Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children

LivelyMindsIn the wake of the Common Core academic push down on America’s kindergartners, a new report by Lilian G. Katz argues that excessive and early formal instruction can be damaging to our youngest children in the long term. Today, Defending the Early Years is proud to release Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children.

Author Lillian G. Katz, Professor Emerita of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois, argues that the common sense notion that “earlier is better” is not supported by longitudinal studies of the effects of different kinds of preschool curriculum models.  Furthermore, her report maintains that a narrow academic curriculum does not recognize the innate inquisitiveness of young children and ultimately fails to address the way they learn.

“Young children enter the classroom with lively minds–with innate intellectual dispositions toward making sense of their own experience, toward reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning and learning,” says Dr. Katz.

“But in our attempt to quantify and verify children’s learning, we impose premature formal instruction on kids at the expense of cultivating their true intellectual capabilities – and ultimately their optimal learning.”

While the report concludes that an appropriate curriculum for young children is one that focuses on supporting children’s in-born intellectual dispositions, some basic academic instruction in early years is needed. “Academic skills become necessary for students to understand and report on their own authentic investigations,” explains Katz.  “These skills can then serve as a means to the greater end of fostering and advancing children’s intellectual capabilities.”

Watch and share this video about this new report!

Download and read the full report here: Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children

Help us spread the word about the importance of intellectual pursuits for young children using social media!

Consider tweeting:

#CCSS replaces wonder with worksheets, investigation with memorization. Preserve the lively minds of children! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM

Premature academic instruction comes at a cost for youngest students @dey_project https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM #2much2soon

Earlier is not better. The lively minds of children are dulled by mindless bubble filling @dey_project #2much2soon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM

We are rethinking academic vs. intellectual goals. Earlier is not always better. @dey_project #2much2soon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM

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.

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

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:

diane

 

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.

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!

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.