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!

Opting out of high-stakes testing in Massachusetts

Massachusetts public school parent Ricardo D. Rosa has publicly opted his child out of high-stakes testing. His letter to the New Bedford school board and superintendent has been posted by Valerie Strauss in her blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. Rosa’s letter may inspire others to join him in opting out. Here is a snippet:

“…our continuous focus on scoring well evades more important public dialogue about funding inequities and the root cause of educational disengagement – poverty. Allowing testing corporations to continue reaping billions of dollars in profit from public education only exacerbates the problem. Any administrator, school committee member, or school functionary still standing before students, teachers, and families touting the virtues of high-stakes testing should be ashamed. And, if you know that it’s wrong but remain silent, you’re complicit in educational malpractice.

“Furthermore, subjecting English Language Learners to the MCAS and the PARCC after only having been in the country for one year is immoral. Emergent bilingual students are 9 times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers. These tests are part of the problem. In addition, a high percentage of students with disabilities are not meeting graduation requirements as a result of these tests.”

Rosa encourages everyone to “read the Massachusetts Statement Against High-Stakes Testing  endorsed by countless professors in the state, myself included. As MCAS is imposed on our schools next week and the rest of the school year, I encourage parents to write letters opting students out and requesting an in-school alternative to high-stakes testing. If we’re truly interested in ending bullying in schools, let’s end the bullying of high stakes testing. If families really have a ‘choice,’ they must be allowed to exercise the choice to opt-out.”

We urge you to read the entire letter here.

Rosa invites parents to join him for a forum and community dialogue on high-stakes testing and opting-out at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9 at Whaling National Historical Park Museum, 33 Williams St., New Bedford, MA. And he invites you to join the S.E. MA and RI Coalition to Save Our Schools to continue the dialogue and organization to reclaim public education in the interest of all families.

For more information you can write to ricardorosa1973@yahoo.com or cheoso@verizon.net or visit Facebook.com/SouthEastMARIOptOut.

Support the ISAT Boycott in Chicago!

My head is spinning after two incredible days at the Network for Public Education national conference. It was their first conference – and plans are already forming for the next one. This gathering of education activists from around the country was inspirational and energizing.

We met folks who have had incredible successes – such as the Providence Student Union’s campaign to remove the requirement for passing the NECAP test for graduation in Rhode Island and TAMSA’s successful reduction of high school high-stakes testing from 15 to 5 exams in Texas.

We also met folks who are deep in the struggle right now. In Chicago Public Schools the teachers at two elementary schools have joined together to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). You can read more about what is happening in blog posts by CPS first grade teacher Michelle Gunderson here and here. Gunderson writes, “Educators and parents in Chicago joined forces this week to boycott the ISAT at two schools, Maria Saucedo Elementary School and Drummond Montessori. There are also over 1,000 parents at 37 other Chicago schools who requested to opt their child out of ISAT. They are supported in their decision by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE).”

The teachers have the support of President of the Chigaco Teachers Union Karen Lewis and AFT President Randi Weingarten – who were both at the NPE conference and have publicly stood up for the teachers in Chicago. The teachers also have the support of many parents. The school district has threatened to revoke teacher licenses (which they have no authority to do).

At DEY we encourage you to show your solidarity for this act of civil disobedience with the boycotting teachers in Chicago by signing their petition at Moveon.org. The petition states:

  • We support the teachers who refuse to administer and the parents who opt their students out from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
  • We call on Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education not to give the ISAT test this year.
  • There should be no retaliation by the Chicago Board of Education against the parents, students and teachers who have taken action to improve students’ education.

NPE Conference will livestream from Austin, TX this weekend!

NPElogoNPEconferenceThis Saturday and Sunday (March 1st and 2nd) hundreds of teachers, parents, students and activists will gather in Austin, Texas for the first-ever conference by the Network for Public Education. The Network for Public Education, founded by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody, is “an advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society. Our mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools and the education of current and future generations of students.” (quoted from the NPE website)

This national event will be an amazing opportunity to hear and learn from activists from around the country. Registration is full, however the keynote addresses and select panels/workshops will be livestreamed!  Livestreamed sessions will include Deborah Meier (DEY National Advisory Board member) and Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin (DEY Director). You can also follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag #npeconference.

The conference will begin at 8:30 am Austin time, which is 9:30 am Eastern. NPE hopes to livestream from the start, but some portions of the conference may be delayed, because of their location.

These are the sessions NPE plans to livestream:

Saturday, Mar. 1

1. 9:15 to 10:30 am
Educators Organizing Resistance: Deb Meier, Jesse Hagopian, Karen Lewis, Katie Osgood and Bob Peterson.

2. 10:45 am to 12:00 pm
Student Organizing: Moderator: Jose Vilson; Panelists: Hannah Nguyen, Israel Munoz, Stephanie Rivera, Bryan Varela, Mayra Mostafa

3. 1:00 to 2:15 pm: Keynotes by John Kuhn and Karen Lewis

4. 2:30 to 3:45 pm: Research and Activism: Moderator: Julian Vasquez Heilig; Panelists: Kevin Welner, Tina Trujillo, Kevin Foster, Sonya Horford

5. 4:00 to 5:15 pm: Opting Out
Panelists: Peggy Robertson, Jesse Hagopian, Dora Taylor

Sunday, Mar. 2

1. 9:00 to 10:30 am:  Common Core Panel:  Paul Horton, Geralyn McLaughlin, Mercedes Schneider, Jose Luis Vilson, Randi Weingarten

2. 10:30 am to Noon: Keynote by Diane Ravitch.

3. 1:00 to 2:15 pm:  TFA
Moderator: Julian Vasquez Heilig; Panelists: Sarah Ishmael, Kerry Kretchmar, Camika Royal, Beth Sondel, Chad Sommer

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:

———-

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!)

Beverly Falk’s words of wisdom: “Kindergarten should teach the way young children learn”

Last week on the Inside School Research blog at Education Week, Holly Yettick posted the article Study Finds That Kindergarten is Too Easy. Yettick writes: “Kindergarten might be the new 1st grade but it is still too easy. A forthcoming study in the peer-refereed American Educational Research Journal finds that students make bigger gains in reading and math when they learn more advanced content such as adding numbers and matching letters to sounds.”  

Not everyone agrees. Here at DEY, we want to highlight a response to the article that was posted by Beverly Falk, Professor of Early Childhood Education at The City College of New York:

“This study, as reported on in this article, seems to ignore the explosion of research coming from neuroscience, developmental psychology, and education about the importance of supporting the development of the whole child – social, emotional, physical development as well as cognitive development – in the early childhood years. Kindergarten is already suffering from the push-down of academics at the expense of active learning and play-based experiences that research confirms is the most appropriate and effective way that young children learn not only academics, but also what are critically important foundations of learning – self-regulation and the dispositions to learn.

“Knowledge of child development and from the practice-based research of teaching young children strongly supports the notion that the best way to prepare young children for optimal development and the ability to handle rigorous academic content is to provide them with rich opportunities to engage their minds, investigate, explore, problem-pose, and problem-solve and have experiences with rich literature, block play, dramatic play, sand/water play, trips, cooking, science investigations, and interdisciplinary projects. Strong social connections/relationships with caring adults and explicit and intentional teaching in the context of such activities is what supports children’s academic growth. Even studies from the field of economics ( James Heckman’s 2013 study of the factors that contributed to the success of attendees of quality early childhood programs) point to the emphasis on social-emotional development (not academic content) as the most meaningful influence on the children who have attained life success as a result of attending a high quality early childhood program.

“Kindergarten should teach the way young children learn – in the context of warm, caring relationships that take into consideration children’s developmental readiness, the riches of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and the muti-modal, active nature of young children’s learning. Didactic instruction, rote memorization, worksheets and other paper pencil activities, as well as the use of formal standardized tests do not belong in kindergarten. The primary “work” of kindergarten age children (their developmental tasks) are to make sense of the world through play and active learning. This approach to learning will lay the foundations of understanding, motivation to learn, and self-efficacy that lead to later academic success.”

Setting Children up to Hate Reading – guest post by Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey is a former special education teacher and principal from Tennessee who is committed to getting education reform on the right track. She is the author of Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students. Nancy has agreed to share her latest blog post, Setting Children Up to Hate Reading, which appeared yesterday on her own website. Here, Nancy describes how the current push for reading in kindergarten is actually harmful to many children. In the face of this, Nancy’s arguments presented here can help parents and early childhood educators defend good practice and the type of teaching that we know is best for young children.

Setting Children up to Hate Reading

alphabet-letters-300x221Any educator or parent who understands the beauty of reading and the importance of helping a child learn to do it right was appalled to read two recent articles about the subject. Both should make all of us concerned that children are being set up to hate reading. They are being pushed to read earlier than ever before!

Consider the February 1, 2014, headlines of The Oregonian: “Too Many Oregon Students Unready for Kindergarten State Officials Lament.”

What is the crisis?

  •  “The typical Oregon kindergartner arrived at school last fall knowing only 19 capital and lower-case letters and just seven letter sounds out of at least 100 possible correct answers, the state reported Friday.”
  • “They also were shown a page with 110 letter sounds on it. The average kindergartner could pronounce just 6.7.”
  • “Gov. John Kitzhaber, in prepared remarks, called the results ‘sobering’”…
  • “‘Things have changed in terms of what is expected when students start kindergarten,’ said Jada Rupley, Oregon’s early learning system director. ‘We would hope they would know most of their letters and many of their sounds.’”

http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2014/02/too_many_oregon_students_unrea.html

Politicians, venture philanthropists, and even the President, make early learning into an emergency. What’s a poor kindergartener or preschooler to do when they must carry the weight of the nation on their backs—when every letter and pronunciation is scrutinized like never before?

Unfortunately, many kindergarten teachers have bought into this harmful message. Many have thrown out their play kitchens, blocks, napping rugs, and doll houses believing it is critical that children should learn to read in kindergarten!

A new study through the University of Virginia has determined that kindergarten is the new first grade! The study, by Bassok and Rorem, from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, “used two large nationally representative datasets to track changes in kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2006.” They found “that in 1998, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers indicated that most children should learn to read while in kindergarten. By 2006, 65 percent of teachers agreed with this statement. To accommodate this new reality, classroom time spent on literacy rose by 25 percent, from roughly 5.5 to seven hours per week.”

http://news.virginia.edu/content/uva-researchers-find-kindergarten-new-first-grade.

What’s wrong with these high-stress pictures?

There is a mistaken idea of what young children should be able to do—what is age-appropriate. Here’s a list of what “typical” children know upon entering kindergarten, from the National Center for Education Statistics report Entering Kindergarten: Findings from the Condition of Education 2000:

  • Sixty-six percent of children entering kindergarten recognize letters in the alphabet.
  • Sixty-one percent of children entering kindergarten know you read left to right.
  • Many kindergartners do not yet possess early reading skills.
  • Children might not point to letters representing sounds.
  • New kindergartners might not be able to read basic words by sight yet.
  • Only 1 in 50 actually read basic and complex words entering kindergarten.

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/2001035.pdf

Note this is what occurs but isn’t what young children should necessarily be doing when it comes to reading.

Don’t believe me? Pick up any book about normal reading development and you will find that young children progress when they are ready—at their own pace.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes the critical factor as to how a student will learn to read “is not how aggressively,” the child is given instruction, but rather their “own enthusiasm for learning.” They also state that many early learning programs “interfere with the child’s natural enthusiasm” by imposing on children to “concentrate on tasks” when they aren’t ready.

Why are young children being made to learn at a faster rate? Why is there this mistaken notion that children’s brains have somehow evolved to a higher level where they are supposed to read earlier and earlier?

All of this emergency talk has filtered into America’s classrooms. That’s why kindergarten teachers now believe all children must learn how to read in kindergarten. Having worked for years with reading and language problems in middle and high school students, I can tell you these new reading requirements for young children are terribly worrisome—even dangerous.

Many children will not be ready—not because they’re slow, not because they have learning disabilities, but because they’re normal and moving along at their own pace! The door should be opened to them in kindergarten and beyond to learn how to read in a relaxed manner. Even when a child has difficulty learning to read (dyslexia for example), you don’t attack the problem by pushing the child to read beyond what is considered normal.

When kindergarten teachers expect every kindergartner to focus on reading and learn it at that age, it opens the door for all kinds of problems. Here are a few:

  1. No Joy in Reading. Children learn to hate reading. When you assess children too early, currently done in kindergarten with Response to Intervention testing like DIBELS, children learn reading is a chore. It becomes something serious—even fearful for a young child.
  2. Vocabulary Emphasis.  Most memorization is boring. When teachers focus on vocabulary acquisition and word recognition, young children lose interest in the stories. Curiosity is squelched. Some sight word instruction is fine, of course, but focusing so much and tracking every word as a data point is obsessive.
  3. Self-Fulfilling Prophesy. If a kindergartener is not reading yet (normal), but they are treated like they have a problem, they really could develop a problem.
  4. Loss of Cognitive Ability/Play. Heavily focusing on reading, at the expense of other important kindergarten tasks, like play, destroys critical aspects of learning. Without play, children lose the ability to think about things on their own. How does this toy work? How do I put the blocks together to build a house? What can I create on my own?
  5. Loss of Self-Worth. It is fine for some children to show up reading in kindergarten, but children who are not reading yet (perfectly normal) may lose the feeling of self-worth. They could also act out becoming a behavior problem. Adults, after all, never trusted them to learn some things on their own.
  6. Reading Ability Isn’t Everything. Kindergarten students who already read fluently might have other problems that are overlooked by the teacher. Or they become bored because they are given nothing new to learn.
  7. A Lack of Socialization. We know through research, like the study notes above, that socialization at this period of development is important, but with the total emphasis on learning to read at such a young age, socialization skills, including play, are pushed aside. Students miss out on developing relationships with other children. How will they get along later interacting with others as adults?
  8. Too Competitive. Children are taught at an early age that they must compete and win in order to receive approval. They don’t learn to care about others. They know some students read better or worse than they do. The emphasis is on reading not on the students and who they are.
  9. Disadvantaged Children. While some students from poor backgrounds may not have been exposed to books and a good reading environment early on, pushing them to read through assessment and drill could squelch their interest in reading forever.
  10. Research. Pushing children to read too soon defies past research by many recognized and well-regarded developmental psychologists and educators whose studies have stood the test of time.                     

While kindergarten is now the new 1st grade, in 10 more years will kindergarten be the next 2nd or 3rd grade? When will the current reformers be satisfied? When will they quit demeaning children and making them jump through inappropriate developmental hoops?

Enough is enough! Let children be children. Let them be their age. Bring back the joy of learning to read.

Citation

Shelov, Steven P. M.D. F.A.A.P. Editor-in Chief. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. The Complete and Authoritative Guide. (New York: Bantam, 1991) 348-349.

Looking back at “A Year at Mission Hill”

“What can the larger world of American education take away from one school’s experiences?”

A Year at Mission Hill was filmed by Tom and Amy Valens (of August to June fame) during the 2011-2012 school year. Mission Hill School is a progressive public school in Boston serving about 200 students. This series, which includes 10 chapters, brings the viewer inside the school to meet teachers, students, families and community members. Most of all, it helps us to remember what is possible in public schools. Each chapter comes with a wealth of resources under the categories of “Watch”, “Read, “Listen” and “Do”.

A Year at Mission Hill was produced by Sam Chaltain with support from Ashoka, IDEA, and the NoVo Foundation.  The series website describes it this way: “Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.”

Here is more on A Year at Mission Hill from the Start Empathy website:

The first chapter of the film was released on January 31, 2013 simultaneously by dozens of partner organizations – networks, youth programs, foundations, journals, non-profit organizations, and schools – all committed to the need for a new story about education to emerge. This new story shows what is possible when a committed group of educators, young people, and parents come together to build a powerful educational community rooted in engagement, justice, and collaboration. And this new story is not confined to Mission Hill. It’s happening in schools and communities around the country (and around the world).

Starting with that release in January, each new chapter was shared every two weeks until the 10th and final episode aired on June 6th. As of today, there have been over 350,000 views of the Mission Hill film and accompanying resources, including 40,000 views of the film chapters on YouTube, an estimated 100,000 additional views through public and private screenings, and 200,000 views of the amazing Year at Mission Hill Prezi (be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet!).

The film series has sparked public conversation far and wide in schools and communities, among educators and parents and policy-makers, and across social media on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. And now the film-makers Amy and Tom Valens are hard at work adapting the footage to an hour-long documentary titled Good Morning Mission Hill.

Here at DEY our connection to A Year at Mission Hill runs deep. Mission Hill School’s founding principal, Deborah Meier, is on our National Board of Advisers. The current principal, Ayla Gavins, is also on our National Board of Advisers. I am the director of DEY and also a founding teacher (and current preschool teacher) at Mission Hill School. As I watch these videos again, and then review the vast wealth of resources connected with each chapter, I am reminded how strong our movement is and I  am energized to stay in the fight to defend public education. I urge you to view these videos and share them in your community – and help change the national education conversation.

Top tips for activists

Today’s guest blogger is Karel Kilimnik. Karel is a recently retired early childhood teacher in Philadelphia, PA. Karel has spent her life working with young children and their families in some capacity. She earned her early childhood degree at Temple University and began working at the School District of Philadelphia where she found a home learning and teaching for over 20 years. Karel was active in the union and had a firm commitment to infusing everything with a sense of social justice and peace. When she retired a mere four years ago Karel became a full time education activist working to save public education. Karel says: “Every day I woke up to find something else evil being announced as private interests seek to take over public education from closing 32 schools to outsourcing almost 2,000 Head Start placements, to laying off all school counselors. I co-founded an activist organization, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) with another retired teacher. We have been relentless in following the money in Philadelphia. Decisions are getting made behind closed doors with little pretense of involving the public. These decision makers are the only ones with any money to spend as the governor of Pennsylvania has stripped $1 billion dollars from the state K-12 education budget during his first years in office (as he somehow found $400 million to put into building a new prison right outside of Philadelphia).  Corporate interests masking themselves as philanthropic entities are helping themselves to our public schools and seeking to destroy public education. We must organize ourselves to fight back.”

At our session for early childhood activists at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in November, Karel shared her top tips for activists. We asked Karel for permission to share her tips here:

Tips for Activists

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

  1. Find like-minded people
  2. Food always helps people connect so bring in muffins or cookies.  Have tea & coffee readily available
  3. Do something fun together. Go see a movie or to a concert or an art exhibit.
  4. Put one foot in front of the other – take small steps and always, always celebrate your wins no matter how small they may seem.
  5. Do your research so that you are prepared.
  6. Support each other. Kindness begets more of the same.
  7. Be persistent. Do not give up. Oftentimes your opponents will respect you for your integrity and persistence even if you are always opposing them. Do not mistake attempts to subvert you for respect – a fine line to walk.
  8. Be positive. Look at what is possible. For this you need to know what you believe in.
  9. Talk with people. Collect business cards. Talk with the reporters who cover education.  They may come to see you as a reliable source of information.
  10. Change the conversation. For example, instead of their talk about high performing schools, change it to, “Every school a great school.” Instead of choice always meaning a charter school, change it to choice meaning good neighborhood schools. Act like a toddler and repeat this over and over and over again.

Thanks to Karel for sharing her strategies! To learn more, check out Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools on Facebook. You can also view a powerful video. Activists and the Media Mobilizing Project TV in Philadelphia, PA have produced the video Our Schools Are Not For Sale. “This is the story of Philadelphia’s teachers, parents, students, and communities who are fighting for public schools that are well-resourced, high-quality and available to all. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs.”

A tough critique of Teaching Strategies GOLD

Here is another excellent example of a teacher pushing back against corporate ed reform! Please check out the blog “Peg with Pen” – written by Peg Robinson, an early childhood teacher and activist in Colorado. In her post Do Not Go for the GOLD (Teaching Strategies GOLD) for Early Childhood Classrooms, Peg expertly describes all the problems around this newly-mandated assessment system: the thousands of minute data points she is required to enter in to the system; the uploading of personal information on each child that has the potential of being shared; the time and cost; the way GOLD transforms the teacher into a data manager; and more. Here are a few snippets, to get you started (and I urge you to read the post in its entirety):

“GOLD claims to assess the whole child for preschool and kindergarten on a developmental continuum starting at birth and ending at age five. It assesses Social-Emotional, Physical, Language, Cognitive, Literacy, Mathematics, Science & Technology, Social Studies, The Arts, and English Language Acquisition. Teaching Strategies GOLD offers lessons, opportunities for families to participate and much more. It will soon expand to include first through third grade. It is aligned with common core. It has been around since 1988. I want to state that it most likely was created with good intentions, however, it has morphed into something that screams corporate education reform.
 
GOLD is mandated to be used by all publicly funded preschools and kindergartens in Colorado. It is used in many other states as well, but my knowledge is based on Colorado, as my home state. Most Colorado districts are piloting it this year, and it will reach full implementation in the 2014-2015 school year.  Currently, it is paid for in part by a RTTT federal grant, but this money will run out shortly.”
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“GOLD is not ‘bad’ in the sense that it is assessing things it shouldn’t assess. Its danger, and the reason for parents to refuse it, lies in how it intrudes, erases, robs, and reshapes student learning, teacher instruction and the culture of public schools.
 
We must take into account the extreme detail of this system.  GOLD does not just share a number. It shares very detailed, very personal information about children. Now, some might say that the data is NOT being shared. That’s fine. But my response is this – when data is uploaded to a system it is guaranteed that it is uploaded in order to share it more easily with others. Much of the GOLD data is information that previously was shared privately with the parents and key adults within the individual school community.”
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To parents, Robertson writes:
“REFUSE the GOLD.  It will rob your child’s teacher and your child of precious time. Even if your child’s teacher enters GOLD data when your child is not at school, it has stilled robbed your child of what his/her teacher would have done with that planning time previous to serving as a data manager for the corporations.  Finally, protect your child’s privacy. Your child is now a data generator and your child’s teacher is a data manager – refuse GOLD and they can relinquish those roles.
 
I am not a data manager. I am a teacher. I am an excellent kindergarten teacher. And I will not be subjected to such insanity involving thousands of data points coupled with detailed information about students – all housed online to benefit the corporate regime we now have in place.
 
I don’t trust the GOLD. At first glance, it appears innocent. I am sure that many involved in GOLD have very good intentions – I have no doubt about that. In reality, GOLD is the future of public education in which teacher as data manager will gather detailed information about children and dutifully upload all of it to serve the corporations. I fear for our children and how this information will follow them through out their lives while narrowing and controlling their learning opportunities and eventually their careers as adults. GOLD is one more piece which lends itself to the destruction of our democracy while appearing to support learners and teachers.”
Robertson also has drafted a letter for parents who want to opt out of the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment system. Check out the template for the opt out letter here. Are you required to use the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment? How are you dealing with it?