There has been discussion on the blog about whether the Common Core Standards include pre-K, and if not, whether they are nonetheless influencing them. A reader posed that question to me and I referred it to Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood education specialist who recently retired after teaching at Lesley University for many years.
It’s hard to put your finger on the pulse of what is really going on in early childhood right now, and for good reason. There are big differences among states, school systems, and individual programs. But there are also trends that are affecting the early childhood field as a whole, and they are most strongly felt in programs that are State and Federallyfunded.
There is an increasing pushdown of academic skills into Kindergartens and Pre-K’s. The Alliance for Childhood first identified the disappearance of play in Kindergartens a few years ago. Wrongly, the erosion of play-based learning in Kindergartens has now become the norm and is currently filtering into Pre-K’s around the country. Thisacademic focus for young kids is driven by RTTT priorities and the Common Core Standards. The Common Core extends to kindergarten and requires children to learn specific facts and skills in literacy and numeracy at specified ages. For RTTT early childhood money, states have to agree to “align with the Common Core”. These mandates are not based on the knowledge base of the early childhood field, on what is known about how young children learn best. Those who wrote them are out of touch with young children and what quality programs should offer.
For many years, NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children) led the field in promoting “developmentally appropriate practice.” But in recent years, to the dismay of much of the membership, NAEYC has become more of a corporate and institutional culture, drifting away from its advocacy of practices rooted in child development understandings.
Testing and assessing young kids, also part of the policy mandates, has become an increasing focus of early childhood programs. Attention and resources go to assessment instead of meeting the needs of the whole child. Getting the scores up has led to more and more drill-based instruction and rote learning, less play-based and hands-on learning. All of this has brought considerable misery and harm to lots of young children.
I can imagine standards for early childhood education that would be based in the theory and research of our field that could actually support good practice. But these would look nothing like the current standards that reduce learning to mechanized bits of informationdisconnected from children, their needs and development, and the meaningful contexts in which they learn.
Dr. Carlsson-Paige recommended this link for readers seeking more information: