No: Kindergarten As The New First Grade

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.”

 

 

 

 

Put Education In The Hands of Educators

Right now, we in the United States have put education in the hands of people who have no understanding about how children and adolescents learn and what children and adolescents need to know and be able to do in order to have productive, fulfilling futures. We have put education in the hands of people who have either unlimited money, inordinate political power for a democracy, or uncontrolled arrogance. Or all three.

If we, instead, put education in the hands of educators, then we will have solutions and innovations that actually make a positive difference. Here is an example of an educator setting worthy goals for student achievement and putting students in the position to be successful. Please watch this video in which a principal talks about the learning that matters.

If you cannot see this video, please click here. 

 

Teachers’ Opposition To Common Core Increases

It takes a lot to oppose the Common Core State Standards when they are said to offer:

  • reform!
  • rigor!
  • high academic standards approved by states and consistent with other nations!
  • a guarantee to close the achievement gap!
  • college and career readiness!

What red-blooded American could say NO to this promise? You might think none.

But 60% of American teachers and 51% of the American public do say no. This opposition has increased in the past two years. In 2013, just 24% of American teachers were opposed to the Common Core, and 35% of American citizens were opposed.  The increase in opposition is remarkable, given the tremendous amount  of money that has been spent to promote the Common Core. The increase of 36% in teacher opposition is particularly noteworthy because teachers  have come to know Common Core the best.

In the past two years, teachers have become familiar with the Common Core standards and implemented them in their classrooms. After almost 30 years of working with urban and suburban teachers, beginning and veteran teachers, brilliant stars of teachers and struggling teachers, I know for sure the one thing that teachers have in common is that if something helps kids to learn and to achieve, teachers are for it.  Teachers will learn new skills, change their ways, look at things differently IF their students learn better and achieve more.  Common Core has not offered that incentive  to teachers.

Plus teachers and parents probably have found out that reform!, rigor!, national and international acclaim!, closing the achievement gap!, and college and career readiness! are empty words. They are focus group tested words, chosen to “sell” the Common Core.

The promise of reform is an empty one. For example, 500 professionals in the field of early childhood education, including the most respected experts in the country, have written a public statement, claiming that the Common Core Standards are harmful to young children and should not be taught.  Changes that cause harm are not reform.

The most highlighted “new” Common Core practice for the teaching of English, labeled one of the six major “shifts”  of Common Core is using text evidence as students read and as they write. The problem with labeling it a “shift” and heralding it as brand new is that it has been the fundamental practice in English classes since I was in school and has been the daily practice in the many hundreds of English classes I have observed since 1985. Introducing something as new and different when it is already accepted practice by everyone in the field is not reform.

In addition, at the 2015 annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, there were 642 presentations. Of those 642 presentations, only 19 of them were about implementing the Common Core, and even those were largely about how to circumvent or add better teaching to that mandated implementation. The remaining 623 presentations were about authentic teaching and learning that scholarly research and/or teaching experience show is best practice. Advocating something not respected by experts in the academic discipline is not reform; it is just a plan of action recommended by people without the requisite knowledge. It was employees of testing companies, individuals without knowledge of teaching and learning, who wrote the Common Core; no English educators and no early childhood professionals were involved in writing those standards. Because people who are not educators call what they put together an educational reform does not make it so.

The standards are not rigorous. The tests to assess the attainment of those standards are “gotcha” enterprises with plenty of students receiving low scores, but that is because the tests are designed to fail 60-70% of the students who take them. Anyone who has taught knows that it’s easy to create a test to fail most students. Those failures don’t mean that the test challenges the students to reason clearly, to raise pivotal questions, to collaborate in order to problem solve or create new thinking, or to communicate effectively orally or in writing. That would be rigor. But that would require a totally different pedagogy than the pedagogy the Common Core mandates.

The states never approved of what we now call the Common Core Standards; appointed state officials simply agreed to the abstract concept of standards. In 2009, states signed on to that concept before any standards were written in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having the 100% proficiency specified by NCLB. No state officials ever reviewed the actual standards and decided they were good learning. Similarly, the Common Core Standards are not aligned with international standards. The writers of Common Core reviewed standards of other nations but did not match Common Core to them. For example, other nations have standards for the vital 21st century skill of collaboration, but Common Core does not.

No standards can close the achievement gap, especially when that gap is measured by scores on standardized tests. All standardized test scores are correlated with family income, not with how much or how little the standards are taught. For example, the school districts that adhere most assiduously to the teaching of the Common Core Standards are the impoverished, urban districts, and the schools in those districts have the lowest standardized test scores. Also, if standards could positively affect achievement, then all students who were taught them- those now proficient and those now failing- would improve, and the gap would remain the same.

Lastly, the Common Core Standards are untested for college and career readiness. No one has any idea if a high score on the tests aligned to the Common Core is a predictor of success in college or careers. It’s anybody’s guess. Even the Executive Director of SBAC has said that the Common Core aligned tests have a “huge validity problem” because they were never field-tested. It is unconscionable that we as a state mandate that all children and adolescents learn in prescribed ways that we don’t have any evidence are good for them. What we do know is that key skills for the future (questioning, collaboration, oral communication, and creativity) are not tested on the Common Core aligned tests so it is unlikely that the standards and the tests that measure them do make our students”college and career ready”.

Teachers, who are under pressure of job security to teach to the Common Core, often find it prudent to be compliant, yet they, in increasing numbers, are expressing their opposition to the Common Core. They seem to be looking closely at what reform, rigor, nationally agreed-upon standards, and international benchmarking, closing the achievement gap, and college and career readiness really mean. That critique is good news for the future of education. It is good news for the future of the country.

If those voices of opposition continue to increase, what will we do? What can move education forward in effective and healthy ways?  In 2009, maybe it seemed efficient to turn education over to non-educators who had money and political clout. But, as H.L. Mencken said:  ” For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, ………….    and wrong.

The right way to improve education is to ask educators to design standards and to make the decisions about how to teach students to learn. We will get it right.  We know when reform is needed and when it is not. We know what reform really looks like. We know what rigor is and how to motivate and engage our students in learning that is truly rigorous. We know how to address and minimize the achievement gap. We know how to prepare students for their future. Give us a chance and watch what happens.

Real Learning and Not-Real Learning in Kindergarten

In a prior blog post, I wrote about real learning and not-real learning in high school English classes. In writing about real learning and not-real learning in kindergarten classes, I found the intellectual processes for both age groups to be remarkably the same. Children in kindergarten and adolescents in high school are either asked to construct their own knowledge and create their own personal meaning or they are not. When either five years olds or fifteen years olds construct their own knowledge and create personal meaning, they are engaged in real learning. When they are told information and expected to remember it, they are recipients of not-real learning.

Here are two checklists you can take with you when you visit a kindergarten class of your child or of another child you love:

CHECKLIST FOR REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN

Children are active, involved participants in the classroom community. Children are encouraged to ask their own questions and explore possible answers. They are taught, through their play, to problem-solve, to think divergently and innovatively, to broaden and deepen their thinking by being in conversation with others, and, most of all, to learn how to learn as new situations and problems present themselves. Children create personal meaning and construct their own knowledge from meaning-making, interactive activities.

 If you can check all of the following boxes, this classroom is a good place for young children to grow and learn.

☐ Children are engaging in hands-on learning experiences.

☐ Children are learning through their play.

☐ Children are surrounded by and immersed in rich literature.

☐ Children are learning through activities and projects with others.

☐ Children are demonstrating social and emotional capabilities.

☐ Children are questioning, exploring, and following-through on their curiosity.

☐ Children are asked to stretch their imagination.

☐ Children figuring things out and drawing conclusions.

☐ Children are deeply involved in activities they find relevant to them.

☐ Children are using skills of literacy and numeracy in authentic learning experiences.

☐ Children are wondering about lots of things.

☐ Children are taught to persist in their learning challenges.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

CHECKLIST FOR NOT-REAL LEARNING IN KINDERGARTEN

The teacher conveys information to the children. Children answer the teacher’s questions. Children work by themselves and demonstrate individual mastery of specific skills. All the children in the class are expected to learn the same content and skills in the same way at the same time. Children are not asked to create their own personal meaning or construct their own knowledge.

If you check all of the following boxes, children in this class will need other kinds of learning experiences in order to grow as learners and thinkers.

☐ Children are practicing discrete literacy and numeracy skills with worksheets.

☐ Teachers are asking children questions for which the teacher has the answer.

☐ All of the children are being given reading instruction with the expectation that all of them will read by the end of kindergarten.

☐ Children are working individually to master skills.

☐ Children are listening to the teacher and gaining information.

☐ Children are having more “seat-time” than active, hands-on learning.

☐ Developing children’s social and emotional skills is limited or absent from the curriculum.

☐ College and career readiness is the purpose of instruction and the focus of the curriculum.

Common Core Squashes Early Learning

On April 25, 2015 at Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University, spoke passionately about the need for real learning for young children. She is co-founder of Defending the Early Years (www.DEYProject.org), which is an organization dedicated to promoting vibrant and healthy education for young children.

She said that love of learning is being squashed in young children due to current practices in many schools. In those schools, teachers are pressured by the demands of the Common Core State Standards to help four and five year old children to be “college and career ready” instead of engaging these young children in learning experiences which develop their minds and foster their love of learning.

Professor Carlsson-Paige is one of 500 early childhood educators who have authored a position statement entitled ” The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative” (here) in opposition to the Common Core because they believe that those standards will harm young children. A mother in the audience at the conference spoke for many others in attendance when she said: “My kindergartener is NOT college and career ready because…….he is a child.”

In ” The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative”, the most notable professionals in the country in the fields of child development objected to the Common Core State Standards because:

  • The didactic instruction the Common Core mandates is antithetical to how children learn.
  • The Common Core leads to inappropriate and unreliable standardized testing of young children.
  • The Common Core content crowds out other important areas of learning for young children.
  • There is little evidence that Common Core standards for young children lead to  later success in literacy and numeracy.

This four-minute video defines real learning as Professor Carlsson-Paige and the other signers of the statement against the Common Core standards  for young children define it. If you are not able to view the video here, you can access it at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e53S8dnh0IM%5B/

You also may want to read the fuller definition of real learning for young children that is on the DEY website (here).