attending the rally – as well as a YouTube video to help spread the word.
TOP TEN reasons to March on Albany in the Rally for Public Education:
10. You have realized public education is being hi-jacked by for profit organizations.
9. You are tired of reading about how ineffective you are at your own profession by people who know nothing about education.
8. You believe high stakes testing is out of control in NY.
7. You believe you have not had enough time to learn the Common Core yourself, let alone have your students tested on it!
6. You believe your students’ personal information, including their state assessment results and their IEPs and other personal data should be kept confidential.
5. You believe your effectiveness rating should be kept confidential, and don’t want a link on the district web page to this information or directions given to get this information.
4. You believe that NYS should report to the public the amount of tax payer money spent on developing, administering, grading and reviewing state assessments.
3. The word PEARSON makes your skin crawl.
2. You work in Averill Park (Insert your own school district.)and have lost about a quarter of your faculty due to unfair state budget cuts!
AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON….
1. You are a caring professional who wants the BEST public education for your own students, children, and grandchildren and you know this isn’t it!
Michelle Smead, Averill Park Teachers’ Association
Here at DEY we hope that you do not miss Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige’s Tedx Talk from the Calhoun School in New York City. Carlsson-Paige weaves stories from real children into her powerful talk as she illustrates the misguided direction of current education policies in our country.
Follow this link to the TEDx talk on YouTube:
“The difference between understanding concepts and reciting facts is very important for us to understand right now, because it captures the essence of what is happening in education today. There is a gross misunderstanding of what education is that has swept across the country.” -Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige