TGSG Note: I originally ran this post in April, but with the new school year upon us, I thought it might me good to revisit it. There is also an article in The Boston Globe, Pressure Cooker Kindergarten, that you might be interested in. See the end of the post for comments made by one of the reports co-authors, Ed Miller. He makes some great additional points to ponder.
The shadow of No Child Left Behind has darkened the rooms of kindergartens across America. We often hear people bemoan this particular piece of legislation, and rightfully so, but you might be surprised to learn that those rumblings come from frustrated educators and parents of kindergarten students, too. Test stress is not just for older children now — it starts at five-years-old.
Kindergarten, it seems, has become the new first grade. While some might call this progress, it ignores the fact that kindergarten was developed based on heavily researched theories and practices of child development, and specifically designed to be different than upper grades — to incorporate the learning styles of young children and engage the whole child, including their social and emotional development needs.
The Alliance for Childhood has just released its new report, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. Needless to say, it is an eye-opener. If you are not involved in early childhood education or don’t have kids of that age, you might be surprised at some of the findings, not to mention the increasingly didactic, scripted instruction and prevalence of time spent on test preparation. For five-year-olds.
“Teaching to the test,” is now a phrase that can be applied to the education of five-year-olds, regardless of the fact that experts caution its reliability in children under eight. According to the report, “Standardized testing of children under age eight, when used to make significant decisions about the child’s education, is in direct conflict with the professional standards of every educational testing organization.” And of course, we all know that this is exactly how test scores are being used — to make significant decisions about individual children — their capacity to learn and the educational path where they will be placed.
Kindergarten. Gone are the blocks and water tables. They went by the wayside along with music time, rest period, and space for easels. According to the Alliance, “Too many schools place a double burden on young children. First, they heighten their stress by demanding that they master material beyond their developmental level. Then they deprive children of their chief means of dealing with that stress—creative play.”
The 72 page report is based on the findings of nine recent studies of today’s kindergarten classrooms, as well as on long-respected research in the field of early childhood education. With a forward by Dr David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, the report makes a call to action for parents, policy makers, educators, and child advocates to bring this issue to the forefront of education reform.
It’s amazing to me that in an age where noted scholars, as well as business and tech leaders are calling for creativity and curiosity as an absolute necessity and the future of the workforce, our education system continues to impose practices and standards that make that virtually impossible to achieve. Among all the failing schools and increasing behavior problems in children, we march forward, putting undue stress on children and educators alike. In our nation’s fever to beat other nations’ test scores, we are only beating one thing — the love of learning out of our children. We are forsaking creativity, resilience, and individual strengths for methods and protocols that do not work. Shame on us.
Obviously, this issue and report are far too large and important for one blog post, so consider this the launch of a series on kindergarten here at TGSG. I would love to hear about your questions and concerns surrounding the issue.
I hope you will join the movement to bring play back into schools. After all, play is serious business.
See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru
Comment from Ed Miller, Alliance for Childhood
Bethe, thanks for writing about the 2nd-grade teacher who can see the differences between the kids who were in play-based kindergartens and those who had more instruction and academics. The things you named–being excited about learning, having fewer behavior problems, etc.–are not easily measured, and certainly not by standardized tests.
And this is a very big part of the problem we have gotten ourselves into. School reform, in too many people’s minds, must be “data-driven.” And it’s very easy to produce lots of data. But with young children, almost all of the numbers are about things like how many letters they recognize and how many words they know–things that are easy to count, and relatively easy to drill into children’s minds if you are single-minded enough about it.
So kindergarten has been taken over in many places (not all!) by the teaching of these discrete skills and bits of knowledge–and by standardized testing. And the people in charge can point to higher test scores as proof of success. Very few policymakers, however, seem to be aware of the research that shows what happens after a few years. By fourth grade, the early “gains” have disappeared. By age 10 the children who were in play-based kindergartens are far ahead of the others–because of those hard-to-measure qualities like love of learning.
As Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Thanks, too, for writing about “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” and to all your correspondents.