DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige receives Hero in Education Award from FairTest

This evening DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige was awarded the Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award by our colleagues at FairTest. We are deeply honored to share Nancy’s acceptance speech here:

Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb.  Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.


When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here.  So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf—all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.


It’s wonderful to see all of you here—so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all– not just some–of our children.


I have loved my life’s work– teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.


So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.


Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed.  We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively—they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public Pre-K at the age of four are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”


And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal–as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe.  Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners.  Or watch a 4-year old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.


But play is disappearing from classrooms.  Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”


I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers.  Stress levels are up among young kids.  Parents and teachers tell me:  children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school.  Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.


I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess—often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even Pre-K.  Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends.  They spend their first days getting tested.  Here are words from one mother as this school year began:


My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task.


By the time I picked her up, she did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.


The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this.   Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking—these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.


Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments.  Somehow the data gleaned from these tests is supposed to be more valid than a teacher’s own ability to observe children and understand their skills in the context of their whole development in the classroom.


The first time I saw for myself what was becoming of many of the nation’s early childhood classrooms was when I visited a program in a low income community in north Miami.  Most of the children were on free and reduced lunch.


There were ten classrooms–kindergarten and Pre-K.  The program’s funding depended on test scores, so—no surprise—teachers taught to the test.  Kids who got low scores, I was told, got extra drills in reading and math and didn’t get to go to art.  They used a computer program to teach 4 and 5 year olds how to Bubble.  One teacher complained to me that some children go outside the lines.


In one of the kindergartens I visited, the walls were barren and so was the whole room.  The teacher was testing one little boy at a computer at the side of the room.  There was no classroom aide.  The other children were sitting at tables copying words from the chalk board.  The words were:  “No talking.  Sit in your seat. Hands to Yourself.”

The teacher kept shouting at them from her testing corner:  Be quiet!  No talking!


Most of the children looked scared or disengaged, and one little boy was sitting alone.  He was quietly crying.  I will never forget how these children looked or how it felt to watch them, I would say, suffering in this context that was such a profound mismatch with their needs.


It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests.  Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning.  It’s poverty—the elephant in the room—that is the root cause of this disparity.


A few months ago, I was alarmed to read a report from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that more than 8,000 children from public preschools across the country were suspended at least once in a school year, many more than once. First of all, who suspends a preschooler?  Why and for what?  The very concept is bizarre and awful.  But 8,000?  And then to keep reading the report to see that a disproportionate number of those suspended preschoolers were low income, black boys.


There is a connection, I know, between these suspensions and ed reform policies: Children in low income communities are enduring play deficient classrooms where they get heavy doses of direct teaching and testing.  They have to sit still, be quiet in their seats and comply.  Many young children can’t do this and none should have to.


I came home from that visit to the classrooms in North Miami in despair.  But fortunately, the despair turned quickly to organizing.  With other educators we started our nonprofit Defending the Early Years.  We have terrific early childhood leaders with us (some are here tonight: Deb Meier, Geralyn McLaughlin, Diane Levin and Ayla Gavins).  We speak in a unified voice for young children.


We publish reports, write op eds, make videos and send them out on YouTube, we speak and do interviews every chance we get.


We’ve done it all on a shoestring.  It’s almost comical:  The Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million dollars just to promote the Common Core.  Our budget at Defending the Early Years is .006% of that.


We collaborate with other organizations.  FairTest has been so helpful to us. And we also collaborate with –Network for Public Education, United Opt Out, many parent groups, Citizens for Public Schools, Bad Ass Teachers, Busted Pencils Radio, Save Our Schools, Alliance for Childhood and ECE PolicyWorks —There’s a powerful network out there– of educators, parents and students—and we see the difference we are making.


We all share a common vision:  Education is a human right and every child deserves one.  An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful– with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate—actively and consciously–in this increasingly fragile democracy.

Geralyn McLaughlin, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Lani Guinier

Geralyn McLaughlin, Deborah Meier, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Lani Guinier








DEY at NAEYC’s Annual Conference

Thursday, November 19th from 3 – 4:30 pm at the Orange County Convention Center, Room W110B.  DEY will be hosting a session titled Cognitive Development and the Challenge of Common Core Standards at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. With the Common Core State Standards impacting many early childhood classrooms across the country, teachers are faced with the complicated task of meeting the needs of young learners who are challenged by the new expectations and the push-down of academics. This session will draw on the expertise of leaders in the field who will share their thinking around the math and literacy standards and how these relate to cognitive development theory and what we know about how young children learn. Diane Levin will be the facilitator and Lilian Katz, Constance Kamii and Joan Almon will be our presenters.
Dr. Denisha Jones will speak at DEY’s 3rd Annual Organizing Meeting for Early Childhood Activists
Vinetta C. Jones, Ph.D.Friday, November 20th from 6 – 7:30 pm in the Hilton Orlando Hotel, Lake Hart Room. Dr. Jones will share her expertise in organizing and advocating for young children. We will be hosting what promises to be an inspiring meeting! Download and share our flyer. Please RSVP to

Spanish Translations and Summer Reading Recommendations

Many thanks to our colleague and friend Ruth Rodriguez for helping us to begin our journey in translating DEY materials into Spanish! Our first piece LO QUE TODO PADRE DEBE SABER is now available on our website for downloading and sharing. This is a translation of “What Parents Need to Know: 6 Reasons to Reject the Common Core Standards for K – Grade 3.” And thanks to Blakely Bundy for the layout work! (translation was updated on 7/14/15)
Here are some suggestions for great summer reading…  Each of these books has a special connection to DEY, and we are thrilled to recommend them here:

Susan Ochshorn’s

“This remarkable book manages to pinpoint the critical issues in the care and education of young children with up-to-date research, and all of this in a pleasurable and lively style. This needs to be read widely, and right away.” – Deborah Meier

“Rae Pica understands children.  With her wisdom and insight, she helps us know how to do right by kids in a world full of conflicting pressures.  Thank you, Rae, for this valuable book.  We need it now more than ever!” 
– Nancy Carlsson-Paige
“In today’s world, it is easy for us to forget how important contact with nature is for children’s emotional and spiritual development. This profound and beautiful book reminds us and shows how contact with animals can foster children’s compassion and enlarge their humanity.” 
– John Robbins 
Play from Birth to Twelve: Contexts, Perspectives, and Meanings 3rd edition  Edited by Doris Pronin Fromberg & Doris Bergen. This book has chapters by Diane Levin, Constance Kamii and so many more…
In light of recent standards-based and testing movements, the issue of play in child development has taken on increased meaning for educational professionals and social scientists. This third edition of Play From Birth to Twelve offers comprehensive coverage of what we now know about play and its guiding principles, dynamics, and importance in early learning.” – Routledge website

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: What Will it Cost in the Long Haul?

Reading Instruction in KindergartenThe good news is, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose has been getting some positive attention. Our YouTube video outlining our new report has reached almost 30, 000 views. DEY co-authored this piece with the Alliance for Childhood. It has been written about in The Washington Post here, here and here. Our website has had more hits in the last few weeks than we had all last year.

We are thankful that word of our report is spreading – and beginning to make an impact on the current conversation. Below, is an excerpt from DEY’s Senior Adviser Diane Levin’s blog at the Huffington Post, as she reflects on the potential long-term costs of the current misguided focus on early reading instruction:



Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: What Will it Cost in the Long Haul?

“The young children in today’s early childhood classrooms deserve a chance to develop all of the skills necessary to succeed in school and in life. By focusing so narrowly on developmentally inappropriate academic skills, children are being deprived of the experiences they need to hone self-regulation skills, critical thinking skills, and the love of learning that will truly inspire them to work hard in school for the long haul.”

– Public School Teacher & Parent, Washington, DC

Every time I hear or think about the immediate impact of the mandated Common Core State Standards on the young children of today, I get deeply concerned. Last month, Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood released the report “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” which provides a research-based case for why teaching reading in kindergarten, as outlined by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), is inappropriate for young children. And it describes what a developmentally appropriate, play-based kindergarten that lays the foundations for learning to read looks like.

The kinds of issues raised in this report lead to me having a constant voice in my head asking and trying to answer a myriad of questions over and over again about where these misguided school reforms will lead our children, in both the short and the long term. I am also led to ask many questions about what the impact of the current mandates will be for teachers, families and the wider society in the long haul, if policymakers fail to heed a key recommendation of the “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten” report namely, to “withdraw kindergarten standards from the Common Core so that they can be rethought along developmental lines.”

Click here to read the full essay at the Huffington Post.

Countdown to NAEYC’s Annual Conference


DEY will be presenting and exhibiting at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in Dallas, TX on November 5-8th!  If you are attending, here are some sessions we recommend:

1. Defending the Early Years’ toolkit:  Resources to help you advocate for appropriate practices for young children.  Thursday, 11/6, 10:00 – 11:30 am, Omni Dallas Hotel

2.  Diane Levin’s Beyond Remote-Controlled Teaching & Learning: Reclaiming Early Education from Misguided Academic Mandates, Friday, 11/7, 3:00-4:30 pm, Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center

3. Play, Policy and Practice Panel: The Play Imperative: Why Do All Children Need to Play for Learning and for Success in School?  Friday, 11/7, 8:00-9:30 am, Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center, Room D166, with Jim Johnson, Susan Linn, Joan Almon and Diane Levin

4. DEY’s National Advisory Board Member Constance Kamii will also be presenting on Friday, 11/7, 3:00-4:30 pm at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Center, Room D162/164


And our 2nd Annual Organizing Meeting for Early Childhood Activists! 

Please join us!

During the NAEYC Conference we will be hosting our 2nd annual organizing meeting for early childhood activists on Friday, 11/7, 6:00-7:30 pm at the Aloft Dallas Hotel, 1033 Young Street.  Join some of DEY’s  National Advisory Board in a conversation as we hear about successful Action Mini-Grants and plan next steps.  Light refreshments will be served.  See attached flyer for details.

And…In the exhibit hall – find us at #333 in the booth we share with our friend Hugh Hanley and his Circle of Song. We will be sharing DEY resources for you to take home.

Looking forward to seeing many of you!

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:

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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 if you have thoughts about this and want to help us spread the word through the Parents Paper in your community. Thanks!

Advocating for Play at School and at Home

YC0514_CoverIn the current edition of Young Child, published by NAEYC, DEY’s Diane E. Levin offers the following advice to parents:

Memo to: All Families of Young Children

From: Diane E. Levin

Date: May 2014

Subject: Advocating for Play at School and at Home

Play is essential for children’s optimal development and learning.  Through play, children use what they already know to help them figure out new things, see how they work, and master skills.  As they do this, children add new social, emotional, and intellectual knowledge and skills to what they already know.  They experience the satisfaction that comes from working things out and solving problems on their own.  They think and sometimes say out loud, “I can do it!”  This is the kind of learning through play that prepares children to feel confident in themselves as learners who see new information and ideas as interesting problems to be solved.

However, all play is not the same and today several forces can endanger quality play.  First, many of today’s toys are linked to what children see in movies and on television.  These media experiences channel children into imitating what they see on screens instead of creating their own play.  Second, the use of electronic media takes young children away from play and can make their child-created play seem boring.  Finally, growing pressure to teach academic skills at younger and younger ages takes time and resources away from the quality, teacher-facilitated play that young children need in preschool and kindergarten.

I encourage you to learn about the ways child-created active play supports learning and to advocate for play and encourage it at home.  Play will give your children a foundation for positive social and emotional health as well as later academic success in school.

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