Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K


Corporate Reformers in Oregon joined with their allies in the business community to kill a bill (HB 2318) called “Too Young to Test,.” Modeled on laws in New York and New Jersey, the bill would have prohibited mandatory standardized testing from pre-k through grade twoMost of the testimony favored the bill.

The purpose of HB 2318:

Prohibits State Board of Education from requiring, and school districts from administering, certain assessments to students enrolled or preparing to enroll in prekindergarten through grade two. Makes exception for assessments administered for diagnostic purposes as required under state or federal law.

The Corporate Reformers and the business community killed it. 

No one, the Corporate Reformers insist, is ever too young to test.

They also focused on killing a bill to strengthen Oregon’s opt-out law.Then they killed a bill to strengthen Oregon’s opt out law. (SB 433). Here is their letter of opposition to SB433.

They claim they need the test scores so they can effectively advocate to meet student needs. No one should be allowed to opt out of testing, no matter how young.

Apparently they don’t know that standardized testing is highly correlated with family income and family education. They should read Daniel Koretz’s The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better.

Stand for Children was part of the pro-testing lobby. SFC is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation and other pro-testing, pro-privatization foundations. Stand for Children advocates for high-stakes testing, charter schools, and test-based evaluation of teachers. Dana Hepper of “The Children’s Institute” also lobbied against these bills and in support of standardized testing of kindergartners; she previously worked for Stand for Children. In addition to endorsing the joint statements, here is her testimony supporting mandated standardized tests for children of all ages and opposing opt out.

They say they need the scores so they know what children need.


Teachers in Oregon are on strike to advocate for smaller classes, nurses, mental health counselors, librarians, and social workers.

Where are the corporate reformers?

Fighting for more standardized testing, even for kindergartners! Fighting parents’ right to opt their children out of standardized testing!

Are they joining the teachers to demand more investment in schools? No.

Are they on the picket lines demanding smaller classes? No.

Are they lobbying for increased funding for nurses, social workers, librarians, and mental health counselors? No.



The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is outraged that The Audacious Project is honoring the Waterford online preschool program, which will use this platform to expand their efforts to open additional  online preschools. Early childhood experts agree that this is harmful to children. I say it is a mean and stupid idea. Efforts to put little children in online schools should be denounced, not celebrated. Children need real interaction with real human beings.

Please sign the petition.


For Immediate Release

David Monahan, CCFC:; (617) 896-9397

Early Childhood Advocates Call On The Audacious Project to Reconsider Major Award for Online Preschool
A TED philanthropy project would widen educational inequality and deprive children of the hands-on preschool experiences they deserve.

BOSTON, MA – April 12, 2019 – Early childhood advocates are calling on The Audacious Project, housed at TED and designed to fund ideas for social change, to postpone plans to designate Waterford UPSTART, an online “preschool” program, as one of the participants in its funding program for 2019.  Award winners will be announced at TED2019 in Vancouver on April 16. Last year’s award winners averaged $63 million in new funding. According to a Waterford representative, the funding will allow UPSTART to dramatically increase the number of children enrolled in its program.

In their call for The Audacious Project to postpone funding, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Defending the Early Years (DEY) point to their October 2018 Position Statement on Online Preschool, which has been endorsed by more than 100 experts in child development and early education. The experts and advocates say that online preschool programs like UPSTART are poor substitutes for high-quality early education, and that funding online programs instead of high-quality early education will make inequality worse, not better.

“There is a tremendous need for universal pre-K, and it’s admirable that The Audacious Project wants to address educational inequalities, but online preschool is not the answer,” said Nancy Carlsson-Paige, EdD, Professor Emerita at Lesley University and DEY Senior Advisor. “Kids learn by playing, exploring, and interacting with peers and caring adults – not by memorizing letters, numbers, and colors presented to them on screens. Children who receive UPSTART’s screen-based version of a preschool experience will be disadvantaged compared to children from more resourced communities who have play-based, experiential early education. A truly audacious project would take the funding intended for these online programs and direct it instead to giving low-income, rural, or otherwise underserved children the high quality, face-to-face education they deserve.

UPSTART, which started with public funding from the state of Utah and has spread to at least seven other states, claims to promote “kindergarten readiness” through 15 – 20 minutes per day of online instruction. But advocates say that UPSTART’s lessons are poorly designed and developmentally inappropriate. An analysis of one UPSTART lesson by DEY found it was pedagogically unsound, “confusing” and “overloaded with distracting images.” UPSTART also recommends that children wear headphones and complete lessons alone, contrary to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that parents “co-view with your children [and] help children understand what they are seeing.”

“Online preschool should never be rewarded or considered a legitimate alternative to high-quality early care and education,” said Denisha Jones, PhD, JD, Director of Teacher Education at Trinity Washington University and Director of Organizing for DEY.  “I implore The Audacious Project to reconsider giving money to a screen-based program at a time where early childhood experts are increasingly concerned with screen time and the loss of high-quality interactions between children and educated early childhood teachers. Programs like UPSTART may be less expensive than real universal preschool, but those savings come at the expense of the low-income kids and kids of color they purport to help. We should be investing our money, time, and resources to ensure all children have access to affordable, high-quality, early childhood education.”

Last year, seven of The Audacious Project designees were granted a total of $441 million from partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. It is not yet known which groups are funding UPSTART, or exactly how much money the program will receive, but an email from a Waterford PR representative indicated that the award will be enough to “provide an opportunity for every four-year-old to be ready for kindergarten.” (Emphasis in original.)

The DEY/CCFC letter pointedly states, “We don’t believe your impressive list of funders and partners would be satisfied if their own children spent 75 minutes a week on a computer in isolation as a substitute for face-to-face preschool rooted in caring relationships and social interaction.” It also warns that a major expansion of online preschool could derail the growing movement for real universal preschool. It asks The Audacious Project to postpone the award and meet with advocates to better understand their concerns.

Added Josh Golin, Executive Director of CCFC, “Over and over, we’ve seen educational technology such as 1:1 programs, virtual charter schools, and personalized learning software falsely marketed as a panacea for inequality. Now the EdTech evangelists have set their sights on preschoolers. Isolated children on computers guided by algorithms can never replicate the joyful exploration and interactions at the core of the preschool experience. We urge The Audacious Project to rethink this award.

The DEY/CCFC letter can be read in full here.


As the tentacles of Ed Reform reachdown into the earliest years, forcing standardized tests on young children, Defending the Early Years is there to block the monster from strangling the children’s loveof learning.

In this short video, early childhood educator Kisha Reid explains what young children need most to thrive.

Play. When children play together, they collaborate. They solve problems. No one fails. They work and play together, as equals. Good practice for the real world.


If you are a parent or grandparent, you know that little children need less screen time, not more.

In this alarming post, blogger Wrench in the Gears quotes from transcripts where some deep thinkers (including Nobelist James Heckman) discuss ways to lure the little ones online, to give them digital badges, and scheme to come up with the right ways to sit them in front of computers.

She begins:

“This is another post with clips culled from talks given at the Center for the Economics of Human Development’s working group, Measuring and Assessing Skills: Real Time Measurement of Cognition, Personality and Behavior. It was held at the University of Chicago in February 2018. I previously shared a segment called from “Math to Marksmanship” with Nobel Prize economist James Heckman, Gregory Chung of UCLA-CRESST and Jeremy Roberts consultant to PBS Kids.

“Below are ten additional excerpts from that talk. I watched all two hours and pulled highlights, so you don’t have to.  Topics covered include: game-based learning for pre-schoolers; how to get pre-readers to create online accounts; how digital games can be used to identify “Big Five” behavior traits; and a real doozy, Dr. Heckman’s half-joking suggestion that gamification and incentives of pornography for adults could encourage parents to have their children use online games more often. No, really.”



Denisha Jones speaks out here about the outrageous misuse of tests for children in kindergarten in Florida.

Incoming kindergarten students are tested online and their scores are published! This is child abuse.

Jones is an early childhood specialist, lawyer, and a recent addition to the board of the Network for Public Education.

She went to Miami and interviewed leaders of the “I Am Ready” Resistance Group, who described the harm that Florida’s tests do to children.

Julia Musella told Jones:

”’I am ready’ was born in direct response to the inappropriate testing of incoming Kindergarten children by computer and then publishing the scores in 2018. This disgraceful labeling of more than 50% of Florida’s Early Learning centers as failing to prepare children for kindergarten created an outcry from early educators across the state.  We had enough years of being voiceless so we created an online petition through to then-Governor Rick Scott demanding the scores be taken down and comply with the statute on assessments. At the same time, we launched a public Facebook page, registered “I am Ready” as a nonprofit corporation to serve as an advocacy group, and encouraged local groups of providers to launch private Facebook pages to dialogue with each other.

“Our hope went beyond the short-term goal of having the scores eliminated and the assessment changed to meet the statute, although that was something we used to engage the community statewide. Our long term goal was to organize, galvanize and start a movement that would be the voice of Early Learning and small business owners who are in the business of education throughout the state. We were in it for a long term permanent organization that would use voter registration, voter mobilization (locally and statewide) and education of legislators to give a voice to young children, who are voiceless.”



Defending the Early Years

Response to Le, Schaack et al. study, “Advanced Content Coverage at Kindergarten: Are There Trade-Offs Between Academic Achievement and Social-Emotional Skills?”


Advanced academics in kindergarten?

Questionable science and a misleading news story


“New research says the kids are all right” in kindergartens that emphasize advanced academics, according to a January 24 headline in Chalkbeat.We strongly disagree.


The study in question, published online by the American Educational Research Journalon Jan. 4, 2019, has severe limitations, and it is based on so many questionable assumptions that no meaningful conclusion can be drawn from it. At the same time, reports of its supposed findings, like the Chalkbeatstory, muddy the waters of a vital conversation about how young children learn. Even worse, this problematic study and the uncritical reporting of it are likely to be used to defend pernicious policies and practices that almost all early childhood educators agree are hurting children.


The authors of the study themselves acknowledge three serious limitations in their work. First, it is a correlational study that says nothing about causation. In other words, the positive outcomes that they claim to see may be the result of factors other than the ones they tried to measure. Second, the measure they used to calculate the amount of time devoted to teaching advanced skills in the classroom was subject to a high level of uncertainty. And third, the very definition of “advanced” has widely varying meanings, and the researchers had no way of knowing how such “advanced” content was actually being taught.


In fact, this study is flawed in even more troubling ways:


  1. The tests that were used to measure changes in children’s achievement and social-emotional skills were given in the same year: “At kindergarten,” the authors write, “there were two waves of data collection, with the first wave taking place during the fall and the second wave taking place during spring.” That is, there was no follow-up beyond the kindergarten year. The authors fail to acknowledge that long-term studies have shown that gains from early academics disappear and in some cases reverse themselves by third grade.


That drilling children on content can boost test scores in the same year (which happened here only to a moderate extent) is thus unsurprising and means little. The authors avoid mentioning that, while their study was just correlational, other experimental research contradicts their conclusion. The most rigorous of these was the High/Scope Comparative Curriculum Study, which followed students to age 23 and found powerful evidence of the negative effects of early academics—evidence that did not clearly emerge until years later.


  1. The authors based their conclusions on kindergartners’ test scores in math and English language arts. They note that, in the standards-and-testing-based “reform” movement of the 1980s and 1990s, “standardized testing was not mandated until the third grade.” But they don’t say why. The reason is that testing experts universally agree that standardized test scores have virtually no meaning before third grade. According to the findings of the National Research Council’s definitive “High Stakes” study, basing educational policymaking on kindergarten test scores is essentially a form of educational malpractice.


  1. In their review of the research on early academics, the authors make no mention of the fact that no study has ever shown that learning to read at an early age is correlated with long-term academic success. Indeed, children who learn to read at age six or seven are just as likely to become devoted lifelong readers as those who learn at four or five. Shouldn’t lifelong learning, not short-term test results, be our goal as teachers?


  1. The study found a correlation between academic training and social-emotional development—but only with math, not language arts, and these social-emotional gains were seen almost entirely in the children who started kindergarten with the lowest math achievement scores. The authors offer no convincing explanation for this odd, counterintuitive finding. It suggests to us the presence of a confounding variable unrelated to the hypothesis that advanced academic training of little children would improve their social-emotional well-being.


  1. A close look at how this study measured social-emotional outcomes reveals what may be its most serious flaw. All the social skills and behavioral effects were rated by the same teachers who taught the academic content, not by independent evaluators (let alone by independent evaluators blind to the type of instruction).


“Of 12 social or behavioral measures, there was a statistically significant (and quite small) effect on only three,” writes education policy analyst Alfie Kohn. “And with respect to kids’ aggression, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc., there was no short-term effect, positive or negative, as a result of teaching academic skills for an unspecified length of time using unspecified methods—according to the teachers themselves.”


Behaviors that would get you a low social-emotional skills score in this study—like not putting your toys away promptly or acting out—are more likely to occur in play. Those that would get you a high score—like completing tasks and following rules—are more likely to occur in a  highly structured academic classroom. With this rating system, therefore, children in kindergartens with a lot of free play might, for that very reason, look like they have lower social-emotional skills than children in kindergartens where behavior is more rigidly structured and controlled by the teacher.


The authors fail to acknowledge what every wise teacher understands: kids learn to be better adjusted through play. “Those kids in lessons, with less play,” writes Boston College Research Professor Peter Gray, “don’t have the opportunity to exhibit the kinds of behaviors that (a) would lead to low social-emotional scores and (b) would provide the experiences needed to gain social-emotional competence. If we rigidly control children they may look more competent than if we allow them free play, but we also prevent them from learning to control themselves through experience.”


The authors’ conclusion, “that advanced academic content can be taught without compromising children’s social-emotional skills,” is not just unsupported by their own evidence. It is irresponsible in light of convincing contradictory findings that they have completely ignored.


This study will undoubtedly be welcomed by the corporations producing new academically oriented curricula and tests for young children. It is likely to further the proliferation of high-pressure academics and the loss of free play and child-initiated learning in kindergarten—trends that have already led some of our most experienced and talented early childhood teachers to quit the profession in frustration and despair.




This statement was prepared by Defending the Early Years in consultation with early childhood researchers, practitioners, and advocates. We are especially grateful for the assistance of Alfie Kohn, Joan Almon, and Professor Peter Gray. For more information, contact Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin ( or Blakely Bundy (


Alfie Kohn responds here to the research study claiming that little children need academic rigor and that it’s good for them to start academic studies young.  Thanks to Ann Cook of the New York Performance Standards Consortium for asking Alfie to respond.


You mentioned this new study in AERJ, which ostensibly found that teaching advanced academic content in kindergarten is beneficial in terms of academic achievement as well as “social emotional skills”:  I’ve had a chance to read the study itself, and I am not impressed.

1.  This is not a comparison of kids randomly assigned to academic vs. nonacademic conditions.  In the kindergartens they looked at, virtually all teachers reported teaching academic skills that were coded as advanced (94% ELA, 99% math); the teachers’ self-reports of how often they did some teaching of those skills were correlated with the outcome variables.  “How often” was measured as number of days a month the teacher said she taught those skills, with no measure of how much time was spent at each session (which the researchers conceded) and also with no attention to how the teachers taught (e.g., via direct instruction vs. embedded in play or projects).

2.  That drilling kids on content can boost test scores that same year (which happened here only to a moderate extent, incidentally) is unsurprising and means very little — both because such tests are a lousy indicator of intellectual proficiency (in general, and particularly for young children) and also because a body of earlier ECE research shows that any such advantage tends to melt away after a few years.

3.  The only potentially meaningful finding, then, concerns social-emotional outcomes.  But…

a) The effects they primarily looked at dealt with compliance (self-control, persistence, attention, following rules), and there’s reason to wonder whether these are always beneficial to the child, even if they’re convenient for the teacher.  The researchers did ask about internalizing and externalizing behaviors, too, but I’m not convinced these measures would have captured most of the potentially negative effects of developmentally inappropriate teaching, particularly if it took place for sustained periods and was done by direct instruction (which, again, we don’t know).

b) All the social skills and behavioral effects were rated by the same teachers who taught the academic content, not by independent evaluators (let alone by independent evaluators blind to the type of instruction).

c)  The ratings were all made that same year.  Some long-term ECE studies have found delayed negative effects of this kind of teaching.

d)  Of 12 social/behavioral measures, there was a statistically significant (and quite small) effect on only three — which didn’t include internalizing or externalizing behaviors.  So the most that could be claimed on the basis of this study is that, with respect to kids’ aggression, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc., there was no short-term effect, positive or negative, as a result of teaching academic skills for an unspecified length of time using unspecified methods…according to the teachers themselves.  And of course no attention was paid to the opportunity costs of academic instruction in terms of what the children didn’t have a chance to do during the time they were being taught reading and math.  Meaningful benefits of such instruction?  Not shown here.



The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that a key policy post was given to a person who previously worked for the Walton Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation. She came through Leadership for Educational Equity, which is TFA’s political training program. Vouchers for babies?


Meet the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s New Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs

Image removed by sender. Directors Laurie VanderPloeg and Annie HsiaoHello, Early Learning Leaders!

I am excited to introduce myself. I am Annie Hsiao, and I have joined the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) as the deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs. In this role I will provide leadership for OESE’s discretionary grants, including the early learning work and ED’s collaboration with the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to administer the new Preschool Development Grants — Birth through Five program.

Most recently, I was the senior advisor to the acting assistant attorney general of the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice. In that position, I advised on policy, strategy, and programs in the division charged with awarding all of the agency’s grants, promoting crime reduction, and supporting victims of crime; as well as with public safety, rule of law, and juvenile justice reform. Prior to that, I was the director of strategic partnerships at Leadership for Educational Equity, a program manager at the Charles Koch Foundation, and a program officer at the Walton Family Foundation. I also served as the director of education policy at the American Action Forum, and, with an appointment from the George W. Bush administration, as the director of government and community relations at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I am originally from California, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and Asian American studies from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in education policy from Harvard University.

OESE and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) look forward to continuing their partnership to promote positive learning experiences for our youngest learners!

During this busy time of the year, we hope you take time to check out some of the resources we are highlighting this month, including exciting work from the Early Learning Research network and a great opportunity from our colleagues at HHS for individuals interested in promoting developmental screenings to become an Act Early Ambassador.


The New Republic, usually a liberal publication, recently published an article recommending vouchers instead of universal pre-K in public institutions.

Defending the Early Years, an organization that fights for developmentally appropriate education for young children, issued the following response:


​The experts at Defending the Early Years find fault with the premise of the article which pits family support and high-quality preschool education against one another.

Haspel is correct, we need greater family support, starting with maternal and paternal paid leave for the first year of life; but we also need publicly funded rich, progressive, play-based early care and education for young children until they start formal school. As we learned after Hurricane Katrina, giving people money does not ensure that their life will improve.

The U.S. has never had the political will to spend the billions of dollars it would take to provide universal coverage.  Recognizing the estimated $70 billion a year “preschool market,” investors are happily filling in the gaps in an ECE mixed-market system that has long been broken.

Haspel fails to realize that by ensuring every child has access to high-quality, fully-funded, play-based early care and education, we are doing more for parents than simply giving them a voucher. Voucher experiments in DC and other cities prove that rarely do they cover the full cost of tuition. Parents will be expected to find care that matches the amount of the voucher or supplement the additional costs out of their pocket. This does not help families but instead leaves them trapped between choosing affordable care that could be lower quality or paying out of pocket for high-quality care.  Instead of expecting states to abandon their role in ensuring every child begins with a solid foundation of high-quality early care and education experiences, we should encourage direct support to families and demand each state provide access to early care and education. The only thing wrong with a demand for universal pre-k is that play-based programs are often excluded by states that prefer academic instruction. If giving parents a choice is truly the end goal then we would support parents who chose play-based programs over academic instruction. And we would support parents who chose universal pre-k over vouchers.



Calling defenders of children and childhood!

Chalkbeat reports that a group of researchers conducted a huge study and concluded that academic rigor is good for little children.