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)

Concerned About the Upcoming PARCC tests? Read on!

no-parccing1The upcoming PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career published by Pearson) have raised the concern of teachers and parents nationwide. Below is a public letter written by Blakely Bundy, a member of DEY’s National Advisory Board to other parents in her community. You can read more about PARCC from some well-respected educators and bloggers here, here and here. Thanks to Blakely Bundy for sharing this letter – which we hope inspires others to take action. Did you know that  Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka recently criticized PARCC  and publicly supported parents who choose to “opt out” of taking the PARCC! 


 

Feb. 4, 2015 Dear Winnetka Parents,

I am contacting you to express my deep concern about the upcoming PARCC test that will be given to all Winnetka 3rd through 8th graders this spring. The PARCC was created as a Common Core test by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Superintendent Trisha Kocanda eloquently expressed her concerns about the PARCC in the monthly Winnetka Wire, which was picked up by the national press. I echo these concerns, which include:

 Time:

  • Administration of the PARCC will take 13-14 hours.
  • The ISAT took no more than seven hours.

Impact on instruction:

  • With one test unit administered each day, students will be tested over a twoweek period, interrupting many instructional days.
  • Additional time—2-3 hours– allocated to familiarizing students with the online testing experience.
  • As the tests are taken in computer labs and resource centers, most regularly scheduled classes cannot take place for approximately six weeks.

 Stress:

  • The length of the test, the rigor, and the change of routine may cause stress and discomfort for many students.

As a long-time educator, a national advocate, a former Winnetka parent, and a current Winnetka grandparent, my additional concerns are listed below:

 “Guinea Pigs”

  • Our children are being treated as “guinea pigs.”
  • The PARCC was quickly rolled out, not allowing enough time to develop test logistics nor to verify its validity or reliability, yet schools, teachers, and children will be judged by its results.

 Keyboarding Skills

  • The online testing format is especially challenging for students who may not yet have the sophisticated keyboarding skills needed to complete the test.
  • The format is completely inappropriate for 3rd graders.

 Inappropriate questions

  • The questions tend to be intentionally tricky and convoluted. People with Ph.D.’s are finding some of them impossible to answer!
  • Children may feel anxious and inadequate.

 No diagnostic or instructional value

  • As parents, students, and teachers never see the test results, they have no diagnostic or instructional value.

 Lack of participation

  • Initially in 2010, there were 26 PARCC member states, but, since then, 17 states have pulled out as they discover the many downsides of the test.
  • Now, only 9 states—including Illinois—plus the District of Columbia remain. Why is Illinois still participating?

 Access to data

  • The PARCC was created by a private company that controls the extensive data collected from the tests – data about each and every child who takes it.
  • According to the website stopcommoncoreillinois.org, “The PARCC consortium will make the data, including identifiable records, available to a variety of federal government agencies and research firms. Student data privacy laws have been loosened to allow for this data sharing and parents will not be notified.”

What can you as a parent, do?

 The federal law mandates that schools must administer assessments, but not that children must take them. While there is no “opt out” provision in Illinois, children can refuse the test (but must do so each day the test is given).

  • Let your child’s teacher know that your child will be refusing.
  • Rally a group of children in your child’s class to say “no” together.

 Write, write, write – to your Congressman, Senators Kirk and Durbin, Governor Rauner, Secretary Duncan, and President Obama.

 Make your opinion known in letters to the editor, on Facebook, and on Twitter. As a concerned parent, I urge you to join the growing outcry–both in Winnetka and on the national scene–that the PARCC is wrong for our schools and wrong for our children.

Sincerely,

Blakely Bundy Executive Director Emeritus and Senior Advisor, The Alliance for Early Childhood; National Advisory Board Member, Defending the Early Years, http://www.deyproject.org

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.

NYS Parents Fight to Reclaim Student Education from Excessive Testing and Data Collection

Please see the exciting press release below. Here at DEY we are happy to help spread this news from  New York!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  September 17, 2014

More information contact:

Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123; nys.allies@gmail.com

Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; nysallies@gmail.com

NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) – www.nysape.org

 

NYS Parents Fight to Reclaim Student Education from Excessive Testing and Data Collection:

250,000 High-Stakes Test Boycotts Planned Statewide

Parents throughout the Empire State demand valuable student classroom learning time be returned to their children and that elected state and federal representatives rein in Education Departments obsessed with vast expansion of testing and unauthorized data collection.  New York parents have had enough and declare “No More!”

“In 2014 roughly 60,000 parents boycotted NYS testing.  We believe strongly in appropriate assessment of our children, but the high-stakes nature of testing and unauthorized data collection must stop.  Our children are subjected to a one-size-fits-all system that focuses more on test scores and data collection than on student learning and overall growth.  Parents are committed to a plan for 250,000 students to boycott NYS tests,” says Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County Public School parent and founding member of NYSAPE.

Accelerating dramatically over the past five years, public education is being stripped of quality student-centered learning in order to devote excessive time, money and focus on high-stakes tests that feed corporate and political interests.

NYS parents demand that U.S. Congress, New York State Legislators, and President Obama act immediately to do the following:

  1. Roll-Back Federal/State Annual Testing Requirements from 9 Hours to 3 Hours for Grades 3-8:  Evaluation of a third-grader’s test taking ability can readily be done with 90 minutes of tests in English and Math.  Requiring more testing is simply a mandate to drive profits for technology and data storage companies.
  2. Pass Student Data Privacy Legislation that Requires Parental Consent:  If elite private schools do not educate children through speculative collection of large volumes of student profile data into statewide and national databases shared with multiple government agencies, public school parents don’t want it either.
  3. Remove Student Test Scores From Teacher Evaluations:  There is no evidence that massive student testing and data collection does anything to improve student learning.  Student-score based teacher evaluations are merely a flawed attempt to make shoddy firing practices stand up in court while meaningful student learning time is discarded.
  4. Stop Assaulting Students with Special Needs:  The U.S. Department of Education must be put in its rightful place and stop bullying states into educational practices that are inflexible and do not allow states to address the needs of Special Education students in an appropriate and challenging way meeting their individual needs.
  5. Cease and Desist from All Punitive Actions Against Parent Test Refusals:  Schools should not be punished for supporting the fundamental right of parents to support their child’s education.

“Parent permissions slips are required for a school trip to the police station next door, yet the government collects personal data on children and shares it with private companies and other government agencies without a parent’s knowledge or sign off?  Collection of the most personal student data in national and statewide databases without Parental Consent is an affront to all Americans and our liberty.  Our representatives in Congress need to stand up for parents and strike back against government agencies far too cozy with business interests and profiteers,”   said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE.

“NYS Commissioner of Education John King’s failure to comply with the recent NYS privacy legislation passed in April is unacceptable. In August, NYSAPE along with Class Size Matters sent a letter (http://www.nysape.org/letter-to-king-and-regents-nysed-failed-to-implement-state-law.html) to the Commissioner, the Board of Regents, and elected officials demanding that the New York State Education Department comply with the law. John King’s casual and dismissive attitude towards the law in NY only reinforces the need for strict parental consent legislation,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent.

“Parent commitment to restoring quality education in our schools by removing the high-stakes nature of testing is never ending,” says Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out. “We won’t stop until our children’s education system returns to a focus on learning rather than test scores and data collection, and we have a plan to accomplish this.”

On its website, NYSAPE details actions that parents everywhere can participate in to help reach 250,000 boycotts.  These include:  1. Educating the public through continuous informational forums across New York State.  2. Coordinating regional parent liaisons in each school district across the state to lead parents in boycotts in that district.  3. Spreading the word through flyers, PTA groups, lawn signs, bumper stickers, book covers, and local events.

Chris Cerrone, Erie County public school parent, middle school educator, and Springville-Griffith Institute CSD Board Member, says, “We intend to reach out to both state and federal legislators through a tactical campaign.  While we already have many legislators supporting us, we have a plan to help parents across the New York State reach out to legislators specifically asking for their assistance in removing the destructive high-stakes nature of testing from our classrooms.  As state and federal legislators see a substantial increase in test refusals, they will be forced to act or be voted out.”

NYS Allies for Public Education consists of over 50 parent and educator advocacy groups across New York State.  More details about our education positions and advocacy can be found at www.nysape.org.

 

Are the Common Core State Standards failing our kids?

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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!