Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

Angie Sullivan teaches young children in Nevada. She writes occasional letters to state legislators, journalists, and other educators.

She writes here to refute the canard that only conservatives don’t like Common Core.

Angie writes:

Here are my liberal thoughts taken directly from my decades of teaching experience and my Nevada classroom.


Free versions of state standards are published all over the Internet. Lots and lots of free sets without a copyright and most likely with research based best practice attached. Standards have always been a part of Nevada education or at least as far back as 1990 when I taught first grade in Winnemucca, Nevada. Teachers in each state, including Nevada, created standards based on research and best practice and the specific needs in each state. This was routine and done annually. Many many sets of K-12 standards are readily available to anyone at any time. Different sets have strengths and weakness – and common core is no exception.

Problem One: These common core standards were not created by people who represented my specific area K-2. Early childhood was obviously not represented in common core development meetings. When you increase the rigor two grade levels by forcing down the standards, working backward from college – you end up with 3rd grade rigor in Kindergarten. This is not developmentally appropriate and doesn’t work. Example: A singular Kindergarten writing standard that requests a five year old write a fact and opinion paper – without addressing writing letters or words first is not good. I don’t mind rigor. I do mind legislated mandates the equivalent of education malpractice. When almost every prominent Early Childhood Researcher and Professor makes a public statement against Common Core – politicians should listen. This is going to create significant issues down the road because Nevada students were never taught at their instructional level due to mandated rigor.


In the past, Nevada classroom teachers were given an opportunity to join a team to work on standards and they were slowly modified to increase rigor. Standards were standards. And now politicians try to convince us common core is the same – just another set. This set is completely different because it was lobbied nationally and sent down with money attached. Unfortunately not enough money to implement properly – but in a cash starved state like Nevada too much to turn down whether the standards were appropriate or not. Financially punishing states for not implementing a national set of standards is new and weird.

Also there is an overall tragic assumption that what is good for kids in Connecticut will also meet the needs of kids in Nevada. That is crazy. Meeting individual needs helps kids – not mandating “rigor”. While it is nice to know what typical grade level work should look like – when you work in a community that is typically three years or more behind before ever setting foot in a public school – individualized differentiated instruction that will authentically teach children should be the emphasis. We should not be in a hurry to introduce rigor. Our Nevada kids do not need rigor. Believe me. All they get is rigor. And it leads to failure on every level.

Problem Two: Teachers are used to revisions in standards. Small methodical common sense and appropriate revisions. When you hear education reformers state – drastic disruption – run away! Since teachers have to buy our own materials and implement curriculum without much support in Nevada – pressing down crazy drastic reform without the $151 million to implement caused major stress and teachers became overwhelmed. Teachers are obedient people who try to make due and wait for appropriate change. Many teachers I know support the common core in public and then struggle in significant and real ways in private. Silence or even public supportive announcements from educators does not mean these standards will make significant change or benefit kids – it means teachers are afraid to complain. And when teachers have problems with a standard now – where do we go to improve them. Do we lobby in Washington? Where is the body that actually controls the benchmarks for Nevada’s children now?


It is misinformation to say Nevada had no standards or we weren’t improving Nevada standards before common core. Any veteran experienced teacher who has been teaching in Nevada can tell you that history. In fact, using data, Nevada was actually doing significantly better and making steady growth puttering around at a methodical balanced pace than we are doing now that we have been “reformed”. We will never know what could have happened if we had patiently stayed the course instead of insisting on drastic, destructive immediate improvement. Instead we are now going to stagnate due to disruption and wonder why all the money we spent in the wrong direction did not work according to return on investment.

Problem Three: Standards weren’t the problem and data does not clearly identify the real issues. Rushing to implement the next fad that was not research based, supported, and well thought out has been devastating to public schools. We were on track to improve but had significant obstacles that were growing faster than our steady improvements. Now I’m afraid we may never recover from legislated whiplash. When a lobbyist is telling you things that sound idealistic and unrealistic- please question their credentials. If they have not been in the classroom directly working with Nevada kids in the last five years – I would question what they really could add to the conversation – especially if they are representing a corporation or for-profit entity. Educational fads, scams, and frauds are expanding at an alarmingly rapid rate and misusing tax payer funds.


It is misinformation that if we did not have common core – that we would have nothing. Plenty of free standard information is circulated. You also have thousands of professionals in Nevada who can help create whatever standards are needed – just as we did for decades before common core.

Problem Four: No one wants to admit they made a mistake. Teachers do not feel comfortable being vocal about the problems because of possible workplace harassment, appearing negative or insubordinate. We have flawed standards like everyone else in America who accepted them. We have spent large amounts of resources and moved in a direction that did not authentically educate kids. We are supposed to take comfort from the fact that we are not alone? This does not mean kids will improve or that teachers get what they need to teach. It is not working – so we continue to throw more resources in the wrong direction? Too late to go back now is the answer? We still have big problems.


It is misinformation that Nevada was not competitive. Or that we had drastically different standards than other states. That is simply a lie. I grew up in Nevada when we funded near the top in the nation and everyone received an education comparable to everywhere else in the United States. I have taught or worked in schools across the United States including Nevada, Texas, Delaware, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio, Maine, and Florida. States all had about the same standards but they were based on research and best practice. And no one would have thought that standards developmentally appropriate for an eight year old should be the benchmark for a five year old.

What has changed in Nevada education over the last decades? Simply a huge increase in population that includes large numbers of families in poverty. Children in Nevada need more support to be successful than they needed in the past. Spending resources to manipulate standards doesn’t address the real problem does it?

Problem Five: Someone told politicians this expensive fix would solve a problem we simply did not have. Now we have to try to teach inspite of unfunded, unsupported legislated mandates and common core. When it doesn’t make sense – teachers like me roll our eyes and plug forward. There is a myth that teachers were the problem when we were actually the solution. Now I post the standards, reflect on the stupidity, and the look into those precious faces in my classroom and teach small people to read and do math. I teach inspite of many crazy mandates. And sometimes I weep because I’m not able to think of a creative way to get around the destruction imposed on me. I do not have what I really need because we are busy trying to get federal money or buying product from vendors that donated to campaigns?


If things improve in Nevada education, it will not be because of reform.

It will be because professional teachers take back our schools and tell politicians to let us do our professional jobs. This reform is preventing me from teaching. It would be nice if I could get some textbooks, books at a variety of instructional levels, paper, and technology for my classroom.

You can count on me. I love my kids. I know their names and advocate for them daily. Please do not mandate things like common core that waste my time and keep me from doing my job.

O God hear the words of my mouth – hold Nevada’s children in your hand and protect the women who teach babies to read.

It is not just the far right that has problems with common core. Those of us with university degrees based in research and developmental educational theory hate the common core too.


This post was written by Phyliss Doerr, an experienced kindergarten teacher in Néw Jersey.

As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.

As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.

In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum. In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.

The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit. Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.

My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.” We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things? “Different stuff.” Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.

“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.

Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”

A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?” “I don’t know.”

Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?” At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.

After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.

The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.

Then came the real thing. As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.

The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.” I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.

Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.” It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded. I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

So this is kindergarten.

We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.

We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.

We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.

We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.

I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.

Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.

Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.

Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.


Iowa will not allow third graders to pass from third grade to fourth grade unless they can pass a standardized test. The pressure to read has moved down to kindergarten.

“Kindergartners at Hubbell Elementary School in Des Moines no longer have time set aside to play — or to take a nap. Recess, too, has been shortened to 30 minutes a day. Like many schools across Iowa, the state’s push for education reform has set higher expectations that are placing more pressure on teachers and students.

“Now, 5- and 6-year-olds are expected to know their letters and numbers before they start kindergarten. And by the spring, they are supposed to be able to add and subtract numbers up to 10 and read words such as “school” and “food.”

“We are the new first grade,” said Micaela Tuttle, a kindergarten teacher at Hubbell who’s taught for 10 years.

“This year’s kindergarten and first-graders are garnering special focus because of a key part of Iowa’s education reform law: third-grade retention.

“Starting in May 2017, students who are below grade level in reading by the spring of third grade will be required to repeat the grade.

“However, they may enroll in a summer reading program to progress to fourth grade.”

One in four third-graders are unlikely to pass the test.

Susan Ochshorn, an expert in early childhood education, read a recent article by Motoko Rich in the New York Times about a “renaissance” of play in kindergarten. She cautions here that the renaissance is still in too few places and can’t come soon enough.

Ochsborn writes:

“I sure hope she’s right. But I’m not yet ready to raise a glass.

“Some educators in low-income districts–including the one quoted in Rich’s piece–cling to the idea that poorer children will be ill-served by a curriculum dominated by play, falling behind their more affluent peers. Their worries, fueled by anxieties about the achievement gap, reflect a centuries-old divide—dueling theories about how young children learn best. Never mind that the evidence base for the acquisition of reading, math, science, and social skills through play couldn’t be more robust, as the researchers like to say. Or that the most well-endowed private schools, producing the nation’s elite, have long subscribed to this pedagogical model.

“We continue to spar, leaving children in the dust. Is it better for them to lead the way, or be led? Developmental scientist Alison Gopnik, who calls children the “R & D department of the human species—the blue-sky guys, the brainstormers”— argues that teacher-led learning may produce specific answers from students, but it also puts the kibosh on unexpected solutions, or the kind of creative thinking that we purport to hold in such high esteem.”

A post yesterday described the intrusion of Common Core into a Headstart program for babies.

This teacher tried but could not escape the dead hand of test-driven Common Core:

“I am just completing my 10th consecutive year teaching Kindergarten. I began the first year of the NCLB standardized testing. I previously taught grades 3-5, 10 years prior and strongly objected to the tests at that time. My principal who always praised the way I taught reading told me that I would have to restructure my program to include more workbooks and test prep.

“Luckily a position in K opened up and i was able to get away from the testing and enjoy teaching in a creative way again with thematic units and high interest books. But slowly, ever slowly that began to change. For the past 4 years I have been forced to use a “CC aligned” curriculum that I hate and must use the assessments from the program that is extremely developmentally inappropriate. And there are A LOT of benchmark tests, at least one every 2 weeks that have as many as 65 multiple choice questions like on the final ELA benchmark I gave just this week….. So now of course they would come for the babies next, not surprised, this is the trickle down effect of the poison of back mapping.”

The Boston Globe has a good article describing the debate about the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core.

Articles like this are important for educating the public

Susan Ochshorn of the ECE Policy Works, questions our society’s obsessive compulsive demand for data, especially data about our youngest children.


She writes:


“Americans love data. We cannot get enough of it. Collectors on speed, we measure every indicator in sight. Children are the youngest, most fragile casualties of our obsessive compulsive disorder. How many words do they have in their emergent lexicons? Do they know their letters? Can they count up to 20? Are they ready for school? Are they reading The Sorcerer’s Stone ahead of the third-grade benchmarks? They’re on treadmills, each milestone anxiously awaited, and dutifully recorded….


“Assessing readiness “a somewhat narrow and artificial construct of questionable merit,” as one early childhood expert put it, is daunting. Kids develop on wildly different timelines, their progress difficult to capture in a snapshot. But that doesn’t stop us. Today, a growing number of states are adopting universal assessment of kindergarten students, grappling with the challenges of reliability and validity in the instruments they use.”


Nothing can stop us from collecting Big Data about little kids. Or can it? What if parents should said no?

A comment posted on the blog:


“Thank-you. I’ve been teaching for 26 years. I currently teach kindergarten. You should see the SLO (Student Learning Objective) test that I have to give my kindergarteners next week. The state of Georgia, in its infinite wisdom, came up with the term Student Learning Objective, realizing too late that it spells SLO. How appropriate.


“Anyway, next week’s test is hilarious when you read it, knowing what I know about five year olds & seeing it from their point of view. It is also ridiculous and sad. I so wish Bill Gates would come and administer that test for me next week so he could get a taste of what he & others are causing our students to go through. Testing isn’t educating, but it’s all we seem to do anymore. Even in primary school.


“To make matters worse, our new “teacher evaluation instrument” is convoluted and makes little sense. We are observed 6 times a year and downgraded if our lesson plans aren’t done just so, no matter that they are MY lesson plans. Here’s the real kicker: we must have our “I can” statements clearly posted, taking up valuable wall space, and we must refer to them and chant “I can….. ” do whatever ridiculous, age inappropriate objective set aside for us to “teach them.” I said the “I can” statements with my students a couple of times, realized how utterly useless they are, and haven’t done it since. It’s bad enough that I have to have them posted. My principal has told me that I live in a world of “butterflies, birds, and rainbows” and that I “do my own thing.” I’m glad she’s finally figured that out.”

This is the story of Mell Zinn. She got her teaching credentials, but she couldn’t find a job. She opened a licensed early childhood center in her home. Her husband is earning. Graduate degree. She is the sole support of her family. It is below the poverty line.

This is not what it should mean to be a professional in America in 2015.

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney, contends that the Common Core standards–not just the testing, but the standards as well–are bad for education.

Humans are born with the desire to learn. The job of parents and teachers is to foster and nurture that desire to learn, not stifle it.

“As child development expert Diane Levin of Wheelock College told me, through play, children develop the foundation for reading. When a child builds with blocks or engages in socio-dramatic play, s/he is making a representation of something in a different form — a step toward abstract thought. By painting and drawing, a child begins to understand that two-dimensional lines can represent three dimensional objects — a precursor to comprehending that letters can represent sounds and words can represent objects or ideas. By telling stories or putting on plays, a child understands sequencing. In playing with objects, s/he learns to categorize. These activities are intentionally designed to help children build a strong foundation for the kind of skills required for formal reading instruction later on. Children need to first build this foundation experientially, in the concrete world in which they live, in order for the skills to have meaning for them.

“During the above-described play, children may start to recognize letters and words. However, for most children, formal reading instruction at this age is not meaningful or engaging. They may learn to mimic and comply with instructions, but without the necessary foundation, they will not integrate the lessons. In fact, studies show that children who begin formal reading instruction at age seven, having first developed strong oral language skills in a play-based environment, catch up to children who learn to read earlier and have better comprehension skills by middle school.”


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