Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

Kindergarten has been transformed by the test pressures of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and now Common Core, which wants 5-year-olds to be college-ready. Instead of a children’s garden, kindergarten is now a time to focus on academic skills.


In this story by Elissa Nadworny and Anya Kamenetz that aired on NPR, they report a new study that documents the changes in kindergarten from 1998 to 2010. The time period ends before Common Core kicks in, so it is likely that the push for academic learning is even stronger now. Are children smarter by age 18 if they learn to read in kindergarten?


They write:
“A big new study provides the first national, empirical data to back up the anecdotes. University of Virginia researchers Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham and Anna Rorem analyzed the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which includes a nationally representative annual sample of roughly 2,500 teachers of kindergarten and first grade who answer detailed questions. Their answers can tell us a lot about what they believe and expect of their students and what they actually do in their classrooms.


“The authors chose to compare teachers’ responses from two years, 1998 and 2010. Why 1998? Because the federal No Child Left Behind law hadn’t yet changed the school landscape with its annual tests and emphasis on the achievement gap.


“With the caveat that this is a sample, not a comprehensive survey, here’s what they found.


Among the differences:


“In 2010, prekindergarten prep was expected. One-third more teachers believed that students should know the alphabet and how to hold a pencil before beginning kindergarten.
“Everyone should read. In 1998, 31 percent of teachers believed their students should learn to read during the kindergarten year. That figure jumped to 80 percent by 2010.
“More testing. In 2010, 73 percent of kindergartners took some kind of standardized test. One-third took tests at least once a month. In 1998, they didn’t even ask kindergarten teachers that question. But the first-grade teachers in 1998 reported giving far fewer tests than the kindergarten teachers did in 2010.
“Less music and art. The percentage of teachers who reported offering music every day in kindergarten dropped by half, from 34 percent to 16 percent. Daily art dropped from 27 to 11 percent.
“Bye, bye brontosaurus. “We saw notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Bassok, the study’s lead author.
“Less “center time.” There were large, double-digit decreases in the percentage of teachers who said their classrooms had areas for dress-up, a water or sand table, an art area or a science/nature area.
“Less choice. And teachers who offered at least an hour a day of student-driven activities dropped from 54 to 40 percent. At the same time, whole-class, teacher-led instruction rose along with the use of textbooks and worksheets.
“Not all playtime is trending down, though. Perhaps because of national anti-obesity campaigns, daily recess is actually up by 9 points, and PE has held steady.”


A spokesperson for Education Trust said these changes were not so bad because they might reduce the achievement gap. Is there any reason to believe this is true?

Eva Moskowitz is a very powerful woman. She has 11,000 students in her 34 Success Academy charter schools, which get extraordinarily high test scores. She might be universally admired but she picks fights. She usually wins, because she is tougher than anyone else, and she has the backing of the moguls on Wall Street whose financial help Governor Cuomo enjoys.


But now she has picked a fight that is almost incomprehensible. Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted “universal pre-k,” and he invited charter schools to offer pre-K classes. Every school, public or charter, that agreed to provide pre-K signed a contract with the city. But not Eva. She said it was illegal for the city to demand that she sign a contract. She expects to be paid $720,000 by the city without signing the contract that all public schools and other charters have signed. She threatened to cancel her pre-K programs unless she is paid without signing the city contract.


Why? Because no one can tell her what to do. Certainly not the city.


Now Eva has appealed to state officials to force the city to back off and pay her, so she can run the pre-K program without signing a contract like other schools.


A Success Academy spokesman said the network has received applications from 1,800 families for 126 pre-K seats for 2016-17.

Success Academy operates 34 charter schools that enroll roughly 11,000 kids in total. The schools outperform traditional public schools on state exams.

Despite the reportedly high level of demand for Success Academy pre-K seats, city Education Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said Moskowitz must sign on the dotted line to get paid.

“There is simply no basis to conclude that requiring Success to comply with these requirements of program quality would somehow result in Success’ inability to operate its pre-K programs,” Kaye said.

Each of the other 277 pre-K providers — including nine other charter school operators — have already signed the contracts, Kaye said.

City Controller Scott Stringer has also urged Moskowitz to sign the contract, saying in October that “there is no conceivable reason for one charter school to be held to a different standard than every other charter school.”


Eva is counting on the state to defend her right not to sign.


Meanwhile I received a copy of this letter from a teacher at Success Academy, which includes the letter that Eva sent to the teaching staff, urging them to support her defiant stand:


Dear Dr. Ravitch,


The staff of Success Academy received an email from our fearless CEO that I thought might interest you. She addresses the current conflict with the de Blasio administration over pre-k funding, and urges her staff to complain to the mayor and our local officials. It’s still incredible to me how she believes that she can use her staff as political capital without presenting a complete picture of an issue. I haven’t read the contract that she refuses to sign, but by all reports it seems benevolent enough. The funding comes from taxpayer money after all, so it seems fair that the city would oversee the programs it supports. And yet, from her email, Eva would like us to believe that this is nothing more than an attack on her schools. She is obviously using this as way to stoke fear that there is a “larger war on Success Academy and charter schools.” It’s simply ironic to me that someone who is running a school system, where we are supposed to value critical thinking, would present such a one-sided and manipulative take of this conflict.


I’ve copied the text of the email below. I also have screenshots of the email if you’d like further verification. 






This is the letter that Eva sent to members of the staff of her charters:


Team Success:


I am writing to update you about Success Academy pre-k for next year. This first year has been one of tremendous growth for our youngest scholars — and for Success as well, as we challenged ourselves to develop a magical curriculum that engaged and delighted 4-year-olds. The response from families has been so positive that we made plans to expand our pre-k to our Union Square and Bensonhurst schools.


Unfortunately, in the case of Success Academy, Mayor de Blasio does not truly support pre-k for all. The mayor and the Department of Education have again thrown up a roadblock. He has refused to pay us the pre-k funding to which we are entitled under the law unless we allow him to dictate how we run our pre-k program. A critical aspect of charter schools is that we are not subject to the control of the city government. That is what enables a high-quality program.


Success Academy and 24 parents of students in our pre-k program have brought a legal action against the city but it is unclear how long it will take to get a decision. Unfortunately, unless we get a result or persuade Mayor de Blasio to do the right thing within the next two weeks, we will be forced to cancel our pre-k program for the coming year!


Please feel free to express your concern to the mayor directly and to you local elected officials. This would be a terrible shame for families and for staff who have worked so hard to create a truly amazing pre-k experience. This is just part of a larger war on Success Academy and charter schools. On a daily basis, we are forced to fight for kids’ rights to a world-class, free education.


Thank you for all you do for children.




Eva Moskowitz




I recently received two comments that reflect on the new, academic kindergarten. Actually, schooling for 5-year-olds should not be called “kindergarten.” That term was invented by Friedrich Froebel in the early 19th century and meant “a children’s garden.” It was a time to play, laugh, build, tinker, and smell flowers. No more. Now it is a time to learn to read and write and calculate.

Here is one comment:

“I am a retired early childhood/elementary teacher in PA. My 5 year old grandson (May birthday) started kindergarten this year (cut off date Sept. 1st). He is the youngest boy in the class as parents hold their summer birthday children back. He has been tested twice (along with the class) with a test used by their Reading textbook manufacturer. He improved in all 3 testing areas from September to December but still didn’t meet the criteria for reading and is being taken out of the classroom for remedial reading 3-4 times a week. He is missing classroom time or nap time. When my daughter asked the teacher if the test was scored based on age – she said no that is up to the parents (meaning – hold them back).

“I have a big problem with a curriculum that is not developmentally appropriate. If you have to hold you child back to match the curriculum then something is wrong. Or change the cut off date to January 1st (all children must be 6 by then).

“Think about this – we went to the moon on the knowledge of people who didn’t read in kindergarten. Our scientists who developed vaccines for diseases didn’t have common core math. This pushing down curriculum to lower grades is developmentally wrong and stressful and anxiety producing for kids.

“It’s all about money for the textbook and test manufacturers and politics which ties funding into scores.”

Another reader sent this comment:

“What you mention is not the k-8 system I have been experiencing. Our school is so “academic” that many “red-shirt” their kindergarteners in an attempt to give them a leg up. There’s extreme pressure to read, write, and solve math problems with pencil and paper from day one. Many parents (and teachers) are starting to finally push back, realizing that we had reached a tipping point where it’s just not possible to get any more “academic”. The kids are suffering. Child development has been ignored. The way kids learn has been ignored. All in the name of academic achievement, yet outcomes aren’t increasing. The kids were being pushed to work, afraid to fail or stray from a set path. We are slowly turning back to incorporate play-based, project-based and student driven exploration.”

Susan Ochshorn of the ECE Workshop describes a new article in the Teachers College Record on the absurdity of the Obama-Duncan “cradle-to-career” policies. Jeanne Marie Ioria and Clifton Tanabe present a thesis: “School readiness, a state we so avidly seek, has created a chain (in all senses of the word) between our youngest students and the labor force, reinforcing the idea of children as commodities.”


Now, they say, this market-driven, utilitarian philosophy has moved into the upper grades and higher education, with predictable results:


As a result, this process is tilted away from the more traditional aims of self-actualization, appreciation, and happiness. It is in the ability to check off a box of measurable outcomes, assurance of accountability in education across the levels, evidence that monies supporting public education are well-spent creating people ready to contribute and perpetuate the status quo.


The concept of “readiness” now dominates early childhood education and justifies harmful policies:


Curriculum, standards, teacher education programs, interventions, parent education, assessment, state-funded 4-year-old programs, and privatization are just the beginning of policies and practices created and implemented all in the name of readiness…kindergarten readiness is plagued with a list of academic skills like identifying rhyming words and the alphabet. Companies like LeapFrog offer lists of readiness skills to educate the public as well as products to achieve this readiness. A Kindergarten Readiness App is available for download to your iPhone or iPad, ensuring development of early literacy and math skills.


The authors note that employers say that high school and college graduates are not well prepared for the jobs that are available but when asked about the skills they want, they speak of creativity, critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and other “soft” skills that are currently out of vogue.


Susan Ochshorn says that early childhood education is “ground zero for democracy,” the best time to teach children to engage with others through play and imaginative activities.



Let’s end 2015 on a happy note.
Earlier we discussed an absurd editorial in the New York Times about the necessity of standardized tests, without which no one would know anything about whether children were learning anything at all.

But lo! In a different section of the same newspaper is a story about a preschool where children spend four hours daily in the great outdoors. Do you think the education editorial writer of the New York Times reads the New York Times?


Read this: it is happening in Seattle, just a few blocks from Bill Gates’ headquarters. Do you think he knows?




“SEATTLE — Three-year-old Desi Sorrelgreen’s favorite thing about his preschool is “running up hills.” His classmate Stelyn Carter, 5, likes to “be quiet and listen to birds — crows, owls and chickadees,” as she put it. And for Joshua Doctorow, 4, the best part of preschool just may be the hat he loves to wear to class (black and fuzzy, with flaps that come down over his ears).

“All three children are students at Fiddleheads Forest School here, where they spend four hours a day, rain or shine, in adjacent cedar grove “classrooms” nestled among the towering trees of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.
The program, in its third year, is less than seven miles from Microsoft, which means some parents sit in front of computers all day inventing the digital future, while Fiddleheads children make letters out of sticks or cart rocks around in wheelbarrows.

“Founded in 2012 by Kit Harrington, a certified preschool teacher, and Sarah Heller, a naturalist and science educator, Fiddleheads is part of a larger national trend that goes beyond Waldorf education, which has long emphasized outdoor play, even in inclement weather.

“There’s the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Mich., founded in 2007, where children wear hats and mittens during daily outdoor sessions in the frigid winter months. At the All Friends Nature School in San Diego, which became a nature preschool in 2006, children often spend mornings making sand castles at the beach. And at the Drumlin Farm Community Preschool in Lincoln, Mass., founded in 2008, children learn to feed farm animals, grow vegetables and explore the farm’s many acres of wildlife habitat.

“Whether the schools are emerging in reaction to concerns that early education has become increasingly academic or simply because parents think traipsing around in the woods sounds like more fun than sitting at a desk, they are increasingly popular.

“The Natural Start Alliance, founded in 2013 in response to demand from a growing number of nature preschool providers, now counts 92 schools that deliberately put nature at the heart of their programs, and where children spend a significant portion of each day outside, according to director Christy Merrick. That’s up from 20 schools in 2008, when Patti Bailie, a professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, counted them as part of her doctoral research.”



Due to the Common Core and testing pressures, children in kindergarten are now expected to learn to read. Kindergarten, writes Erika Christakis in The Atlantic, has changed, and not for the better.

“One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. The researchers also reported more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art. Kindergarten is indeed the new first grade, the authors concluded glumly. In turn, children who would once have used the kindergarten year as a gentle transition into school are in some cases being held back before they’ve had a chance to start. A study out of Mississippi found that in some counties, more than 10 percent of kindergartners weren’t allowed to advance to first grade.

“Until recently, school-readiness skills weren’t high on anyone’s agenda, nor was the idea that the youngest learners might be disqualified from moving on to a subsequent stage. But now that kindergarten serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school, concerns about school preparedness kick in earlier and earlier. A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool. As a result, expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful.”

“Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

“New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.”

Dallas school board trustee Dan Micciche proposed mandatory recess at least once daily for at least 20 minutes for all pre-K through fifth grade students. The Dallas Morning News enthusiastically endorsed his proposal. 


It’s not just Micciche’s arguments — or our own fond memories of a break from the classroom — that persuade us. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the national Centers for Disease Control are two of many research groups eager to share their documentation supporting how recess improves children’s overall well being and — when the kids return to their seats — enhances learning and focus.
Yet Dallas, not unlike districts nationwide, has allowed academic pressures to trump free time on some campuses. Not only do some schools fail to allot 20 minutes or more of daily recess, which the national pediatrics group recommends, some also withhold it as a punishment for individuals or entire classes.
Micciche isn’t dug in on the 20-minute standard; he recognizes the need for flexibility for different grade levels. But he is right to question whether canceling recess is an appropriate form of discipline for relatively minor infractions.
The administration now will look at the logistics of making daily recess work and come back to trustees in January with a plan. Restructuring schedules and assuring student safety are not small considerations. But it’s important that Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s team finds ways to make this work — not reasons why it won’t.
The evidence is clear and consistent: Unstructured playtime pays off. It’s worth DISD having a policy in place to assure students get that break.


This is terrific, though not really enough time. If a 20-minute break is good, there should be more than one a day; that’s even better. In Finland, there is a recess after every class. But progress is being made in recognizing that children are not little test-taking machines.


Here is an interview with Dan Micciche about his breakthrough proposal to have a 20-minute recess once a day for elementary aged children. The fact that this sensible proposal is treated as amazing and unprecedented shows how far removed our education system has gone from caring about children and their well-being, and how powerful is our obsession with standardized testing. I am reminded of the slogan of early nineteenth century Lancastrians, whose schools for urban children were tightly disciplined: “Save, save the minutes.” The implication was that not a single minute should be wasted in the classroom. We save the minutes and devote them to test prep, and neglect the health and well-being of little children. Time to save, save the children.

The New America Foundation has published a report on “early learning” from birth to third grade. The New America Foundation used to be an organization whose purpose was to nurture young journalists (I was on that board several years ago). But as Washington, D.C., think tanks operate, they go where the money is.


The report upset me at the outset by confusing “proficiency” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a very high bar, equivalent to an A or A-) with “grade level.” NAEP proficiency is NOT grade level. There is only one state where as many as 50% of students reached NAEP proficient, and that is Massachusetts.


The report, which you can read, has some sensible but not new proposals, like expanding access to preschool. Much in the report is good, but the bad part is the emphasis on assessment and data collection for pre-K and earlier.


It recommends licensing early childhood educators, both teachers and principals, and requiring that they have appropriate education for teaching young children. That leaves out TFA.


It recommends equitable funding. That’s good too.


It recommends a maximum class size for early childhood education of not more than 10. That’s good.


It recommends standards, assessments, and data for the little ones, which turns out to mean that the standards and assessments for the tykes should be aligned with “college-and-career-ready standards,” that is, the Common Core. I wonder what it means for a two-year-old to be college or career-ready? The report includes a long list of data indicators that should inform policy for 0-5.


The report says that assessment for pre-K is often overlooked, which the authors consider a mistake. Ugh! They recommend screenings, diagnostic assessments, milestones, and kindergarten entry tests for children below the age of 5.


The one recommendation that is missing is play. Play is children’s work. Please don’t assess it, other than to record that there was plenty of time for play.







Clever equity investors! Goldman Sachs is profiting by investing in Social Impact Bonds, which pay off by helping pre-schoolers avoid placement in special education. The pilot program is in Utah. Goldman Sachs makes money for every child who is not referred to special education services.

But critics are skeptical:

“Nine early-education experts reviewed the program for The New York Times and identified irregularities in how the program’s success was measured. These seemed to significantly overstate the effect of the investment.

“Goldman said its investment helped almost 99 percent of the Utah children it was tracking to avoid special education.

“Researchers say well-funded preschool programs can reduce the proportion of students needing special education by 50 percent at most, usually nearer 10 or 20 percent.

“The success rate in the Utah program was based on what researchers say was a faulty assumption — that many of the school children would have needed special education without the preschool.

“This overstatement means that Goldman and its philanthropic partner, the J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, received more in payments than they should have. The bank was paid for each at-risk child who ended up not needing special education after leaving the preschool program.

“The Utah school district’s methodology, which led to large numbers of children being identified as at risk, was adopted by Goldman when it negotiated its investment.

“As long as 50 percent of the children in the program avoid special education, Goldman will earn back its money and 5 percent interest — more than Utah would have paid if it had borrowed the money through the bond market.”

John Merrow’s PBS segment about suspensions of 5- and 6-year old children at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy created quite a stir.

Eva was outraged by Merrow’s interview, even though he said some very positive things about her schools, pointing to very high test scores, parent satisfaction, and the arts.

What outraged her was Merrow’s focus on suspensions, especially his on-camera interview of a child who had left Success Academy after multiple suspensions, as well as his mother.

Eva responded with a long angry letter, revealing in full detail the disciplinary record of the boy and demanding an apology to her from PBS and Merrow. She called boy “John Doe” but his name and face were on PBS.

Jersey Jazzman was shocked that Eva had released the boy’s confidential records. Doing so without the written permission of his parent violates the federal student privacy law called FERPA.

He writes:

“I’m not a lawyer so I can’t offer an opinion as to whether FERPA was violated here. But even if it was, there’s probably not any recourse for the parent under federal law: the worst that could happen is that SA could be denied federal funds.

“Something tells me that a school that can raise over $9 million in one night isn’t going to worry too much about that…

“But whether the law was broken isn’t even the most important issue here. What Moskowitz did was an inexcusable lapse of judgment. Eva Moskowitz has put her need to protect her brand over the privacy of a child who, by her own account, has challenges in a school setting.

“This is yet another problem with the “market reform” theory of education. How much money does any corporation spend to maintain its public image? How hard will they fight if they perceive that image is being threatened? How little reluctance do they show to go after a critic of their company or their products?

“Schools, however, are not corporations (at least, not yet). Parent complaints are not threats to a brand; they are advocacy for a child. I’m not at all suggesting that school leaders don’t have the right to defend themselves, either in court or in public. But it would have been more than enough for Moskowitz to say: “We dispute these allegations; however, we will not discuss any individual case publicly, as all parents and children have a right to privacy in school.”

“Not only would this have been less questionable legally and ethically: I’d wager it would have been better for Moskowitz in the eyes of the public. Her attacks on this boy — and that’s exactly what they are — come off to me as petty, unthinking, and, worst of all, cold. And I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this way.

“It’s very strange that a woman who has worked so hard to cultivate her public image is willing to risk having it trashed just so she can win a PR fight with a 10-year-old boy. She must think the stakes are very high.

“And that’s the problem.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167,085 other followers