Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

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.”

A reader sent this comment:

My 4 year old comes home from her third day of kinder (which is her 3rd day of public schooling ever) and says: “I failed the gym test today. I didn’t know any of the answers.” She can’t read yet mind you. ‪#

Who do you think is getting a call on Friday morning? Followed by nasty emails to the Superintendent, our Regent, Roger TIlles, and new NYSED Commish Elia. This only strengthens my resolve to fight the madness that is NYS public elementary school testing. We fought this for the last few years to prevent this; to prevent our youngest from being exposed to high stakes tests used to evaluate her teacher BEFORE she can even read. Make a 4 year old unease on her third day. Who does this?

Bonnie Cunard Margolin in Florida reminds us of the brief rebellion in Lee County, Florida, when the school board voted to opt out of a crushing burden of state tests. One member rescinded her vote and the rebellion was crushed. But the fight goes on, led by Don Armstrong, a hero for children.

Bonnie writes:

As you remember, last Fall, Lee School Board Member, Don Armstrong, stood up in a bold move and opted his twin children out of testing. The entire county followed immediately after, setting off a storm of discussion about testing in Florida. His voice helped many but cost him his re-election here in Lee Cty.

The fight in Lee rages on. Armstrong is a large part of it. In fact, our superintendent, Dr. Nancy Graham (the super who gave us so much resistance during the opt out), just resigned amid sanctions for intimidation and bullying from the US Dept of Ed, Office of Civil Rights.

It stays hot down south here ;) I thought you might be interested in Armstrong’s Sunday letter this week. He mentions BAT and Bob Schaeffer (also a Lee Cty, FL resident). Here is his letter:

Happy Sunday. As always I woke up Sunday morning, drank my coffee, and pondered the issues that we are facing in the Lee County School District. This upcoming week, we have some testing issues that we need to address at Tuesday’s 6 pm Board Meeting. Let’s dive right in and look at the issues, as well as some of the solutions.

Let’s start with a look at the new testing calendar. The Lee County School Board is required to approve the testing calendar by each October. This calendar was placed on last week’s agenda, page 99, for public review. When it became public, the proposed calendar really startled parents and teachers to see that the amount of testing has increased in Lee County this year, despite efforts by the community and our state representatives to reduce testing last spring.

So, why so much concern with this new Lee County testing calendar? Well, let’s see. Starting in the kindergarten, we have ridiculous amounts of testing. Our young kindergarten students must complete 240 minutes of testing (district and state). And, you can follow the testing all the way to high school, with older students facing over 30 hours of state and district tests in one school year.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard that right. 30 HOURS of testing in one school year. Yes, and up to 240 minutes of testing in kindergarten, alone. WOW. Kindergarten testing – and, I don’t mean Fun Friday Spelling Tests. I mean, 240 minutes of grueling multiple choice tests, some on advanced software platforms, and all with high stakes consequences for our 5 year olds.

Can you imagine? I remember when I was in kindergarten, the only thing we were tested on was on how not to eat the glue and whether or not we could sing the ABC’s. Now, all their time is being spent on multiple choice testing. This insanity is taking away from our children’s’ education. Our children should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully understand that we need some type of testing to measure our students’ education, but this has completely spun out of control. As local resident, Bob Schaeffer, also National Director of FAIRTEST, pleaded at the school board microphone last Tuesday, “Enough is enough.” Lee County residents must stand up and put a stop to this nonsense.

So, let’s look at why there is so much testing. First, you have testing companies which make money. Then, you have lobbyists which make money and, of course, you have politicians who are pushing the testing because those same lobbyists are donating money to their campaigns. It is one big profitable scheme.

You see folks, there is one crucial piece to all that I just said that is missing: Teachers. Yes, you heard me right: TEACHERS. Why aren’t the teachers involved in the choice of tests? Wouldn’t you think that they are the ones who understand the children they teach? Wouldn’t you be confident that a professional, holding a college degree and licensed by state of Florida, would be the best choice to measure the needs of our students? Wouldn’t a teacher know best about where students need to be, academically, and how to get them there?

These questions bring me to the solution, and you know me: I am all about solutions.

I recommend we form a Testing Coalition across the state of Florida. This coalition is to be made up of teachers from Elementary, Middle and High School. Each of these teachers will be appointed by their peers. At the beginning of the year, they will collect data and at the end of the school year, they will work with the other 67 school districts in the state to analyze the data and recommend programs, professional development, and other needs. Yes, we would have to pay the members of the coalition and, yes, it would absolutely be well worth the money spent. The missing element in today’s crazy world of school accountability is the teacher’s voice. Let’s return teachers to the table of decisionmaking.

It’s simple. Their job would be to look at all the tests and decide which ones are working and which ones are not working. Then, they would go to the education committee in Tallahassee with recommendations.

Teachers have a voice and it is time we listened. Our Florida teachers are well educated on their craft and extremely well educated on the failures of recent reform efforts. Think about it, if you put a large group of teachers, especially intelligent, brave teachers willing to stand up to corporate, education reform, like BATS ( BadAss Teachers Association – 55,000 strong )In front of the education committee with recommendations, our leaders would have to be silly not to listen to them. The teacher’s are screaming for a voice. Let’s give it to them.

Remember, kids first not politics. Don’t put a $ sign on our kids’ education.

– Don Armstrong, Parent and Candidate for Lee County School Board

Jerusha Connor, a professor of education at Villanova University, was shocked to see what happened to her daughter on her first day of kindergarten: Most of the few hours of school were spent on assessment by five different teachers.

She writes:

For anyone who doubts that education in the U.S. has become overrun by testing, consider this. My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task such as cutting, coloring in the lines, reciting her address and phone number, identifying letters and their sounds, and counting. She then had to wait two days, while all the other incoming kindergartners were assessed, to learn of her teacher and begin the school year in earnest.

From an educator’s point of view, this approach makes good sense. Determine what it is that kids know. Then use that baseline knowledge to assemble a class.

But this was an intimidating initiation from a child’s perspective. Usually an outgoing and independent girl, my daughter was clingy and nervous on her first day of kindergarten. When I asked how she was feeling as we approached the front door of the building, she said she did not want to go to school. She did not have any friends yet. She did not know her way around the building. She worried that there would be too many people. What if her teachers were mean? What if kids made fun of her when they heard her name? What if she had to use the restroom? She was a bundle of nerves. I’m sure this testing scenario did little to quell her concerns. I have no doubt that however she was assessed, she did not perform from a place of confidence or comfort. Even under less trying circumstances, such one-shot assessments are of questionable validity.

Indeed, by the time I picked her up, she had not relaxed at all. She did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.

She and her husband were saddened by their daughter’s experience.

My husband and I will do our best to help her unlearn what she learned about school on her first day: that it is a place where you are judged for what you know — not how eager you are to learn; that performance matters more than understanding or inquiry; that schoolwork is hard and uninteresting. We will work with her teacher (whomever he or she is) to ensure that the strengths she brings to kindergarten — curiosity, compassion and creativity — are recognized and nurtured. We will encourage her love of learning and her self-confidence; I just wish we did not have to work against the school system in doing so.

Our educational system’s drive to assess, to label and sort kids, to make decisions on the basis of data of dubious quality has gone too far, and it is time for a course correction. We must remember that “data” are social constructions, shaped by the circumstances under which they are obtained. And just as these circumstances affect the nature of the information we collect, they have bearing on other things that matter, such as a child’s first impressions of school. I submit that these impressions matter more than any purported snapshot of a child’s abilities.

The reformers’ obsession with testing is harmful to children.

Pittsburgh is a textbook example of the importance of electing a school board that supports public schools, instead of one that is controlled by billionaires.

This is a story of how a community saved its school, which the old board had decided to close.

The new elected board listened to the community, which wanted to keep Woolsair Elementary open. The old one said enrollment was too low; with community activism, enrollment is up. The school adopted a STEAM focus (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The STEAM theme is given credit for renewed interest, but frankly, I think that is merely the cherry on top of the whipped cream. The real change agent here was the community activism.

Be it noted that the Pittsburgh school board severed ties with TFA.

This is a city energized to save and improve its public schools.

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.”


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