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?
“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?