The Problem That Is Kindergarten
Art. Mathematics. Music. Physical Education. Reading/Language Arts. Science. Social Studies.
Guess the school year in which kids first tackle that lineup.
Third grade? Second grade? First?
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
That’s what 5-year-olds in kindergarten are doing in Montgomery County, Md., public schools--and in many other districts around the country.
A study recently released by the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood showed that kids in 258 full-day kindergarten classes in New York City and Los Angeles spend 2 to 3 hours per day instructing and testing children in literacy and math—with only 30 minutes per day or less for play. Teachers report the same thing in other cities and towns. (Here’s a scary story about “pressure cooker kindergarten” in Boston by Patti Hartigan.)
I am writing about kindergarten today because several readers asked different versions of the same questions:
What is going on with kindergarten? How academic has it become? What happens to kids who aren’t ready to learn to read and do math in kindergarten?
Obviously, kindergarten classes are not all the same. But there is a huge difference between the place I remember--where I essentially went to play and learn to get along with other kids (which I did with marginal success)--and today's kindergarten, which has become an academic enterprise.
The movement toward turning what should be play time into academic time is several decades old, sparked by the notions that kids are not learning enough at school and that they are capable of starting earlier than long thought.
This decade’s era of No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests, pushed curriculum into lower grades faster than ever.
Now kindergarteners are being taught how to take standardized tests and are often required to sit and work for far longer than their metabolisms can actually tolerate--even though there is no research that proves that foisting formal academics on such young kids has any long-term benefit.
If you are surprised that things have gotten to this state, don’t forget that not a single teacher was invited to help write the No Child Left Behind law, which dramatically changed K-12 education.
Educators know what 5-year-olds can and can't do. Though many youngsters may seem more sophisticated than they did 20 or 30 years ago, their developmental phases have not really changed.
Some of the characteristics of 5-year-olds--which are listed in “Yardsticks, Children in the Classroom Ages 4 to 14,” by Chip Wood--are in direct violation of what kids are being asked to do.
Research has shown that children of this age learn best through active exploration of materials such as clay, sand, water, blocks and other manipulatives. Yet these things have been removed from many kindergarten classes.
Research has shown that children who engage in socio-dramatic play have better language skills, better social skills, more empathy, are less aggressive and have more self-control than children who do not. Yet the Alliance for Childhood study reported that some teachers say the curriculum does not allow time for any play.
And we know that kids don’t all develop at the same time and in the same way. Yet today kids who leave kindergarten without some reading ability are already behind. And the poor child who can't read by the end of first grade is branded a failure.
I do not exaggerate. I’ve heard this from teachers for years.
Many teachers are frustrated but fear they will lose their jobs if they try to buck the system. Educator Jim Horn blogged that teachers should join together to advocate for humane education--and to do everything they must to preserve their students’ childhood. If they cannot, he suggests, “they should, indeed, quit.”
You may think that is unreasonable. Perhaps it is. However, what is truly unacceptable is what policymakers are forcing on kids.
What can parents do? The Alliance for Childhood has some suggestions, which include:
*If the testing is causing your child anxiety, find out if you are allowed to decline to participate.
*Talk to your teacher and principal.
*Discuss with your PTA whether there is anything the organization can do to help teachers come up with alternative assessments.
In a letter to parents, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast wrote:
“The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is committed to providing each child with the essential skills and knowledge he or she needs to succeed. Fulfillment of this goal must begin at an early age. The MCPS Kindergarten curriculum is designed to engage children in the learning process, provide them with a sense of accomplishment, and help them understand the value of what they are learning.”
Would that his letter have said something like this:
“The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is committed to providing each child with the essential skills and knowledge he or she needs to succeed. Fulfillment of this goal must begin at an early age--but we recognize that robbing children of play and forcing them to become involved in the test-taking regimen that now guides K-12 education is literally detrimental to their health.
"The MCPS Kindergarten curriculum is, therefore, designed to allow children to work hard at play that engages their imaginations and gives them time to invent stories, solve problems, improve social skills, and gain language skills. Test time can come later. If you are determined to subject your kindergartener to math worksheets and weekly quizzes, find another school system.”
TEACHERS AND PARENTS: Please share thoughts, experiences, recommendations about the present and future of kindergarten.
| September 21, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Tags: kindergarten, montgomery county public schools, standardized tests
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