Nancy Bailey: Want to Rethink Education? It’s Time to Take Back Kindergarten!
If you really want to use the pandemic pause to rethink education, says Nancy Bailey, why not put kindergarten back to its original purpose. Reposted with permission.
Since the pandemic, there’s much talk about rethinking education and this includes the early years of schooling. Most parents just want their schools reopened safely and schedules back to normal, but corporate reformers want to see even more changes made to schools than seen with No Child Left Behind (NCLB)!
The October edition of KAPPAN, the professional journal for educators, is titled: Rethinking the Early Years. The picture is a child climbing on books and implies the need for change in how children learn.
The best change would be to make kindergarten kindergarten again, ensuring that all children have access to safe and lovely classrooms, and nurturing, well-prepared early childhood teachers who encourage truly age-appropriate activities!
Instead, one is left with the feeling that academic expectations will rise further. Schooling will become increasingly difficult for young children in the name of future progress.
What’s missing in the journal is any reflection about the problems with how kindergarten changed years ago with NCLB, continued with Race to the Top and now the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the pressure placed on children.
Remember the 2016 paper by Bassok, Latham, and Rorem, Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?
Recent accounts suggest that accountability pressures have trickled down into the early elementary grades and that kindergarten today is characterized by a heightened focus on academic skills and a reduction in opportunities for play. This paper compares public school kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010 using two large, nationally representative data sets. We show substantial changes in each of the five dimensions considered: kindergarten teachers’ beliefs about school readiness, time spent on academic and nonacademic content, classroom organization, pedagogical approach, and use of standardized assessments. Kindergarten teachers in the later period held far higher academic expectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergarten year. They devoted more time to advanced literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction, and assessment and substantially less time to art, music, science, and child-selected activities.
Who’s considering the stress caused in kindergarten, so much stress that Web MD includes this class with other age groups when discussing anxiety?
There’s much equity talk, but a refusal to connect the dots with the incidents that involve kindergartners and young children arrested for acting out. Who’s talking about the stress, the trauma children face with all the demands? Who’s looking at how so much pressure could lead to the school-to-prison pipeline?
In 2017, the ACLU reported, Spokane Public Schools suspended 110 kindergarten and first graders during the first 35 days of school this year, more than double the rate of suspension and expulsion for high school students in the district. To put it another way, the district suspends more 5- and 6-year-olds from school than it does 14-18-year-olds combined. In fact, Washington schools suspended or expelled over 6000 students in kindergarten through third grade in the 2015-2016 school year.
Instead of factoring in kindergarten stress, the experts are revisiting the well-known and universally accepted stages of growth by Jean Piaget (p.21). One gets the feeling Piagetian beliefs are about to be cast aside as irrelevant and replaced by a new framework of early learning where anything goes.
This obsession with making children better learners includes some research that might make children more comfortable with schooling. Still, it’s a slippery slope to higher expectations that could leave a large number of young students in the lurch.
Many want an even more rigorous curriculum for young children at a time when parents and policymakers complain about test scores showing children floundering when it comes to reading and math. But no one considers that children might be shutting down due to the pressure they face starting school.
Let’s remember what kindergarten used to be, a happy entryway to school. Children attended half a day. They played, painted pictures, dressed up, pretended to cook using play kitchens, took naps on their little rugs, learned how to take turns, and played some more. They listened to stories, proudly told their own stories, described something unique about themselves during show-and-tell, mastered the ABCs, counted to 10, printed their names, and tied their shoes. They had plenty of recess and got excited over simple chores like watering the plants or passing out snacks. They had art and music and performed in plays that brought families together to generate pride and joy in their children and the public school.
Then, NCLB changed kindergarten in 2002. The Chicago Tribune described this rethinking well, which I’ve broken down.
- In some schools, kindergarten is growing more and more academically focused–particularly on early reading.
- The pressure to perform academically is trickling down from above, many experts say, because of new state and federal academic standards.
- . . . in one Florida classroom some children “cried or put their heads on their desks in exhaustion” after standardized achievement tests.
- One Chicago public school kindergarten teacher quit in part because of what she considered unrealistic demands of administrators who expected kindergartners to sit all day at desks, go without recess and learn to read by year’s end. The teacher wanted to create centers for science, art and dramatic play but was forbidden.
- In some places, kindergarten, once a gentle bridge to real school where play and learning easily intermingled, is becoming an academic pressure-cooker for kids, complete with half an hour of homework every night.
- Some parents are alarmed enough that they’re “redshirting” their children, holding them back from kindergarten for a year so they will be more mature.
So how will they rethink early childhood again? Instead of kindergarten being the new first grade will it become the new third or fourth grade, with more standards piled onto the backs of 5-year-olds?
What happens to the children who are developing normally and can’t meet the standards, or children who have disabilities and need more time? Will they be labeled as failing, sorted into the can’t do kids who get bombarded with online remedial programs?
The harder they make early learning for young children, the more likely parents will seek more humane alternative placements that treat children like children.
It’s time to start caring more about the children and less about driving outcomes or results that don’t make sense.
I am sharing the best standards for children of all time, written by now-retired teacher extraordinaire, Sarah Puglisi.
Here’s a sample. Please go to the link and read all 100 of them. Then bring back kindergarten!
1. All children should know love.
2. All children should know that they have a bed to sleep in tonight, and next week, and for their life.
3. All children should have adequate, even delicious food, and know all about their food.
4. All children should have support within the walls of their homes.
5. All children should have the experience of play.
6. All children should know nature, value nature, interact within nature, and be in families that have some capacity to do the same.
7. All children should know, have, and be able to be friends.
8. All children should have clothes to wear that help keep them warm, and expresses their beauty.
9. All children should feel that their family is accepted, and is of value.
10. All children should learn language, learn to speak by finding their world one that enjoys communication, the more languages that they know the more broadened the understanding.
11. All children should have health and DENTAL care that their families are not fearful about, or simply can’t afford or have, and know illness cannot bankrupt them. They need health care that attends to their well being.
12. All children should be regarded as potentially, and individually, and instantly a part of whatever cosmic beauty, goodness, whatever we wish to call it, that exists and as such is the reason we all live with hope and possibility.
Thompson, J. and Stanković-Ramirez, Z. (2021, September 27). What Early Childhood Educators Know About Developmentally Appropriate Practice. KAPPAN. 302 (N2) p. 20-23.