Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

Opt Out Orlando posted the following letter by Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher. For her courage and dedication to her students, Susan Bowles joins the honor roll.

Her husband wrote this introduction:

“I tried to share this post by my wife, Susan, last night. I just found out her privacy settings don’t let others see it. I am very proud of her stance and completely support her, even if it means she loses her job. That would mean someone whose passion has always been about teaching little kids would be out of the profession. She began teaching in 1977.”

Susan Bowles wrote:

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have just sent emails to my principal and CRT, the superintendent, my colleagues at school, the school board members, ACEA (local teachers’ union) and the Gainesville Sun. I have a letter ready to go to the parents of the children in my class, pending principal approval which is standard protocol.

WHY I AM REFUSING TO GIVE THE FAIR TEST TO MY KINDERGARTNERS!

We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical Kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. FYI: Kindergartners aren’t born with mouse skills. Many of them are proficient on tablets or smartphones, but the mouse can be tricky. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This child double-clicked three times and triple clicked once. There is no way to go back. There is no way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child.

This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.

Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately TWO WEEKS of true INSTRUCTIONAL TIME LOST. We will not be putting them in front of a movie or having extended playtime, but the reality is that with 35 students, instruction is not the same. FAIR TESTING IS DONE THREE TIMES A YEAR!

I KNOW I MAY BE IN BREACH OF MY CONTRACT BY NOT ADMINISTERING THIS TEST. I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE SUBMIT TO ADMINISTERING THIS TEST THREE TIMES A YEAR, LOSING SIX WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION. THERE IS A GOOD POSSIBILITY I WILL BE FIRED.

I am heartsick over the possibility of losing my job. I love my job. There is nothing I would rather do than teach. I have cried and cried over this, but in the end, it’s not about me. I feel God wants me to stand up for what is best for children. So, come what may, this is my stance. I WILL NOT ADMINISTER THE FAIR TEST TO MY STUDENTS.

If you are wondering what you can do, first and foremost, pray that the testing situation for children in Florida will change. Secondly, if you are a teacher or administrator, tell your story. This is not an education problem. This is a state government problem.

Whom should you contact? Governor Scott sits at the top in the chain of command. I say, voice your concerns to him. He actually might listen since he’s up for reelection. Just Read Florida is the group that masterminded the new version of FAIR. Let them know what you think about it. This issue isn’t about one teacher. This is a springboard for educators and parents to tell their stories. Please, let your voice be heard.

Thanks to Becky Jones Young, my childhood friend and fellow lifelong teacher, for taking a stand of her own in Ohio. She was an amazing middle school English teacher, who quit teaching (her love, joy and passion) because she could no longer participate in cheating children out of fun, creativity and enriching learning – in the name of education.

Susan Bowles
Kindergarten Teacher
Lawton Chiles Elementary School
Gainesville, Florida

Susan Ochshorn, a specialist in early childhood education, demonstrates in this post (as she has before, and will again) that play is crucial for the healthy mental development of young children. Ochshorn is the founder of ECE Policyworks and a tireless advocate for childhood.

Ochshorn cites the research of Deborah Leong to explain the importance of play.

“Self-regulation, as the non-neuroscientists among us refer to executive function, has to do with the development of the prefrontal cortex, and influences both cognition and emotions. Leong compares this “muscle,” which grows exponentially in the years from birth to five, to a traffic controller, allocating mental resources to focus on the tasks at hand. Here are the three components of executive function:

Inhibitory self-control, which allows children to delay gratification, and to stay on task, even when they’re bored;

Working memory, which enables kids to take multiple perspectives and hold two strategies in mind at the same time; and

Cognitive flexibility, or the ability to adjust mental effort depending upon the task, and to pay attention when the task is challenging.

And here’s why it matters: Levels of executive function have been found to predict academic success better than IQ and social class. Moreover, self-regulation correlates with acquisition of literacy skills, improved teacher-child interactions, and relationships with other children. Emotional regulation is also linked to a child’s ability to control stress while learning. Unregulated children just can’t get down to the important business at hand, and they are becoming alarming statistics. Today, one out of 40 preschoolers is expelled, or three times the rate of K-12 expulsions. Class size, teacher-child ratios, duration of day, teacher credentials and education levels, as well as teacher stress have all been implicated in this growing phenomenon. Early childhood mental health consultation is increasingly seen—and indeed, welcome—as a viable strategy for changing this calculus. But it’s not enough.”

In short, children need to play, and our test-obsessed education system is reducing the available for play. This is not good for children or for the mental health of our troubled society.

Florida has gone bonkers. State law requires children in kindergarten to take tests for every subject taught in kindergarten. Some counties will develop as many as 15 different tests, ranging from physical education to art. Most children will be required to take seven tests.

State Sen. David Simmons, a member of the education committee, said “For us to assure that schools do their jobs we can only test. If you don’t test, you don’t care,” said Simmons.

School districts will decide whether children’s performance on the tests will impact their grades and their ability to move on to first grade.

This must be another of former Governor Jeb Bush’s bright ideas. You can tell how much he cares because Florida students take so many tests.

When Governor Rick Snyder created the Educational Achievement Authority for the state’s lowest-performing schools, he promised bold new thinking. One of his bold plans is a kindergarten called the Brenda Scott Academy, which has a kindergarten of 100 students. It is a stretch to call it “new,” because classes of this size sometimes existed a century ago.

The lead teacher, a veteran, is 30. Her helpers are in their firstvand second years of teaching.

“The hub’s large size concerns some experts. Officials with the EAA say teachers using this system are better able to tailor their lessons to the needs of individual children.

“Research has shown smaller sizes work, but this model has pretty much in a sense, early on, has kind of proved that wrong,” said Marques Stewart, Brenda Scott’s principal…..”

“The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends kindergartners be educated in a defined group no larger than 20 to 24 students. Within that, it says, the teacher-student ratio range should be 1:10 to 1:12.

“Particularly for younger children, you need small groups for their ability to focus and their ability to form strong relationships with the teacher and to have an effective learning experience,” said Barbara Willer, the organization’s deputy executive director.

“One of the things that’s important in terms of early childhood education is you’re focusing on all areas of children’s development. Not only academic development, but also their social development.”

“Those early relationships are especially important for at-risk children, Firestone said. At Brenda Scott, 73% of students qualify for a free lunch — a barometer of poverty — though the school gives free meals to everyone. The school is in an area with a highly transient population, school officials said.

“Firestone, Willer and Keith Myers, executive director of the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children, all said they know of no other kindergarten set up the same way. They learned about the hub through the Free Press and have never been there.

“Denise Smith, vice president for early learning at Excellent Schools Detroit, a coalition of foundations and community leaders, was curious when she heard about the hub and observed it for 40 minutes in mid-May.

“What I think is unique and successful in this environment is that they are really using the opportunity to co-plan and co-teach, so they’re able to expand in and out of their classes, to hone in on the needs of individual children,” she said. “I think they’re making it work.”

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?

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