September 20, 2023

Nancy Bailey: Raising the Bar on Kindergartners: A Nation at Risk Lives On

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Nancy Bailey looks at how the inheritors of the education hit piece, A Nation at Risk, continue to depend on forcing toddlers to grow faster, somehow. Reposted with permission.

In What Happened to Recess and Why are our Children Struggling in Kindergarten, Susan Ohanian writes about a kindergartner in a New York Times article who tells the reporter they would like to sit on the grass and look for ladybugs. Ohanian writes, the child’s school was built very deliberately without a playgroundLollygagging over ladybugs is not permitted for children being trained for the global economy (2002, p.2).   

America recently marked forty years since the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform which blamed schools as being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.

Berliner and Biddle dispute this in The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools. They state that most of these claims were said to reflect “evidence,” although the “evidence” in question either was not presented or appeared in the form of simplistic, misleading generalizations (1995, p. 3)

Still, the report’s premise, that public schools failed, leading us down the workforce path of doom, continues to be perpetuated. When students fail tests, teachers and public schools are blamed, yet few care to examine the obscene expectations placed on the backs of children since A Nation at Risk.

Education Secretary Cardona recently went on a bus tour with the message to Raise the Bar in schools. Raising the bar is defined as setting a high standard, to raise expectations, to set higher goals.

He announced a new U.S. Department of Education program, Kindergarten Sturdy Bridge Learning Community.

This is through New America, whose funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Waltons, and others who want to privatize public education. Here’s the video, Kindergarten as a “Sturdy Bridge”: Place-Based Investments, describing the plan focusing on PreK to 3rd grade. This involves Reading by 3rd and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

Cardona says in the announcement:

Getting kindergarten right has to be top of mind for all of us, because what happens there sets the stage for how a child learns and develops well into their elementary years and beyond. 

Ensuring that kindergarten is a sturdy bridge between the early years and early grades is central to our efforts both to Raise the Bar for academic excellence and to provide all students with a more equitable foundation for educational success. The kindergarten year presents an opportunity to meet the strengths and needs of young learners so they can continue to flourish in the years to come.

Raise the bar? Kindergarten is already the new first grade. What will it be now? Second? Third? Fourth? What’s the rush? How is this developmentally sound? One thing is for sure: there will still be no idle time for children to search for ladybugs.

Few bear the brunt of A Nation at Risk, as do early learners whose schools have been invaded by corporate schemes to force reading and advanced learning earlier than ever expected in the past.

If kindergartners aren’t doing well after all these years of toughness, higher expectations, and an excruciating number of assessments, wouldn’t it seem time to back off, instead of raising the bar higher?

Corporations have been given cart blanche to enter public schools for the last forty years, and most school problems can be traced back to that report.

Charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts help drive parents to private schools, in part because of  A Nation at Risk too.

All laws and education policies have been created with A Nation at Risk in mind: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds Act are examples of this push to make students jump through higher academic hoops for the economy.

Who’s questioning whether kindergarten changes, making it the new first grade (and higher), are appropriate or will scar children who start school unable to keep up because they’re… kindergartners?

We’ve dealt with this fakery by both political parties for forty years, with Education Secretaries DeVos, King, Duncan, Spellings, Bennett, etc.

Where’s Education Secretary Cardona?


And today. This sounds eerily similar.


Cardona talks about Raising the Bar a lot, and alignment too, and equity, which is recycled closing the gap talk, or accelerating, implying that education has been lacking and to improve it has got to get tougher.

It all loops back to A Nation at Risk.

Kindergarten has never been so high pressured, even after Covid, and it has been this way for years despite little proof children are born with evolved brains requiring faster instruction so they can grow up and beat their peers in other countries.

How must children feel while being made to carry the weight of the future economy, and if they don’t enter first grade learner ready, they could be marked for life!

And corporate remaking of kindergarten thus far, over forty years, with all its pressure, hasn’t produced a good enough child, or adult, for those who still worship A Nation at Risk.

Students still don’t read well or fast enough for them, and if they aren’t mastering the terrible high-stakes standards the corporatists created and put in place, they’re seen as failing.

Early child development be damned! A Nation at Risk does this. It opened the door not only for corporate prep, but profit as well, and to ending public education.

Yet, if anything is to remain sacred in our public schools, it should be education for our youngest learners.

There are real risks, to be sure. But they are the risks directly resulting from this terrible report. Ironically, Cardona also highlights children’s mental health, failing to connect those problems to school pressures.

If Cardona wanted to be productive, he’d highlight recess and ask to see how much art and music children get in their schools.

He’d check out crummy buildings and ensure the HVAC systems are working before the flu and the new COVID variants appear in classrooms.

And he’d gather information about the continuing frustration concerning so much high-stakes testing, an issue his boss once stated would end.

Cardona could brush up on child development and help make kindergarten KINDERGARTEN again!

Then, he’d move to undo the damage A Nation at Risk has done to older grades.

He could talk with Annie Abrams about her book, Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students, because maybe high school students don’t need to do college.

A Nation at Risk hurt us. It put America on the road to destroying the most democratic institution we own. It demeaned those who do the difficult job of teaching and has treated our children punitively. America’s children. How sad for kindergarteners. How sad for us all.


Ohanian, S. (2002). What Happened to Recess and Why are our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? New York: McGraw-Hill.

Berliner, D.C. and Biddle, B.J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools. New York: Perseus Books.

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