Nancy Bailey describes here the determined effort by policymakers to stamp out play and childhood, all in the name of teaching reading long before children are ready to learn to read.

Because kindergarten has become more advanced, preschool is seen as the time children must have prereading skills for kindergarten. If they don’t, it’s seen as a red flag. This makes teachers and parents push children to learn to read early.

Children are expected to know letters and numbers, even basic sight words. They’re supposed to be able to sit and focus on tasks for longer periods. But preschool wasn’t always about teaching prereading skills, and we should question if children that young are being pushed to read too soon.

In 2002, Newsweek published an article entitled “The Right Way to Read.” The title was conjecture. Reporters visited the Roseville Cooperative Preschool in northern California. Children there were called “masters of the universe” because they oversaw play. Children played most of the time. The school based everything on play.

Children played at a science table. They used magnifying glasses to explore flowers, cacti, and shells. They donned smocks to do art, lots of art. They were able to climb and stay active. They had access to books and a dollhouse.

There were no letters or numbers on the wall.

Director and founder Bev Bos told teachers, “Forget about kindergarten, first grade, second grade. We should be focusing on where children are right now.”

But Newsweek didn’t praise the preschool. They were there to show the controversy surrounding it.

The Bush administration had claimed research indicated that 50,000 Head Start teachers were going to have to learn how to provide explicit instruction on how to teach the alphabet, letter sounds, and writing to young children.

Not only that. Preschool teachers were to use a detailed literacy-screening test. Forty-five million was being earmarked for preschool-reading research.

Children were no longer masters of their world. Adults were in control.

Yes, the adults were in control but they made horrible decision that stole childhood and play from children.

For all the hundreds of millions and billions poured into the Great Crusade to Teach Preschoolers to Read, there has been minimal change in NAEP scores for reading, in fourth or eighth grades. Despite the pressure to raise test scores in reading, scores remained stagnant, and no academic progress was made at all for the lowest performing students since the implementation of NCLB almost two decades ago.