The transition of kindergarten from a time of discovery and learning through play to a seat-based incubator for standardized testing has evolved over the last three decades. However in recent months, this transformation has finally received some media attention. Fortunately, many of the sources are pointing out how these change are detrimental to our youngest students. This week the Boston Globe shed some light on the trend in Is the Common Core killing kindergarten?
LAST SPRING, Susan Sluyter quit teaching kindergarten in the Cambridge Public Schools. She’d spent nearly two decades in the classroom, and her departure wasn’t a happy one. In a resignation letter, Sluyter railed against a “disturbing era of testing and data” that had trickled down from the upper grades and was now assaulting kindergartners with a barrage of new academic demands that “smack of 1st or 2nd grade.” The school district did not respond to a request for comment.
But Sluyter’s complaints touched a national nerve. Her letter went viral, prompting scores of sympathetic comments by other frustrated teachers and parents. Sluyter’s letter was fresh evidence for groups of early-childhood educators who oppose the kindergarten expectations for math and English Language Arts, or ELA, set by the new Common Core, the academic benchmarks for K-12 that most states have adopted to replace the historic patchwork of standards.
The thrust of the opposition is that many of the standards are too high and not developmentally appropriate for kindergartners. Opponents say teaching some academic skills too early can be counterproductive. They cite research suggesting that reading and math advantages in kindergarten are fleeting. Furthermore, they say, the pressure to meet academic standards will lead to lecture and work sheet style teaching, foster rote memorization, and snuff out the inquiry and play-based instruction that can instill a love of learning.
As I’ve written before, the Common Core style of instruction is absolutely strangling the natural inquisitiveness that many early learners have. Mrs. Sluyter is not the only kindergarten teacher to leave the profession thanks to the federal standards. I believe there would be a mass exodus from the profession if jobs were more plentiful.
“Young children learn best in active, hands-on ways and in the context of meaningful real-life experiences,” notes a statement of “grave concerns” about the kindergarten standards signed by hundreds of teachers and education scholars, including Howard Gardner, the Harvard developmental psychologist known for his theory of multiple intelligences and their importance in learning. “Overuse of didactic instruction and testing cuts off children’s initiative, curiosity, and imagination, limiting their engagement in school,” according to the statement.
One Boston parent, Leslie MacKinnon, who has two young children attending public schools in Dorchester, said she was surprised by the new rigor of kindergarten class. Her daughter, now finishing first grade, was among the older kids in her kindergarten class and had no problems. “There was a lot of work, a lot of memorization and skill building that I thought was crazy,” MacKinnon says. “But she handled it really well.”
MacKinnon’s son, however, started kindergarten last fall as one of the younger kids in his class. “He’s so overtaxed. He’s having the worst year ever,” she says. “He comes home with this giant backpack full of homework every night. I don’t make him do it. I feel like it’s just going to add to his discipline problems at school. He’s 5. He wants to be moving and doing art projects and playing with Legos.”
“Over the last half century, there’s been a continuous decline in children’s freedom to play,” says Boston College psychologist Peter Gray. “It’s through play that children gain the social abilities, the grit, the ability to control their impulses and solve their own problems that makes them resilient.”
Here in South Florida, we have seen the natural inquisitiveness siphoned out of students who have dealt with testing anxiety for the last decade. I have seen the joy of teaching wrenched away from friends of mine in the teaching profession who have become burned out and moved on from their classrooms, due to the tyrannical nature of the high-stakes testing monster. I’ve seen it from my own family, each day that my boy comes home exasperated from trying to solve relatively simple math problems the ‘Common Core Way.’ Our site has a petition to get rid of the Common Core throughout the United States. Please sign our petition and pass it on to your friends.
For an excellent summary of what is truly wrong with the Common Core, you can check out my good friend Brook Putnam’s e-book “Rotten Core: How the Common Core is Ruining Our Children’s Futures and What We Can Do About it.” I can’t recommend it enough! Brook is a Florida school teacher with a vicious sense of humor, and Rotten Core a ridiculously entertaining and informative read. We are offering it for a limited time on this site exclusively for only 99 cents! Take advantage of this outstanding deal, right here!