Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Story Time’s Over Kindergartners—Time To Write Expository Essays!

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
The testing mania that has dominated education reform for the past decade has only indirectly affected kindergartners (the federal and state tests do not start until second grade). However, because the stakes for schools are so high (low test scores can mean reconstitution, mass firings of teachers, forced take over by a charter school), curriculum development and implementation at all grade levels are now influenced by the tests. At some schools, this means a reduction or elimination of arts, music, physical education and even science to make room for math and English support or for test preparation. It may also include practice bubble-in tests at the kindergarten and first grade levels.

At virtually all levels of K-12 education it has reduced the potential for learning activities that are spontaneous, fun, creative and rooted in students’ interests and experiences. While this may prepare children for a future life at a desk in a cubicle (perhaps one reason why the Gates Foundation has spent millions of dollars to promote the Common Core Standards (CCS), it also contributes to their alienation from and disdain for school and learning, as well as the increased stress and anxiety many teachers are noticing in their students.

Presently, despite the testing mania, kindergarten still retains some of the games, song, dance and other playful, lighthearted activities we remember from our own kindergarten experiences. This may soon change with the adoption of Common Core (CCS), which will supposedly put all children on the same learning track as others at their grade level, including the lower elementary grades.

On the surface this might seem like a common sense way to raise the bar and improve learning outcomes (based on the bogus assumption that teachers across the country do whatever they damned well please in the classroom and that there is little or no standardization across grade level). However, as Susan Ohanian shows in her recent critique of the video “From the Page to the Classroom: Implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Literacy, the CCS are incredibly rigid and stultifying and could have a detrimental effect on teaching and children’s attitudes toward school and learning. For example, even at the K-5 grades, the CCS require a 50-50 mix of fiction and nonfiction reading, with writing grounded in the texts, with no narrative writing or personal opinions permitted.

Here are just a few of Ohanian’s comments (you can read her full article at the Daily Censored):
The New York Post ran a piece  Playtime’s Over, Kindergartners: Standards stressing kids out, explaining that the city Department of Education wants 4- and 5-year-olds to forget the building blocks and crayons and get busy writing “informative/explanatory reports.”  This includes writing a topic sentence.
When my favorite group of second graders were studying a caterpillar’s transformation, some of the kids wrote me exuberant notes along with drawings about what they were learning. I didn’t check these notes for text complexity or topic sentences. Yes, some kindergartners are ready to read. But  many children are harmed when, in the name of rigor and complexity, what was once second grade is now kindergarten.  We don’t expect all babies to walk or talk at the same age. Why do we think five- and six-year-olds should be standardized in their learning—and shoved as a pack into more rigor? (Look up the definition and ask yourself if that’s what you want for a child you love.)
Professor of Curriculum and Teaching at Hunter College and author of numerous books on children’s literacy development, Sandra Wilde worries about the pressures on kindergartners. She suggests, “Read the book, watch the butterflies develop, act it out, but skip the close reading of long sentences. Fingerpaint butterfly pictures instead. What’s the hurry?”

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