Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

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,

 

“Greetings.

 

“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.

 

“Sincerely,

 

“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

 

 

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?

 

They write:
“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?

Eva Moskowitz is a very powerful woman. She has 11,000 students in her 34 Success Academy charter schools, which get extraordinarily high test scores. She might be universally admired but she picks fights. She usually wins, because she is tougher than anyone else, and she has the backing of the moguls on Wall Street whose financial help Governor Cuomo enjoys.

 

But now she has picked a fight that is almost incomprehensible. Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted “universal pre-k,” and he invited charter schools to offer pre-K classes. Every school, public or charter, that agreed to provide pre-K signed a contract with the city. But not Eva. She said it was illegal for the city to demand that she sign a contract. She expects to be paid $720,000 by the city without signing the contract that all public schools and other charters have signed. She threatened to cancel her pre-K programs unless she is paid without signing the city contract.

 

Why? Because no one can tell her what to do. Certainly not the city.

 

Now Eva has appealed to state officials to force the city to back off and pay her, so she can run the pre-K program without signing a contract like other schools.

 

A Success Academy spokesman said the network has received applications from 1,800 families for 126 pre-K seats for 2016-17.

Success Academy operates 34 charter schools that enroll roughly 11,000 kids in total. The schools outperform traditional public schools on state exams.

Despite the reportedly high level of demand for Success Academy pre-K seats, city Education Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said Moskowitz must sign on the dotted line to get paid.

“There is simply no basis to conclude that requiring Success to comply with these requirements of program quality would somehow result in Success’ inability to operate its pre-K programs,” Kaye said.

Each of the other 277 pre-K providers — including nine other charter school operators — have already signed the contracts, Kaye said.

City Controller Scott Stringer has also urged Moskowitz to sign the contract, saying in October that “there is no conceivable reason for one charter school to be held to a different standard than every other charter school.”

 

Eva is counting on the state to defend her right not to sign.

 

Meanwhile I received a copy of this letter from a teacher at Success Academy, which includes the letter that Eva sent to the teaching staff, urging them to support her defiant stand:

 

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

 

The staff of Success Academy received an email from our fearless CEO that I thought might interest you. She addresses the current conflict with the de Blasio administration over pre-k funding, and urges her staff to complain to the mayor and our local officials. It’s still incredible to me how she believes that she can use her staff as political capital without presenting a complete picture of an issue. I haven’t read the contract that she refuses to sign, but by all reports it seems benevolent enough. The funding comes from taxpayer money after all, so it seems fair that the city would oversee the programs it supports. And yet, from her email, Eva would like us to believe that this is nothing more than an attack on her schools. She is obviously using this as way to stoke fear that there is a “larger war on Success Academy and charter schools.” It’s simply ironic to me that someone who is running a school system, where we are supposed to value critical thinking, would present such a one-sided and manipulative take of this conflict.

 

I’ve copied the text of the email below. I also have screenshots of the email if you’d like further verification. 

 

Best,

 

XXXX

 

This is the letter that Eva sent to members of the staff of her charters:

 

Team Success:

 

I am writing to update you about Success Academy pre-k for next year. This first year has been one of tremendous growth for our youngest scholars — and for Success as well, as we challenged ourselves to develop a magical curriculum that engaged and delighted 4-year-olds. The response from families has been so positive that we made plans to expand our pre-k to our Union Square and Bensonhurst schools.

 

Unfortunately, in the case of Success Academy, Mayor de Blasio does not truly support pre-k for all. The mayor and the Department of Education have again thrown up a roadblock. He has refused to pay us the pre-k funding to which we are entitled under the law unless we allow him to dictate how we run our pre-k program. A critical aspect of charter schools is that we are not subject to the control of the city government. That is what enables a high-quality program.

 

Success Academy and 24 parents of students in our pre-k program have brought a legal action against the city but it is unclear how long it will take to get a decision. Unfortunately, unless we get a result or persuade Mayor de Blasio to do the right thing within the next two weeks, we will be forced to cancel our pre-k program for the coming year!

 

Please feel free to express your concern to the mayor directly and to you local elected officials. This would be a terrible shame for families and for staff who have worked so hard to create a truly amazing pre-k experience. This is just part of a larger war on Success Academy and charter schools. On a daily basis, we are forced to fight for kids’ rights to a world-class, free education.

 

Thank you for all you do for children.

 

Warmly,

 

Eva Moskowitz

 

 

 

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