It’s All About Education: A Recipe for Disaster - Common Core Standards for Kindergarten

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

 

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On January 13th, Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood released a report titled Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose outlining the potentially damaging effects of the Common Core standards for kindergarten students. Citing numerous research studies published over the past several years, the report makes several key recommendations, most notably that we immediately drop the Common Core kindergarten standards. 

Since the 1980s, there has been increasing emphasis on academic skills in kindergarten, causing a shift from play-based classrooms to more direct instruction. No Child Left Behind, the Race to the Top, and the focus on Common Core standards have exacerbated this problem. And it is a problem: the emphasis on academic skills for our youngest students ignores years of research on how young children learn best. Many studies show that students who attend play-based preschools and kindergartens perform better on cognitive and social-emotional developmental scales than their peers who attend more academic programs. In addition, exposing children to the pressures of a highly academic environment at a very young age can have lasting harmful effects. The HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study found that, by age 15, students who attended direct instruction preschools were more than twice as likely to have exhibited delinquent behavior; by age 23, students who attended play-based preschools were significantly less likely to have required special education classes or to have felony arrest records. 

There is no evidence that children who read at an early age have any advantage over children who learn to read one, two, or even three years later. A doctoral thesis written by Professor Sebastien Suggate found that, by fourth grade, there is no difference in the reading levels of students taught to read in kindergarten vs. those taught to read in first grade. Dr. Marcy Guddemi, Executive Director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, stated in a press release, “Our latest research shows that children are not reaching developmental milestones any faster than previous generations of children. Respecting the variations of development from child to child is more important than ever.“ We know that some children learn to walk earlier than others, and that most children say their first words sometime from eight months to fifteen months of age. We see some toddlers who are potty-trained by age two, and others who still have accidents at age four. We can accept that these developmental differences will have no lasting impact on a child’s future success in school or in life. Why, then, is it so hard to accept that children also learn to read at different ages, depending on each one’s unique developmental trajectory? 

A good early childhood teacher crafts an environment in which all of her students acquire experiences which allow them to thrive and develop optimally. She carefully observes her students, ensuring that they participate in play that supports their cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. Within the classroom, there are activity centers that offer hands-on experiences with blocks, art materials, and imaginative play. It is a print-rich environment, with letters and words displayed in ways that help students to understand their meanings. The teacher shares numerous stories and books with the students so that they learn the joys of reading; these stories, combined with field trips and science experiments and other learning opportunities, give students the background knowledge and the skills to be able to construct meaning for themselves as they encounter challenging new concepts throughout their lives. 

This stands in contrast to the Common Core standards for kindergarten, which require, among the ninety (90) specified standards, that kindergarten students do the following: recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet; read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding; associate the long and short sounds with common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels; and participate in shared research and writing projects. Given this tiny sampling of standards for our five-year-olds, is it any wonder that many educators, parents, and the students themselves are balking at the expectations being placed on them? 

Finally, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose raises an important assertion: that the adoption of the Common Core standards wrongly ignores the overwhelming research we have demonstrating that socioeconomic status is by far the strongest predictor of academic achievement in the United States. Having Common Core standards will not ensure that all students will suddenly be able to meet these standards; we still must address the impact of poverty on child development and the inequitable access to quality early childhood experiences. Thus, the authors of the report also recommend that, in addition to immediately suspending the kindergarten Common Core standards, we also: 

  • Invest in high quality, long-term research on how best to help children become fluent readers by fourth grade;
  • Convene a task force of early childhood educators to recommend developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive learning guidelines;
  • End high-stakes testing with children in Kindergarten through third grade, as well as the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and schools; and
  • Ensure that all students have experienced, highly trained early childhood educators. 

Author and child development professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige hopes that this report will “lead people to understand that the Common Core standards are not grounded in research or child development theory.” She believes that as a nation, we must address the underlying causes of the achievement gap, because even the most appropriate academic standards will never alleviate issues of inequality. 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She encourages you to connect with her on Twitter @fridovichlee or to contact her directly at [email protected]

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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