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!

Public Comments Sought for New Preschool Competition – deadline February 26th

What are your hopes, recommendations, fears and concerns about federally funded preschool? Earlier this month Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the Obama Administration plans to use “$250 million from the FY14 Consolidated Appropriations Act,  2014 (Public Law 113-76) for a major new competition to build, develop and expand high-quality preschool programs, working with local communities and with states across the country, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.”

The U.S. Department of Education is working with the Department of Health and Human Services on this initiative, which is different from the up and running The Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge.

The open comment time is a chance to give input – ideas, suggestions and comments towards this new grant competition. Here is a bulletin from the U.S. Department of Education with information about how/where/when to submit your comments.

Dr. Doris Fromberg, Professor of Education at Hofstra publically shared her thoughts last year about this time when President Obama made his State of the Union commitment to universal prekindergarten. Below we have re-posted Fromberg’s thoughts – to inspire and inform you as you formulate your comments for the new preschool competition:

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Applause is due for President Obama’s support of universal pre-kindergarten. Below are some thoughts about The Upsides; The Downside Cautions; and Possible Future Outlooks.

The Upside:  There is research to support the cost-benefit to society of fine quality early childhood education, particularly for children from low-income homes.

During the past 40 years, different studies have found a $1.00 investment in fine quality early education yielding as high as a $16.00 cost-benefit return by reducing retention, school dropouts, improved high school graduation, less incarcerations, and improved employment histories.

The Upside: Children from low-income and immigrant families benefit significantly from pre-kindergarten/Head Start settings.

The Upside: There is research that finds kindergarten children attained higher test scores when their teachers were specifically state certified to teach early childhood education.

The Downside Caution: Early childhood teachers typically work with 100% of school principals and central school administrators who have had no required preparation to understand the distinctive ways in which pre-kindergarten and kindergarten learn.

In order to effectively supervise, support, and evaluate early childhood teachers, school administrators would need to understand how teachers can match early learning with a rich repertoire of teaching activities; classroom organization, scheduling, and equipping.

The Downside Caution: Federal funds in recent years have followed the path of the past 14 years of educational funding by focusing on testing and evaluation. Part of the impact has been an increase of teaching narrowly to the test and downright reporting fraud by frightened adults. The testing funds typically have categorized rather than qualitatively or quantitatively improved rich learning.

(If you have 15 minutes of curiosity, I invite you to view a TEDx talk on the economic impact of high-stakes testing when compared with fine quality early childhood education. Google: Doris Fromberg TEDx as well as  Lawrence Schweinhart TEDx).

The Downside Caution: Federal funds have found their way into massive overlays of administrative costs as well as testing costs.

The Downside Caution: More than 95% of kindergarten children attend public schools. Their teachers are required to have professional state certification. Barely 50% of children attend any pre-school programs, and their teachers often do not have specific preparation in how to match teaching with the conditions with which young children learn. There is a 45-55% turnover rate among non-public school early childhood staff members.

In 1993 Trellis Waxler stated that, if the federal government had invested modestly in college scholarships for Head Start teachers instead of isolated bits of uncoordinated staff development, there could have been less turnover, more stability, and stronger educational benefits to the young children.

Pre-kindergarten funding within states has streamed into non-public school settings which might or might not have professionally state certified teachers. Many of the settings drill children in unproductive ways and support the children’s alienation from school.

The Possible Future Outlook: Focus funds on supporting states to require professional state-certified preparation for all teachers, building level, and school district administrators who are responsible for the education of pre-kindergarten children. Professionals are able to assess young children through multiple means, sequence their learning experiences, and differentiate instruction effectively.

The Possible Future Outlook: Minimize administrative costs. Maximize relevant materials (other than tests), equipment, and require professional educators for the benefit of young children.

Fine quality professionally certified educators who can match teaching with the conditions with which young children learn are likely to support the society’s needs for STEM (Science-Technology Engineering, and Mathematics) professions. Moreover, young children who have a richly engaging early education have the potential to become productive adults and informed citizens.

Related References from Dr. Doris Pronin Fromberg:

  • Association of Teacher Educators and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1991). Early childhood teacher certification. Young Children 47, (l), 16-21.
  • Arnett, J. (1987). Caregivers in day care centers: Does training matter?Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 10, 541 – 552.
  • Bodrova,E.,& Leong, D.J. (2007). The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice-Hall.
  • Deal, T.E., & Peterson, K.D. (1991). The principals’ role in shaping school culture. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
  • Early Childhood Advisory Council & Council on Children and Families (2012). New York State early learning guidelines. Author.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (1992). Certification of early childhood teachers. In L.R. Williams & D.P. Fromberg (Eds.).The encyclopedia of early childhood education  (470 – 472). New York: Garland.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (2006).Kindergarten education and early childhood teacher education inthe United States: Status at the start of the twenty-first century. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 27(1) 65-85.
  • Fromberg, D.P. (2012). Kindergarten today: Is the match between high-states outputs and low-impact inputs cost-effective? TEDTalk. (You Tube)
  • Fromberg, D.P. (n.d.) A comparison of small-group compared with whole-group instruction in kindergarten. Unpublished study.
  • Howard, E., Howell, B., & Brainard, E. (1987). Handbook for conductingschool climate improvement projects. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
  • Jerrold, R.H. (2011). A comparison of early childhood linear-academic and nonlinear intellectual teaching methodologies. Doctoral dissertation. Cypress, CA: Touro University.
  • Lazar, I., Darlington, R., Murray, H., Royce, J., &Snipper, A. (1982). Lasting effects of early education: A report from the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 47, (2 – 3), 1-151.
  • McMahon, E.M., Egbert, R.L., & McCarthy, J. (1991). Early childhood education: State policy and practice. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
  • National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (1992). 38thannual guide to accredited education programs/units. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Reynolds, A.J.,Temple,  J.A., Robertson, D.L., & Mann, E.A. (2001). Long-term effects of an early childhood intervention on educational achievement and juvenile arrest. A 15-year follow-up of low-income children in public schools. Journal of the American Medical Association 285 (18), 2339-2346.
  • Ruopp, R., Travers, J., Glantz, F., &Coelen, C. (1979). Children at thecenter: Summary findings and their implications. Cambridge, MA: Abt.
  • Rust, F., O’C. (1993). Changing teaching, changing schools: Bringing earlychildhood practice into public education. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Schwartz, S.L., & Copeland, S.M. (2010). Connecting emergent curriculum and standards in early childhood education: Strengthening content and teaching practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Schweinhart, L.J., Koshel, J.J., & Bridgman, A., (1987). Policy optionsfor preschool programs. Phi Delta Kappan 68, 527.
  • Schweinhart, L.J., et al, (2005) Lifetime effects: The HighScope Perry preschool study through age 40. Monograph of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation No.14. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.
  • Schweinhart, L.J. (2012). The return on investment of high quality preschool. TED Talk. (You Tube).
  • Seplocha, H.,&Strasser, J.(2009). A snapshot of quality in kindergarten classrooms in low-income districts: Implications for policy and practice. Trenton: New Jersey Department of Education..
  • Smith, W.F., & Andrews, R.L. (1989). Instructional leadership: How principals make a difference. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Warger C. (Ed.). (1988). A resource guide to public school early childhood programs. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Stipek, D., Feiler, R., Daniels, D., & Milburn, S, (1995). Effects of different instructional approaches on young children’s achievement and motivation. Child Development 66, 209-233.

Many thanks to Dr. Doris Fromberg, Professor of Education, Hofstra University for sharing her insights. Now is the time to post your comments at Homeroom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. Now it is time to use your “teacher voice”! (or your “parent voice”, “your concerned citizen voice”, or whatever voice you have!)

Announcing our *new* Early Childhood Activist ToolKit

Today we are pleased to announce the launching of our Early Childhood Activist Toolkit. The ToolKit has both Informational Resources and Action Resources. It also includes information about our new Action Mini Grant Initiative!

We have heard from many of you who are working hard to keep developmentally appropriate teaching, learning and assessing in our early childhood classrooms. We prepared the ToolKit to assist you with your very important efforts. As we know, current education reform is often working against these goals.

Please visit our website and let us know what you think – your feedback is valuable. This ToolKit is a direct result of our sessions at NAEYC’s Annual Conference (National Association for the Education of Young Children) in November, and we have been working hard to answer your call.

The shaping of the ToolKit will be an ongoing process, and your input is key. If you have thoughts on other items to add, please let us know.

DEY’s Action Mini Grant Initiative
We are excited to offer a mini grant initiative to help foster your good work in your community as related to DEY’s three principle goals:

  • To mobilize the early childhood community to speak out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.
  • To track the effects of new standards, especially those linked to the Common Core State Standards, on early childhood education policy and practice.
  • To promote appropriate practices in early childhood classrooms and support educators in counteracting current reforms which undermine these appropriate practices.

We are offering grants from $200.00 to $500.00. We will begin accepting applications on a rolling basis beginning February 1, 2014. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and up to 20 awards will be granted (depending on grant sizes). Possible actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Hosting a parent information meeting
  • Organizing a Call Your Legislator Day
  • Spearheading a letter writing campaign to politicians
  • Organizing a “Play-In” at the local school board
  • Publicizing an “Opt Out” campaign
  • See our website for more ideas…

Early Learning: This is Not a Test – printed in today’s NY Times!

Nancy Carlsson-Paige has co-authored an important op-ed piece with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Early Learning: This is Not a Test speaks to our nation’s increased focus on early childhood education – and acknowledges that “what is being required of young children is unreasonable and developmentally unsound.”
Among other suggestions, Carlsson-Paige and Weingarten stress that we must “Address questions about the appropriateness and the implementation of the Common Core standards for young learners by convening a task force of early childhood and early elementary educators to review the standards and recommend developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive guidelines for supporting young children’s optimal learning.”

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.

Diane Levin writes – and testifies – in support of media literacy for young children

dianeEarlier 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.”

and

“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.”

Click here to read Levin’s entire blog post at The Huffington Post.

A Grandmother’s Story about the Impact of Today’s Kindergarten on One Little Boy

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.

Dowload our new resource for parents of young children!

A Guide for Parents: Advocating for Your Child in the Early Years

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Gearing up for the new school year – recommended reading

The Classrooms All Young Children NeedMany 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.

DEY op ed featured in Valerie Strauss’ blog today…

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.

Susan Ohanian speaks up for young children

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.