Alice G. Walton has written an important article in Forbes about the controversy over Common Core. (She is a Forbes contributor with a Ph.D., no relation to the Arkansas Waltons.)
She addresses three questions? Are the standards developmentally appropriate? Is the problem with the standards caused by standardized testing, and would the standards be fine if the testing were eliminated? What is the science behind the standards?
She interviewed several eminent experts in the field of early childhood education who agreed that the standards are NOT developmentally appropriate for young children. She interviewed one of the writers of the standards, Sue Pimentel, who insisted that nothing is wrong with the standards and blames the schools for poor implementation.
But this is what the leading experts said about pushing little kids to learn more faster and earlier:
“It’s not clear exactly where the current trend – of pushing more information on kids earlier – came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that “more sooner” is the most effective strategy. “The real school starting age is 7,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, faculty at Weill/Cornell Medical School and author of Hyper-Parenting and The Over-Scheduled Child. “It may be 8 or 6, depending on the child. This is all based on what we know about child development, starting from Piaget. Your brain isn’t sufficiently wired to do it before then. And you also have to keep in mind, all kids are different, and it’s very hard to predict what will happen with age. Some kids who were reading Harry Potter at 4 end up as career baristas. Others can’t read till they’re much older, and they turn out to be highly successful as adults.”
David Elkind, long-time child development expert at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child, says that a related problem with the Common Core standards is that “children are not standardized.” Between ages 4 to 7, he says, kids are undergoing especially rapid changes in cognitive ability, but this neurological and psychological development occurs at all different rates. “Some children attain these abilities—which enable them to learn verbal rules, the essence of formal instruction—at different ages. With the exception of those with special needs, all children attain them eventually. That is why many Scandinavian countries do not introduce formal instruction, the three R’s until the age of seven. In these countries children encounter few learning difficulties. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn. To use a biological analogy, you don’t prune during the growing season.”
Could the standards be acceptable if they were decoupled from standardized testing? No, the standards and tests go together. There is considerable doubt among the experts she interviewed about whether standardized tests are good predictors of life success:
Gene Beresin, Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, adds that the link between standardized tests and life success isn’t particularly clear. “The powers that be need to realize that there is not always a great correlation between high achievement on standardized tests and brilliant achievement in the workforce, in academics and in life,” says Beresin. “Some people, myself included, are notoriously bad multiple choice test takers… Good test takers know what is expected for an answer and give the test what it is looking for. But the most successful individuals may well do better on other measures of achievement, for example, writing, journaling, verbal expression, creative productivity, and group interaction. I can tell you as a medical educator there is notoriously poor correlation between results on standardized multiple choice tests and being a good doctor!”
By the time you finish the article, you realize that there is no science behind the Common Core. It is a cultural product, written by a small number of people who believe strongly in rigor and who see no problem either with standardization of children, as if they were widgets, or with setting cognitive demands beyond the reach of many–or most–young children.
This is an excellent article, not only because the author interviewed experts in child development and approached the subject with balance, but because it was published in Forbes and will reach people in the business world who need to hear these informed views.