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 http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact; for the House, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/).

Send your letter to Congress using this link: http://www.fairtest.org/tell-congress-keep-federal-accountability-mandates

Defending Play with Nancy Carlsson-Paige

Bob Greenberg of Brainwaves Productions has interviewed many thought leaders in education: Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and more. This week he gave Nancy Carlsson-Paige the opportunity to add an early childhood perspective to these voices. Her talk is titled “Defending Play” and is available on YouTube. “Play is at the root of learning, ” Nancy explains. However…

“In this era of focus on testing and accountability, and emphasis on standards, we’ve seen this increasing pressure in the early grades in elementary schools, kindergartens and even preschools to get children up to speed to learn specific skills and sub skills that are identified by standards. This has led to much more teacher-led instruction and much less play in school and there is a dramatic disappearance of play across the country.” 

Testing in K: too much, too soon

Today’s blog post is written by a guest – Phyllis Doerr – a kindergarten teacher from South Orange, NJ. The original article was published in her local paper on July 2, 2015. We publish this updated version here with Doerr’s permission.

Testing in K: too much, too soon

Point of View

By Phyllis Doerr

As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.

As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.

In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum.  In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.

The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit.  Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.

My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.”  We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things?  “Different stuff.”  Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.

“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.

Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”

A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?”   “I don’t know.”

Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?”  At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.

After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.

The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.

Then came the real thing.  As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.

The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.”  I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.

Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.”  It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded.  I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

So this is kindergarten.

We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.

We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.

We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.

We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.

I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.

Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.

Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.

Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.

 

A Letter to Lucy Calkins from a weeping 2nd grade teacher

Today’s blog post is an open letter to Lucy Calkins written by Angie Sullivan, a second grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are helping to share her thoughts far and wide. Writer’s Workshop is one of the many tools that have shifted – and not for the better – under the Common Core State Standards. Does Angie’s experience strike a chord with you?

WritersWorkshop

I’m doing some homework.  I currently teach 2nd grade.  For a couple of decades I have taught grade levels K-2.

I love writer’s workshop. Used it throughout my career having learned about it initially as an undergraduate at BYU in 1987 – a realm of whole language at the time.  Writing was impressed on me as integral in reading literacy and I never forget the basics of that theory.

That said – and to the point – I view common core as a political manipulation.

It is very difficult for me to embrace it – since I consider it malpractice at the K-2 level. I use it because it is mandated but it would be difficult for me to even pretend that common core does anything but harm my at-risk language learners as applied in the state of Nevada. Scaffolding is not enough when there are not enough hours in the day and children need time to learn English.  I teach in spite of common core which is disjointed and bizarre.
There is one writing common core writing standard for Kindergarten students in Vegas – write a fact and opinion paper.
Yep.
And that is all.
Children who have never picked up a pencil have one global standard – write a paper.
I’m weeping as I read through these pages in your book up to 13 as you describe fine tuning your writer’s workshop research and somehow expressing a loving common core at the same time.
I’m having a very difficult time thinking something as beautiful, powerful, and developmentally appropriate as writer’s workshop works smoothly with the terribly inappropriate, developmentally gross common core.  I appreciate that this program is an attempt to try your best to fill in the holes with solid examples and sample lessons, but question why we would accept this as professional educators.
While common core meets the needs of a few – in my experience it ensures the failure of the many.
Bad standards – are still bad – as we try to spackle best practice in layers over the top of them.
So as I teach my kids to do – I will write you now through my tears and weep for the best practice writer’s workshop bundle that shoved into the cavernous hole that is K-2 common core writing.
What have I learned?  We are all victims of the monied lobbying that became standards for most every state.
Even the stalwarts of the finest practice like yourself.
And that makes me weep some more because I understand but it is still a travesty.
Angie Sullivan
2nd Grade Teacher
Las Vegas, Nevada.

Angie also sent us this –  When researchers have to put disclaimers like this right in their product – something is wrong:

WWexcerpt

Constance Kamii’s Critical Look at the K-3 Common Core State Standards for Math

KamiiCover5.15Today we release a new report, Selected Standards from the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Grades K-3: My Reasons for Not Supporting Them by Dr. Constance Kamii. In this report, Kamii shows that the Common Core math standards for grades K-3 are not grounded in the large body of research on how young children learn mathematics.  Dr. Kamii is a member of the DEY’s National Advisory Board and a leading scholar and researcher studying children’s understanding of mathematics.

Read a two-page summary of the report here.Summary

Dr. Kamii’s research and pedagogy have been the cornerstone of early childhood math education for decades. She starts with the theory that math is made up of mental, logico-mathematical relationships. While these relationships can’t be taught directly, teachers help children construct them when they encourage children to think as they engage in activities and interact with hands-on materials.  Dr. Kamii’s goal for math education is for children to become independent thinkers.

Dr. Kamii has worked for many years with early childhood teachers, experimenting with new ways of stimulating children’s independent thinking. She has described many kinds of specific activities. She has also conducted systematic research to assess how well children understand mathematical concepts as a result of doing these activities.  In the process, she has developed a solid sense of the kinds of mathematical concepts that children can be expected to construct at each grade.

In this report, Dr. Kamii explains that most of the CCSS are written as if the authors are not aware of logico-mathematical knowledge; they seem to think that the facts and skills in the mathematics standards can be taught directly.  Dr. Kamii goes on to explain why the CCSS are set at grade levels that are too early.  She selects specific standards for each grade from kindergarten to grade 3 and shows, based on her research, why young children cannot grasp the mathematical concepts these standards require.  Dr. Kamii’s explanations are thorough and grounded in child development research and understandings. They will give any interested reader a deep appreciation for the term “developmentally inappropriate.”

According to Dr. Kamii, in an effort to meet the standards, teachers will try to accelerate learning by directly teaching specific and too advanced concepts and skills. This, she explains, will result in empty “verbalisms” – children learning by rote what they don’t truly understand. Children will learn to accept answers on the basis of what teachers and books say and will lose confidence in their own ability to think for themselves.

LivelyMindsThe powerful ideas found in Dr. Kamii’s paper are echoed in the recent essay released by Defending the Early Years in April, 2015 called Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children by Dr. Lilian G. Katz (Katz, 2015). Dr. Katz is Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Dr. Katz is Past President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the first President of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children. She is an influential leader in the field of early childhood education.

In Dr. Katz’s paper, she explains the importance of intellectual goals for young children and contrasts them with academic goals. Intellectual goals and their related activities are those that address the life of the mind in its fullest sense – reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning – and include a range of aesthetic and moral sensibilities. Academic goals, on the other hand, involve mastery of small discrete elements of disembodied information designed to prepare children for the next levels of literacy and numeracy learning. Items designed to meet academic goals rely heavily on memorization and the application of formulae versus understanding. As Dr. Katz explains, intellectual dispositions may be weakened or even damaged by excessive and premature focus on academic goals.

In Dr. Kamii’s critique of the Common Core Math Standards, she shows how many of the standards further academic goals but not intellectual goals. Many of the standards she describes require children to master discrete bits of information and rely heavily on rote learning. For Dr. Kamii, genuine math learning engages children’s intellectual dispositions. In her opinion, the CCSS redirect education away from thinking and genuine meaning-making and focus it on more limited academic goals.

For both scholars, Dr. Katz and Dr. Kamii, an appropriate curriculum for young children is one that supports children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, their natural inclinations. In Selected Standards from the CCSS for Mathematics, Grades K-3: My reasons for not supporting them, Constance Kamii makes plain that most of the CCSS involve logico-mathematical knowledge and are therefore not directly teachable.  Dr. Kamii also maps out clearly in each of the examples why specific standards for the early grades are set at grade levels too early and are therefore developmentally inappropriate. She asks why the authors of the CCSS did not consider the large body of data available from research. And she concludes that any teacher of children in grades K-3 would easily understand that the standards are too hard for most children.

At Defending the Early Years, we are persuaded by the evidence from early childhood experts about the many failings in the CCSS for young children. We therefore call for removing kindergarten from the Common Core and for the convening of a task force of early childhood educators to recommend developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive guidelines for supporting young children’s optimal learning from birth to grade 3.

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.

Onward!

DEY endorses excellent, intentional literacy experiences in kindergarten

Reading Instruction in KindergartenToday’s post is written by DEY’s Senior Adviser Nancy Carlsson-Paige. She just posted the comment below on Diane Ravitch’s blog, to help clarify our message in the report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Much to Lose and Little to Gain.

When we issued our report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten, we had a concern that our main message might be misunderstood.  That message is that research does not support the Common Core requirement that all children must read with purpose and understanding by the end of the kindergarten year.  But we did not want this message to be interpreted to mean that children should just play in kindergarten and that maturity would take care of skill development.  We want to make clear that we do support providing children with an excellent, intentional early literacy curriculum.  For this reason, we included two sections in our report that specifically describe what such a curriculum should look like.  However, it seems, based on the blog comments by Bill Honig, that the full message of our report has been misunderstood, despite our efforts.

First and most important, Mr. Honig states that we should teach foundation skills for reading in kindergarten and we entirely agree.  But building foundation skills and expecting children to read with purpose and understanding are not the same thing.

Children build a strong base for learning to read and write in kindergarten through the many activities good teachers present.  In addition to oral language experiences such as story telling and story acting, and opportunities for using symbols with a variety of materials, teachers provide myriad opportunities for specifically engaging children with print. Teachers read big books, poems and charts using pointers and props that isolate letters.  Children are encouraged every day to draw and write with invented and conventional spellings.  Teachers take dictation from children and help them write their own stories. In organic and meaningful ways, teachers use print throughout the day to label block structures, cubbies, and interest areas, write recipes, and transcribe the children’s stories.  They make charts for attendance and classroom jobs and review these daily with children.  Teachers understand the developmental progressions in early reading and writing and encourage skill development based on each child’s level of mastery.  This ensures that the skills children learn develop a solid and meaningful foundation for making sense of print.

The Common Core standard requiring children to read in kindergarten has resulted in an erosion of excellent early literacy experiences such as those just described.  Many kindergarten teachers are now resorting to inappropriate didactic methods of instruction in order to meet the requirement of this Common Core standard.  Every contributor to the discussion on this blog shares the same goal: to ensure that every young child learn to read and achieve success in school.  Our grave concern is that the Common Core standards for kindergarten are harming and not helping us reach this goal.