Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige Reflects on the 2016 Network for Public Education Conference

The 2016 Network for Public Education Conference, held April 15-17 in Raleigh, NC, is truly an experience—something hard to describe.  For a few days in April, education and social justice activists from around the country come together in a burst of energy and synergy to share lives and ideas and to build an education movement for equity and justice for all children.

I was glad that Denisha Jones, DEY National Advisory Board member, and I attended because our session was the only one focused exclusively on young children.  Our panel was called T-E-S-T and Not PLAY is a Four-Letter Word:  Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform.  Susan Ochshorn, early childhood author and journalNPE 2016 3ist, moderated, and we were joined by Michelle Gunderson, first grade teacher and early childhood leader in the Chicago Teachers Union. We covered many issues in a short time including the decrease in play and active learning in classrooms for young children, the disproportionate effects of corporate education reform on black and brown children and those in low-income communities, and the need to strengthen our advocacy for young children.  Lots of folks attended the session and I was really glad we were there to connect early childhood issues to the larger landscape of education reform that were the focus of the conference.

Many people came up to me over the course of the three days in Raleigh to tell me how they follow DEY, appreciate us, and benefit from using our materials.  It was really heNPE 2016 2artening to realize that we are voicing important ideas and issues that might otherwise not be accessible to teachers and parents.  People are using the papers we’ve put out in a variety of ways as well as our fact sheets, and many say they read our website regularly.

At the conference, we learned about many new documentary films being made about the current state of education in our country.  All of these films and how to order them are listed on the NPE website.   In a separate session we saw a “fine cut” preview of the almost finished documentary Backpack Full of Cash.  This film is being made by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow who made the PBS series called SCHOOL which received so much acclaim.   Their new film unwraps the movement to privatize our nation’s schools, telling a straightforward and understandable narrative through the eyes of the communities affected.   The film should be out in the coming year and I think its time is right.

On Saturday, we listened to a riveting keynote speech from Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of NAACP, about the history of racism in our schools and the continuing reality of systemic racism that permeates our society today.  Rev. Barber is a gifted orator who can move his listeners to new levels of awareness by his artistic crafting of words and powerful delivery.Themes of charter schools, over-testing, privatization, racial justice, poverty, global education, democracy, and public education ran through the speeches and sessions of the conference, helping all of us to heighten our understanding and also our resolve to continue our work.  I felt re-energized about our work at Defending the Early Years, proud of what we do, sure that we should keep on.

Maybe next year YOU will want to attend the Network for Public Education conference—you won’t be disappointed!

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Stressed-Out Six-Year-Olds and the Dilemma of Their Teacher

by a Disheartened First Grade Teacher

Pizza Day. Pizza Day. Pizza Day.  The words replay over and over in six-year-old Tommy’s head as he sees how long the lunch line is.  Tommy grabs his pizza and sprints to his lunch table, carrots spilling off of his tray. Glancing at the clock but unsure what the clock hands actually signify, he knows there can’t be much time left.  Trying not to talk to his peers, Tommy stuffs a large bite of gooey deliciousness into his mouth. Before he can swallow or enjoy his favorite meal, he takes another bite and a gulp of milk.

 “Time to clean up!” the lunch aide announces.  

Tommy’s classmates throw out their partially eaten lunches and line up. With his stomach still rumbling, Tommy quickly stuffs another bite into his mouth.  As I approach Tommy, I glance at the clock, knowing that in less than two minutes, one hundred hungry third graders will bombard the cafeteria for their lunch period.  I gaze back at Tommy and my subtle nod lets him know he can sneak his lunch back to class.  Sarah’s desperate eyes ask me the same question and I must tell her “no,” as her teacher for afternoon intervention services is anxiously waiting for her at the door. Sarah is already late.

Tommy carries his lunch through the hallway, hoping it won’t spill, as the next group of children rush past him to get to their brief lunch period, all feeling the pressure of academic rigor, the jam-packed schedule, and the ever-present tests.  It’s a typical lunch hour at my school.

I entered the teaching profession six years ago– energized, enthusiastic, and eager to put my passion into practice.  I currently teach in an upper-middle class town in the greater Boston area. Since graduating college, I have earned a Master’s Degree from a renowned school osad girl at deskf education.  Through my experience and studies, I have honed my core beliefs as an educator.  But, on a daily basis, I find myself internally battling with what I know is best for children and what I am mandated to do.

My intent in writing is to raise awareness of what is going on in the public school system where our students are increasingly being taught in testing environments with stakes higher than ever before, under high pressure conditions.  While the stress among schools is glaring for teachers, administrators, and even students, I have learned that the link often left in the dark is the parents.   In the past month alone, I was asked to withhold details from parents about their child’s schedule, stretch the truth about the amount of time their children have to eat lunch, encourage a child to take a test after seeing her break out in hives during the last testing session, and explain that our school culture supports play and exploration.   Don’t get me wrong–when I see my students stuffing food into their mouths, I sneak their lunch back to the classroom. Despite the Common Core aligned curriculum and many assessments that strip my students from the most valuable moments of childhood, I integrate play-based and authentic learning into the school day as much as I possibly can.

While I struggle to find the words to express my disappointment about the current state of the public education system, I find myself lying awake at night worrying about my students and pondering what the future holds for education in our country? My school culture, among many in our country, doesn’t support meeting the most basic of needs for children, due to the rigorous school day and demands, let alone supporting best practices for teaching and learning.  Let me make sure I am clear– the district I teach in is considered a “model district” in the state of Massachusetts.

While I believe in high standards for children, I do not believe that teaching my first graders 15 different types of math word problems will prepare them to contribute to society in 16 years.  While I agree with the importance of early literacy, I do not believe having my first graders undergo at least 12 assessments per year and be pulled out of class constantly for intervention and progress monitoring will prepare them for the real world. In fact, I see the youngest learners deeming themselves as failures as they are unable to meet unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate expectations aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  I see the youngest learners having their confidence crushed as they are pulled out of the classroom for intervention up to eight times a week.

The nationally normed set of Common Core State Standards were intended to promote higher order thinking skills “to prepare students to be career and college ready.”  I can speak from direct experience that, in many cases, the implementation has increased teacher talk time, increased the amount of time children need to sit passively, and have decreased opportunities for critical thinking.  I believe that providing students with genuine context to problem solve, to explore the world around them, and to think “outside of the box” will prepare them to contribute to the complex society we live in today.  I believe that fostering creativity and providing students with authentic learning experiences to foster academic and social emotional skills will prepare them for the 21st century.  The more my school increases “academic rigor,” the more doctor forms I am asked to fill out about ADHD and the more anxiety my students endure.  Each time I utilize practices that align with cognitive science for childhood development, the behavior challenges not only minimize (or disappear) but the learning outcomes increase substantially.

I find myself struggling to tailor my students’ education based on their developmental needs as the current education system pressures me to fit them into a mold. I am left no choice but to rush through lessons to ensure I am meeting all of the curriculum requirements, rather than providing the rich and authentic learning experiences that drive me as an educator and my students as learners. The core to my struggles comes from the lack of time I have to provide my students with, what research supports, is, in fact, crucial to their development, such as hands-on learning, play based opportunities, and fostering different learning styles. The many moments that I cannot integrate authentic learning and creativity because there simply isn’t time in the schedule to get off of the curriculum track, these are the moments that are most valuable in the present and future lives of these children.boy with backpack

With color-coded spreadsheets in front of me at last week’s data meeting, I listened to the team speak about my students as numbers rather than using their names. These “numbers” that I know so well, these six-year-olds who have real feelings, needs, strengths, and challenges, are being scrutinized by a red, yellow, or green data point on a graph.  I gazed through the window and watched as young children sprinted through the halls to get to their 15 minutes of recess.  As I glanced at the stress in their eyes, the stress in my colleague’s eyes, and back down at the color-coded spreadsheets, I realized we have lost control, lost power, and lost our ability to utilize our expertise and innovation. What we haven’t lost is our core understanding of what’s right for children.  Our students need passionate and skilled teachers who stay in the field. Our students need creativity and to be able to think of an original idea. Our students need to problem solve, collaborate, self-regulate, and explore the world around them. And–how could I forget–our students need to eat lunch.

Tips for parents: Questions to ask the Principal at your child’s school

  •  What is my child’s daily schedule?
  • Will my child ever miss art, gym or music to receive intervention services?
  • How long does my child have to eat lunch, not including transitions?
  • How long is recess each day?
  • Does our school provide and support play-based learning experiences and choice time?
  • How does our school culture promote creativity and hands-on learning in conjunction with the academic standards?
  • How many assessments does my child undergo a year? How do these assessments help my child’s teacher tailor his/her instruction?

 

DEY Releases “Straight Talk About the Common Core State Standards”

Testing season is around the corner and, once again, Defending the Early Years takes a stand about the Common Core State Standards. Find our newest resource, Straight Talk about the Common Core State Standards, on our website now!

 

More on “Our Twisted Pre-K Education”

Please listen to this story from Meghna Chakrabarti which aired on WBUR’s Radio Boston yesterday. On theRadioBoston program DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige explains that “high quality Pre-K is just a buzzword for rigorous instruction of 4-year-olds.” Carlsson-Paige explains what has been happening in early childhood classrooms under recent ed reforms – and what preschool classrooms should look like. We hope you listen and share!

http://radioboston.wbur.org/2015/12/30/pre-k-education

LivelyMindsAs 2015 draws to a close, we look back on all we have done together to defend play and playful learning in the face of misguided education reform. In 2015 we published three new research-based advocacy reports that have been read and shared widely. We began using short videos to help share our message to a wider audience. We also started translating our work into Spanish. We look forward to more reports, videos and translations in the new year. We could not have done this alone and today, we thank you for being a part of DEY!

In a few weeks DEY turns 4 years old! Today we ask you to help celebrate our accomplishments and our growing coalition with a tax-deductible donation.

Onward!

Please click here to donate

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Happy New Year and many thanks from DEY!

 

 

 

DEY at NAEYC’s Annual Conference

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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 deydirector@gmail.com.

Why are our CCSS concerns ignored?

On Twitter this week, a teacher asked DEY why our concerns regarding the Common Core State Standards and young children are being ignored. One big part of the puzzle is money. The Gates Foundation has spent $200 million dollars creating and promoting the Common Core State Standards. And corporations such as Pearson are laughing all the way to bank. Political commentator/comedian John Oliver described Pearson has having a “shocking amount of influence over American schools” in this scathing report on standardized testing. And POLITICO reports that Pearson “has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division. But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards.” Read more.

It is incredibly difficult to break through all the money that is flowing in support of the Common Core, in order to get our message across. This recent letter to the editor of the Boston Globe by DEY’s director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin helps illustrate what we are up against (published July 21, 2015 under the title A David-Goliath clash over what’s best for young kids):

CHRIS BERDIK does an excellent job outlining Defending the Early Years’ arguments against the Common Core standards for kindergarten in the June 14 Ideas piece “The end of kindergarten?” He also reports on the support for the Common Core from another nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners.

Here are some important additional notes for your readers: Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core. In 2012 Student Achievement Partners was given $6.5 million in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, the Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million to implement the Common Core.

Defending the Early Years was founded, in 2012, by a coalition of concerned early-childhood educators who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to fight back. Last year our operating budget, all from donations from our supporters, was about .006 percent of what Student Achievement Partners received from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Our mission is clear, grounded in research, and based on what is best for young children.

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Director, Defending the Early Years

 

It is true that here at DEY we have a tiny fraction of the budget that the CCSS promoters have, but what we DO have is early childhood expertise, experience, and decades of research on our side. The only thing we are working to promote is what is in the best interest of young children. And we are concerned that this entire focus on the Common Core has become a distraction, based on fallacy, from the underlying inequalities brought on by poverty. In fact, the CCSS has created another layer of stress in the lives of children – many of whom are already growing up with toxic stress.

With our limited budget, we have already reached millions of people with our three research-based advocacy papers published this year. We are making some noise and are pushing the conversation in the right direction. We want to do more and we need to keep going. For example, we are starting to translate some of our work into Spanish. We know this is important and we are committed to making it happen. If you are moved to support DEY with a tax deductible financial contribution, now is a great time. We have actually have a summer special (see below). We also urge all of DEY’s friends and supporters to continue to fight the good fight and to speak out with well-reasoned arguments in defense of developmentally appropriate curricula, standards and assessments for our young children.

SUMMER FUNDRAISING THANKS!
 
This summer we are offering a special thanks to all donors:
DonateNow
  • Donate $50.00 – we will send you a copy of Lively Minds!
  • Donate $100.00 – we will send you two reports – Lively Minds and Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose
  • Donate $200 or more – we will send you all three reports! Lively Minds, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose PLUS Kamii’s paper on the CCSS math standards K-3!
  Please check out our donation page. Thank you!

 

 

 

Defending Play with Nancy Carlsson-Paige

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

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