Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

In the early 1980s, our political leaders went into a panic because the economy stalled. Other nations had higher test scores. Thus the schools must be to blame for the industrial growth of Japan and Germany, so said a report called “A Nation at Risk” by President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983.

By 1988, Susan Ochshorn writes, the academic demands of third grade had drifted down to many kindergartens. History repeats itself.

Was this a rational response to outsourcing of industries to other nations? No, but state and national leaders thought that the best response to international competition was to raise standards for five-year-olds.

Jeff Madrick, journalist and economic policy consultant, wrote an important post for the New York Review of Books blog about the inequalities that begin at birth.

Madrick writes:

“Pre-K is not enough…Indeed, two studies completed in 2013 relate neural deterioration directly to poverty. A group of researchers from six universities measured the brain activity of adults who had been poor at age nine and found that the areas that control emotions were physically underdeveloped. A Washington University study found that poor children who are nurtured adequately, thus avoiding constant stress, usually have normally developed brain tissue, while those with less nurturing have less white and grey matter and smaller control centers, such as the hippocampus.

“What’s been discovered is that human beings have a chemical reaction to stress that at first protects them from damage. But the defense is limited. Should a young child, whose brain is still forming, be bombarded by constant stress—from violence at home, lack of food, parental drug abuse, and, not least, chronic lack of attention or nurturing—the overloaded mechanism fails and the brain is adversely affected.”

But poverty and the stresses it causes are not inevitable, Madrick writes:

“What concerns me most, however, is that our political leaders and legislators have until now largely overlooked the connection between poverty, poor educational attainment, and even neural malfunctions—and the extent to which effective poverty reduction itself can correct the problem. Economists Janet Gornick and Markus Jantii analyzed data across nations and concluded that child poverty is far lower in European nations, not because their economy produces higher wages for lower income workers, but because of more robust social programs. Most of these nations, and many in Latin America, for example, provide direct cash allowances for parents with children.

“More and better paying jobs are vital to combating child poverty and the problems it leads to. A full employment economy, with good jobs, is still possible with substantial fiscal stimulus, especially including public investment in infrastructure.

“But social programs are critical. Contrary to the widespread cynicism about social programs and welfare, the US knows how to reduce poverty. As Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes, the federal safety net, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, kept 41 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 9 million children. Without government benefits, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent. Instead, using the best measures of poverty, which include government transfers and tax credits, the rate has dropped from about 26 percent in the late 1960s to 16 percent today. In other words, the War on Poverty begun in the 1960s worked.”

And he concludes:

“Armed with the unambiguous findings of twenty-first-century neuroscience, we can no longer just tell children raised poor to study harder and find jobs as they grow up. A nation that needs all its citizens to be productive workers, and that promises a fair and dignified life to all, regardless of race or color, must now turn its attention to its enormous pool of poor children.”

I wish this were a joke but it is not.

The manufacturer of body armor for children has reported high sales to parents and schools concerned about school shootings.

“The alarming rate of school shootings across the country appears to have added an unsettling new item to parents’ list of “back to school” items: bulletproof armor for their children. Among such items, the Bodyguard Blanket, a portable, bulletproof covering for children, has seen its sales exceed its manufacturer’s expectations in less than two weeks on the market….As reported first in the Oklahoman, the blanket was conceived to protect children during natural disasters. The blanket is made “with the same bullet resistant materials that shield our soldiers in battle,” according to one advertisement. In the event of a tornado — or shooting — children can wrap themselves in the blanket in a duck-and-cover position to shield from bullets, debris or other projectiles.”

At $1,000 each, the Bodyguard Blanket is not likely to fly off the shelves. But its very existence indicates a bizarre acceptance of the intolerable and the unthinkable. A saner society would enact laws to restrict access to weapons.

What would Lewis Carroll say if he were alive today about the corporate education reform movement? What would he say about the contemporary effort to destroy childhood in the name of “standards”? How would he respond if a learned pedant told him that “as you grow up in this world, you will learn that no one gives a s–t what you think or feel”? How would he explain this to Alice? Would he even try?

Jonathan Lovell has written a beautiful illustrated essay on the corporate reform movement, creative disruption, Alice in Wonderland, GERM, Lace to the Top, and the Jabberwock. He names the Jabberwock.

Read it and arm yourself against nonsense with imagination and insight, drawn from literature.

Yes, you read that right.

School officials in Elwood, Néw York, canceled a kindergarten play scheduled for May 14-15 because it would take time away from getting the little tykes “college-and-career ready.”

Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss called the school for confirmation. It sounded too crazy to be true.

But it is factual. The interim principal sent a letter to parents of children in kindergarten canceling the annual show. The letter said, in part, “The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

A member of the district staff vouched for the letter’s authenticity.

This is nuts. Blame Duncan. Blame Obama. They know nothing about child development. Their poll-tested policies hurt little children. Their policies have no basis in research. Children need time to play. They need time to socialize. Five-year-olds should be allowed a childhood.

Susan Ochshorn rightly worries that the current policy craze for universal pre-kindergarten will push developmentally inappropriate practices into the early years. Kindergarten will become what first grade used to be, and four-year-olds will be expected to read and take standardized tests.

Ochshorn writes:

“Fast-forward to the polar vortex of 2014. Nerissa Ediza’s tweet, on February 1, says it all. “What sober person gives standardized tests to a kindergartner? Someone who’s actually never met a five-year-old?” she asked, releasing into the twitterverse a picture of the front page of The Oregonian. “Kindergarten test results ‘sobering,’” read the headline, the text below depicting Governor Kitzhaber’s displeasure with early childhood education’s “scattershot” approach.

“Rebecca Radding, a former pre-K and kindergarten teacher in a New Orleans KIPP school weighed in a week later, spilling her tale of woe:

Radding wrote:

“By year three it had become very, very difficult for me to hide my disdain for the way the school was managed. In the previous two years, I’d fought hard for the adoption of a play-based early childhood curriculum, only to see it systematically dismantled by our 25-year-old assistant principal. When this administrator told us that our student test scores would be higher if we used direct instruction, worksheets and exit tickets to check for their understanding, I lost my shit. I’m sorry, but five year olds don’t learn that way.

“I was fired a week later. Well, to be fair, I was told that I “wasn’t a good fit”…Somewhere along the line I developed this radical idea that children are humans who should be treated with dignity, and that the classroom should ideally be a place to be even if schooling weren’t compulsory.”

Ochshorn continues:

“The earth has moved—an avalanche of accountability, threatening the child-centered precincts of the field. Whole cities are assigning homework to preschoolers, demanding they “read” hundreds of books. “Study finds that kindergarten is too easy,” crowed Education Week, reporting on a forthcoming article, in the American Educational Research Journal, by Amy Claessens, Mimi Engel, and Chris Curran, who found greater gains in math and reading when students were exposed to more advanced content. The article, soon to retreat behind a firewall, has garnered most-viewed status on AERA’s website since it was posted on November 13. Claessens attributes the interest to “some pretty interesting policy implications,” adding that “shifting what you’re teaching is very cost-effective.” Nothing like a little cost-benefit analysis to get those synapses firing.”

What kind of person would think that “kindergarten is too easy?” Maybe someone who has never met a five-year-old? Someone who has never taught a five-year-old? Someone who thinks that children should be seen and not heard? Someone who believes “spare the rod and spoil the child”? Maybe what we need are workhouses for tykes who don’t read by five and who don’t do their homework.

What kind of society will we be if we listen to people who don’t understand or like childhood, who think that four-year-olds and five-year-olds need to work harder and play less or not at all?

Susan Ochshorn is an advocate for early childhood education who keeps track of the good and bad developments affecting young children. She is, needless to say, appalled by the increasing emphasis on academic activities and testing in the early years.

So this is the reason she nearly dropped her iPhone. She opened her phone screen one day recently and discovered an article in Forbes magazine extolling the virtues of PLAY. You read that right. Forbes, the self-proclaimed capitalist tool, published an article on the value of play as a generative force for creativity and entrepreneurship.

John Converse Townsend, the media manager for Ashoka, wrote that: “In order for our global society to develop solutions to pressing problems in an increasingly technology-driven and constantly changing world, we need to re-train our workforce to do what machines can’t: to be enterprising, independent and strategic thinkers—to be purposeful creators.”

He concludes: “If we want a better, smarter planet, we need to change the way the next generation children are taught. Allowing more students to grow up without those prosocial, exploratory skills, leaving them unable to reach their potential, would be criminal.

“Play can deliver.

“What are we waiting for?”

No wonder Susan nearly dropped her iPhone.

There has been much debate about who wrote the Common Core standards.

Here is a press release that lists the names of the writing teams for each subject as well as “feedback” groups.

You will notice a large representation of people from the testing industry (College Board and ACT), as well as people from Achieve, a D.C. think tank.

Notice that the statement says:

“The Work Group’s deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.”

Notice that the statement says:

“Final decisions regarding the common core standards document will be made by the Standards Development Work Group. The Feedback Group will play an advisory role, not a decision-making role in the process.”

Count how many people on either the writing teams or the feedback groups are identified as classroom teachers. Count how many have any experience in teaching children with disabilities. Count how many are experienced in teaching early childhood classes or English language learners.

Compare that number–whatever it may be–to the number who are experienced in testing and assessment.

A teacher in Syracuse writes, in response to comments by another teacher:

Teaching has lost its joy and spontaneity. It has become “all work and no play, which makes Johnny a very dull boy.” (that goes for teachers too)!

At least one third of the teachers in my elementary school are now looking for work outside the profession. My kinder class is doing literacy curriculum with imaginative play completely phased out and only 20 minute recess daily. It is a stressful, rigid, boring environment that causes children and teachers to lose their spirit.

There is very little opportunity for social interaction between the children, since most of their CCSS worksheets are designed for independent work. There is no opportunity for relaxed conversation or spontaneity in our classroom, since our rigid schedule is demanding and inflexible. I don’t really have an opportunity to get to know my students on a personal level, since we are expected to maintain our detached business like atmosphere. We do have one art/music/pe class weekly, but when those go away it will be very depressing. The atmosphere of our school has become gelotophobic.

As a teacher, I feel restricted and controlled in everything I do. I have no freedom to use my own creativity in designing lesson plans, which causes me to think I could easily be replaced by a computer. Maybe that is the goal of CCSS and the reformers?

Your choice of the word “eerie” is true: ” It’s eerie to see CCSS stamped on all current material and resources. Education has been branded like cattle.”

That is a good description because the hostile corporate takeover is turning schools into systems of management like those used for livestock! It is all about “conditioning” children to “perform for tests”, like little workaholics who can follow commands, but cannot think for themselves or be creative. Work and boredom has become normal.

I think it is “eerie” to see children who have blank stares and work in silence most of the day without spontaneity, imagination, or play. I think the reason Pearson designed CCSS materials to be confusing and frustrating is part of the plan to dismantle public schools. The more parents recognize their children are having anxiety and depression, the more they will be inclined to put them into private or charter schools.

Drs Cashin & Cooper,

Thank you for an insightful article. I wish there was a way for the reformers to absorb this information.

Because of the harsh test focused school environments of chronic stress, most children no longer have a “safe haven”. The same seems to apply to their home environment as well, since most parents have become indoctrinated to focus on their child’s “performance”, at the expense of validating their emotional and social needs.

Children and teenagers are searching for connections to anything or anyone who can give them affection and acceptance for who they are. They are getting tired of being used to perform for and please adults. They will find surrogate family connections in gangs or whatever group will accept them for who they are. Trouble is, most children don’t have freedom to form their own identity in the autocratic environments that now exist in homes & schools, so they will spend a lifetime searching.

As a librarian, I am shocked at the increased rigidity this year, where our elementary students are told which library book that must choose.

Children have lost freedom in learning.
They are physically and mentally controlled to the extent that schools appear more like prisons. Reminds me of the book “The Twelve Year Sentence” by William Rickenbacker in 1974. How much worse things have become since then!

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