Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an expert on early childhood education, has been an outspoken opponent of the trend to push academics into kindergarten, and even preschool.

In this post, she explains how play has been banished from many kindergartens by the misguided belief that starting academics early will close the achievement gap. It doesn’t help kids of any origin. The children hurt most by this pressure are children of color.

She writes:

Soon many of our nation’s young children will be starting school for the first time. What they will likely find is something dramatically different from what their parents experienced at their age. Kindergartens and pre-K classrooms have changed. There is less play, less art and music, less child choice, more teacher-led instruction, worksheets, and testing than a generation ago. Studies tell us that these changes, although pervasive, are most evident in schools serving high percentages of low-income children of color.

The pressure to teach academic skills in pre-K and kindergarten has been increasing since the passage of the No Child Left Behind act 15 years ago. Today, many young children are required to sit in chairs, sometimes for long periods of time, as a teacher instructs them. This goes against their natural impulse to learn actively through play where they are fully engaged–body, mind, and spirit.

Play is an engine driving children to build ideas, learn skills and develop capacities they need in life. Kids all over the world play and no one has to teach them how. In play children develop problem solving skills, social and emotional awareness, self-regulation, imagination and inner resilience. When kids play with blocks, for example, they build concepts in math and science that provide a solid foundation for later academic learning. No two children play alike; they develop at different rates and their different cultures and life experiences shape their play. But all children learn through play.

Many urban, low-income children have limited play opportunities outside of school, which makes in-school playtime even more vital for them. But what studies now show is that the children who need play the most in the early years of school get the least. Children in more affluent communities have more classroom play time. They have smaller class sizes and more experienced teachers who know how to provide for play-based learning. Children in low income, under-resourced communities have larger class sizes, less well-trained teachers, heavier doses of teacher-led drills and tests, and less play.

We’ve seen a worrisome trend in recent years showing high rates of suspension from the nation’s public preschools. The latest report from the Office for Civil Rights reveals that these suspensions are disproportionately of low-income black boys. (This pattern continues for children in grades K-12.) Something is very wrong when thousands of preschoolers are suspended from school each year. While multiple causes for suspensions exist, one major cause for this age group is play deprivation. Preschool and kindergarten suspensions occur primarily in schools serving low-income, black and brown children and these are the schools with an excess of drill-based instruction and little or no play.

There are many children who simply cannot adapt to the unnatural demands of early academic instruction. They can’t suppress their inborn need to move and create using their bodies and senses. They act out; they get suspended from school, now even from preschool.

Depriving low-income children and children of color of play will not make them better learners. In fact, it may turn them off school entirely. Let children be children. Let them grow up healthy, curious, imaginative, and free to experiment and dream. There is plenty of time to learn academics.

Susan Ochshorn is an advocate for early childhood education and a deep-blue progressive.

In this article, she explores how she reacts to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

In her own decision-making, Ochshorn ordered a copy of Hillary’s book It Takes a Village. She liked what she read.

She writes:

The book is a love letter to America’s children. At Yale, Clinton had gotten permission to study child development, adding a year to her legal studies. She wondered about the kids she saw in New Haven, worrying about their journeys to adulthood. She reveled in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which transformed our attitudes about human ability and potential.

Clinton also weighed in on the nascent findings of neuroscience. Long before adverse childhood experiences entered the lexicon, and @acestoohigh became a Twitter handle, she understood the impact of toxic stress. “Some communities are so besieged by issues of survival that children’s needs get pushed aside,” she wrote. We get a glimpse of the young social justice warrior, side-by-side with Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund.

Her framework is pure Urie Bronfenbrenner. A child psychologist, he emigrated from Russia in 1923, making his way to Ithaca, New York, and a distinguished career at Cornell. This scientist understood the need for interdependence; he knew that children, and their parents, don’t develop in isolation. First and foremost, he believed, every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her—the core of his elegant bio-ecological theory, which undergirds America’s bare-bones social policy, including Head Start, which he helped to design, community schools, and Promise Neighborhoods.

It Takes a Village is also personal. Clinton talks about the embarrassed silence that greeted her at her law firm when she became pregnant in 1979. She captures the transformation that Chelsea’s birth wrought, the quotidian details of early parenthood, including the horror she felt as her baby started foaming at the nose during a bungled breast-feeding session. She beautifully renders that sense of helplessness, and the aspirations for her infant, so deeply shared by all American parents.

I was captivated. But the interplay of my own nature and nurture complicated matters. In the New York primary, I voted for Sanders and split the delegates, my schizophrenia rearing its ugly head.

I’m a Brooklyn girl, an alumna of the high school that spawned Bernie Sanders. In the 1968 race between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, my father cast his vote for Dick Gregory, an African-American comedian, civil rights activist, and write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party. I’m also the daughter of a second-wave feminist, a member of Women’s Strike for Peace, who clawed her way to a solid career in mid-life.

I’ve been tangled up in blue, of the progressive hue.

Clinton is the smartest, sanest, and most competent one in this horrifying political nightmare. The media coverage of her has been seriously gendered. Why has no one given her credit for venturing forth into the maelstrom of health care reform? And yes, I long to see the ultimate glass ceiling broken. Yet, as a public servant, Clinton has adopted policies, or supported those of her husband, that have been seriously at odds with my core values—and in some cases, her own. Like mass incarceration and welfare reform, each of which had a devastating impact on black women, children, and men.

Early this year, in a conversation with Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matters, New Yorker editor David Remnick summed up Clinton’s stance in a meeting she’d had with movement representatives. “You’re interested in changing hearts,” he recounted her saying, “I’m interested, as a politician, in changing laws.” Garza’s vote would go elsewhere. “We’re always in a dialectical relationship between changing culture, or changing hearts or changing policy,” she said.

Clinton needs to be nimble, to move among the different elements of the dialectic, her heart open, policy responsive, and ear to the ground on the seismic cultural changes of our time. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and their supporters have pushed her along, and they’ll continue to do so. So will the “mothers of the movement,” those of slain black men, who have been given pride of place at the Democratic convention. Not to mention Michelle Obama, who stole the show with her spirited validation of her husband’s former opponent.

The choice is between someone we hope will show her true self: Hillary Clinton–and someone whose true self is abhorrent to all progressive values.

Let Hillary be Hillary.

This is a letter that I received:

I have been following you for the last 10 years and am in awe of your continued efforts to turn public education in the right direction.

I read your article this morning about a teacher who had had enough.

It could have been my story.

I am a retired NYC Department of Education pre-k teacher in an under represented community. I taught pre-k for 16 consecutive years in the same school. I was fortunate that I was able to introduce many innovative programs to support my students not just in academics but the more important social/emotional piece that schools often neglect.

I brought to my classroom American Sign Language, Yoga, Mindfulness, Cooking and Baking, Caterpillars into Butterflies and as much art and music as I could fit in a day.

My students thrived. Sadly, each year it became more and more difficult to protect my students from the “rigor” and academic push for 3 and 4 year olds.

This past year, I was evaluated by not just my supervisors but from NYC Instructional Coordinators, a Social Worker who came once a month and no longer worked with students and their families, but was there to teach me classroom management, and an Educational Coach who came to help me learn how to better assess my students.

In addition, NYC has contracted ECERS:

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale.

The Instructional Coordinators returned to review the ECERS report on the premise of helping me attain a better rating the next year. They removed my television which I used to play videos for yoga and ASL for my students so they could see children their own age doing yoga and ASL.

They said ECERS did not allow more than 20 minutes a week for technology.

I tried to explain that the television was not technology but the television was removed.

They removed my oven because they believed it to be dangerous.

They removed my students yoga cushions because they said they were not sanitary despite the fact that they had washable covers.

The final blow came when in the ECERS report it stated that I had an inappropriate book; The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.

The ECERS evaluator said it promoted violence and bullying because the grouchy ladybug wanted to fight.

Either she had never read the book or had read it and did not understand its value.

I no longer had any autonomy in my classroom and I could not in good conscience do what the IC’s and other outside people wanted me to do with my children.

It was a very difficult decision.

I had legacy families where I had taught 7 or 8 members of extended families.

Many families started teaching their children how to pronounce my name as soon as they were able to sit up.

My story is just one small grain of sand but I am confident that it is being replicated all over the country.

I left not because I was in an under represented community and not because many children had challenging issues but rather because the lack of support and understanding about what it means to be a teacher was draining the life out of me.

I am hopeful to continue to have a voice for children, particularly the ones that few want to teach.

If you post my story, please do not use my name.

In a stunning setback for Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain, a judge ruled that the charters must submit to the city’s regulations for Pre-K if it expects to receive city funding. Moskowitz had sued to reject any city authority over her charter schools, even though nearly a dozen other charter schools agreed to sign the city’s contract for Pre-K.

Moskowitz vowed to appeal, insisting that she has a right to public funds without any oversight other than her authorizer, the State University of New York, which gives her free rein.

Dear Readers, 
I know you live in every state. You are parents, grandparents, educators, and concerned citizens. Can you respond to this request that I received? Please respond here and I will forward your suggestions to Mr. Casteel.
“Dr. Ravitch,




“I work for the Danville Regional Foundation (DRF), a place-based, hospital conversion foundation located in Southern Virginia. We focus on the transformation of a region that has a population of about 125,000 in a geographic area on the Virginia/North Carolina border about the size of Rhode Island. Generations ago this region made their economic bets on textile manufacturing and tobacco, and for a few generations that worked out really well. Now the median household income in Danville Virginia is about half that of the state average. And many realize we’re not simply coming out of a recession where things will get back to normal, but we’re struggling to find a new normal in a transformed economy. Our foundation is one of the partners trying to help the region find new competitive advantages. We focus most of our efforts on education, workforce development, economic development, and health and wellness. 


“Every other year DRF takes our board of directors on a trip to places which are farther along the developmental curve in certain areas than this region. In the past we’ve been to Greenville SC (downtown revitalization), Lewiston-Auburn Maine (regionalism), and Dubuque Iowa (economic development platforms). We do this not to find silver bullets, or buy models off the shelf and try to plug them in here, but to try and understand the issues more deeply and to “see the possible” of what’s out there and working in other places.


“We want to go to places that look like this region as much as possible, rather than significantly larger and wealthier cities with lots of resources. This year, the board is interested in a trip that would highlight a place that is doing innovative work in education.


“We’ve made some significant investments (for us) in education, including over $9 Million in the region for the creation of a local program focused on early childhood education. With those efforts we realize measuring impact is a long-term prospect. We’re looking for a place being thoughtful about various innovations that are focused not on “failed fads and foolish ideas” and not models built only to improve the test scores, which I fear is what many think success looks like. Ideally, perhaps, would be a school district where the community and the schools have a shared vision about what success looks like for them and agreed upon strategy to get there. 


“I very much appreciate your work and ideas in the field and I write today to see if you have any suggestions of places we should consider, or other guidance you can offer.




“Clark Casteel”




Susan Ochshorn is an eloquent defender of childhood and an advocate for play-based learning for small children.


She wrote this article for CNN.Com pleading for public understanding of early childhood education. It is wonderful that there is a growing movement for universal pre-kindergarten, she says, but it would be a terrible mistake to align pre-K with the Common Core and insist on “rigor.” Little children don’t need rigor. They need to learn social skills. They need to play. They need to be children, not forced into a mold.


She writes:


Rigor for 4-year-olds? What about their social-emotional development, which goes hand-in-hand with cognitive skill-building? What about play, the primary engine of human development?
Unfortunately, it seems like we’re subjecting our young children to a misguided experiment.
“Too many educators are introducing inappropriate teaching methods into the youngest grades at the expense of active engagement with hands-on experiences and relationships,” Beverly Falk, author of Defending Childhood told me. “Research tells us that this is the way young children construct understandings, make sense of the world, and develop their interests and desire to learn.” She isn’t alone.
Early academic training has become an obsession among child development experts and teachers of young children as the Common Core standards have encroached upon the earliest years of schooling.

Kindergarten has already undergone a radical transformation. University of Virginia researchers Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem found that in 2006, 65% of kindergarten teachers — more than double the number in 1998 — thought most children should learn to read on their watch. Meanwhile, the exposure to social studies, science, music, and art — the staples of a well-rounded early childhood education — had declined. And nearly 20% of teachers never had physical education.
All these trends have accelerated rapidly with recent education reform policies, including Race to the Top. As a result, kinetic 4-year-olds, squirming in their seats, face the prospect of having to put their noses to the grindstone in a rigorous classroom with little time for play. Never mind that they’re just beginning to get the hang of following directions, staying on task, and paying attention. We keep pushing them along, ignoring the pesky emotions that get in the way of regulation and executive function.


Bravo, Susan! Keep fighting for childhood.

How could I miss this great article by Jessica Lahey? She writes about a childhood book about a little tiger who was very upset that he wasn’t as good as other little tigers. He couldn’t read as well, write as well, speak as well, or do anything as well as his peers. Children who read this book can identify because almost everyone feels unsuccessful in some way.


Lahey describes her concerns about her own children and how they caught up and matched their peers.


“We all watch our children as they grow, for signs that all is well. We crave evidence, both of their healthy development and of our own competence as parents, and lacking any other source of information, we scan the playground for comparisons. That boy can count to 100 in Spanish while my son can barely speak his native tongue. That child can traverse the play structure with the athleticism of a spider monkey, while mine needs help climbing up the slide. That girl can eat her healthful snack with chopsticks, while my child eats his boogers.


“Relax,” the psychologist and former teacher Michele Borba reminds me when I email to fret about the swim coach’s observation that Finn’s “a sinker,” or Ben’s inability to ride a bike well into his tweens. “Einstein didn’t say his first word until he was 4. Stop rubbernecking on the playground, Jess; childhood is not a race. Stay calm and support your child. If you are really worried, talk to his teacher or pediatrician, but kids bloom at their own rate, in their own sweet time.”


“She is right, of course. A big part of my job as a middle-school teacher was to prepare my students for the complex demands of high school. Every year, there were a few students who caused me to fret, students I was positive would never be ready in time. They lost their plan books 10 times a day and left lunches in lockers until swarms of fruit flies betrayed the neglected hoard. And yet, somehow, some way, and just in time for ninth grade, they bloomed.”


This is good advice. Parents worry that their children are not keeping up. Government policies re-inforce this anxiety by insisting that all children must be proficient on tests that ration proficiency and spread it out on a bell curve. The Common Core assumes that all children develop at the same rate. The point of Lahey’s article is to remind us that children bloom at their own pace.



Mayor de Blasio of NYC vastly expanded pre-kindergarten across the city. Thirteen charter schools provide pre-K programs. Twelve of them signed contracts with the city. Only one, the Success Academy charter chain, refused to sign a contract with the city on grounds that the city has no authority to supervise charters. Eva Moskowitz threatened to close her pre-K programs rather than signing a contract.


Moskowitz appealed to MaryEllen Elia, the state commissioner of education. Elia rejected Eva’s appeal.


“In her decision, Ms. Elia noted that the city’s request for proposals to run prekindergarten programs clearly stated “no payments will be made by the D.O.E. until the contract is registered with the N.Y.C. comptroller’s office.”


“She also ruled that there was nothing contrary to state education law in the city’s oversight of the program.


“Taking Success’s argument “to its logical conclusion,” Ms. Elia wrote, “would mean that D.O.E. would be required to provide charter schools’ prekindergarten programs with public funding without any mechanism to ensure” that they were meeting quality requirements, and that “public funds are being spent in accordance with the requirements.”


Eva Moskowitz promised to go to state court to appeal Elia’s decision.





Eva Moskowitz is in a fight with the City of New York over the pre-K program that her charters offer to 72 children. She says the city owes her $720,000 but she refuses to sign a contract with the city. She says she is supervised only by her charter authorizer, not the city. Thirteen other charters have signed the contract that Eva rejects.


Moskowitz says m she will terminate the program if she is forced to signed a contract. Imagine giving the city the power to inspect her schools! No way!


In light of the infamous video, should Success be allowed to offer pre-K? Does SA know what developmentally appropriate practice is? Will they teach toddlers to walk in straight lines, track the speaker, sit quietly, hands folded, never speak out of turn?


If she doesn’t want the accountability, she shouldn’t take the money. She should get it from her authorizer, the State University of New York.

I have written before about the controversial program called “Pay for Success.” This is also known as “social impact bonds.” Recently, two officials at the US Department of Education and the White House wrote an opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune applauding the use of “pay for success” to expand pre-kindergarten programs.


What is “pay for success” and what are “social impact bonds?” As blogger Fred Klonsky explains:


Pay for Success is a social impact bond (SIB) that pays Wall Street investors like Goldman Sachs a bounty for every child that does not receive special education support.


Pay for Success is nothing less than a push-out program that then pays the bond investor a bonus for every child that is pushed out of special ed services.


Special education advocate Beverley Holden Johns sent me this comment on the administration’s endorsement of “pay for success”:

In my opinion this is a new low for USDOE. Uncritically mentioning that
only one student in the PFS group was identified for special education,
justifying these absurd results by stating it will be a bumpy road, completely
failing to stress that only very high quality pre-school produces results –
failing to point to the very substantial questions about the quality of PFS in Utah,
not stating that Goldman Sachs has ALREADY BEEN PAID over $260,000 as its
first payment, and by saying USDOE is excited by Pay for Success in ESSA is irresponsible.

Bev Johns




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