At the September open house, the principal greeted the anxious parents of the new kindergarteners and began his remarks with this proud announcement:
“Kindergarten is the new first grade!”
The principal then went on to explain that, due to kindergarten being the new first grade, homework will be instituted, recess reduced, and a list of tutors for after-school help provided.
What a deal. A faster education. Moving along, the last grade in elementary school can be middle school, and the last grade of middle school can be high school, and senior year in high school can be college. Why not?
I will tell you why not. It’s not good for the kids. Students in kindergarten through grade 12 learn best when we recognize where they are in their cognitive, psychological, and social development and, with that knowledge, help them to grow as learners and thinkers instead of setting arbitrary standards that they must meet even if their minds and bodies aren’t ready.
What if their pediatrician told these parents that “toddler” would now be the new “baby” and, at the sixth month check-up, she would test a six-month old baby for how progressed that baby was at walking and talking like a toddler? The parents would know right away that is ridiculous. At six months, babies don’t have legs strong enough to walk and brains mature enough to form their own words. Children develop at a certain pace, and saying that six months is the time for walking and talking doesn’t make it happen. So too with kindergartners; a five year-old is not a six or seven year-old. It is damaging to students to insist that they meet standards for reading, writing, and math for which they are not developmentally ready. Plus, they miss out on all the learning experiences that could fire them up and engage their minds.
Only someone totally unfamiliar with six-month olds would set standards for walking and talking for them. So too with making kindergarten the new first grade. The Common Core standards for kindergarten were written by those with absolutely no experience either working with children that age or having any knowledge about children that age. The standards were written by people whose business it is to create standardized tests to measure discrete skills. They didn’t know that the job of a kindergarten teacher, and indeed every K-12 teacher, is to help kids fall in love with learning and to give them the tools at each stage of their development to be avid, engaged learners.
Parents should rise up and say:
“No thank you. We want kindergarten to be kindergarten.”
And what would that look like? Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an expert in early childhood education, answers that question by describing schools in a neighboring country in which kindergarten is kindergarten.
It is not just in kindergarten that developing students as learners and thinkers should be the focus rather than the focus being on the mastery of arbitrary standards. As with the writing of the kindergarten standards, not one English teacher, college English professor, or researcher about reading and writing wrote the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, which can govern all of literacy education K-12 if we let them.
All grades need what Nancy Carlsson-Paige advocates for kindergarten: helping students to grow as learners and thinkers instead of acquirers of information, requiring students to construct their own knowledge by questioning, collaborating, and imagining, and assessing students by asking them to demonstrate they have learned how to learn in the ways that they have been taught that year instead of by taking standardized tests.
If we discard the Common Core and replace that misbegotten venture with developing students as learners and thinkers, principals of all schools – elementary, middle, and high school – can all have the same message at Open House. They all can say:
“We know who your children are and how they learn best. This year, we are going to do all we can to motivate them to fall in love with learning, give them new skills as learners and thinkers, and help them to grow beyond your wildest dreams. Prepare to be delighted.”