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!

Tell Congress: Keep Federal Accountability Mandates Out of a New Education Law

The following message from our allies at FairTest is a critical one:

Now is the time to make sure a new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the best possible replacement of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) that we can win at this time.

The House and Senate conference committee to reconcile their respective versions of ESEA will begin work soon. A new law that ends federally mandated accountability will be an important step forward, even though neither house reduced the test-every-kid-every-year mandate.
There’s still a real danger that diehard test-and-punish proponents could insert destructive “NCLB-lite” accountability provisions into the compromise bill. We need to stop that threat in its tracks! At the same time, we need to protect the right to opt out and encourage better assessments. Your letter will help ensure victory on these critical issues.

Send this letter or call or fax your Senators and Representative today. (For Senate phone and fax numbers, go to; for the House, go to

Send your letter to Congress using this link:

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!




The Incredible NPE Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


First Grade Teacher Speaks Out Against CCSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEY’s Director Responds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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