[I haven’t quite got the knack of off the cuff blog entries so has been worked over. I’m going to try to write more spontaneous posts and write more often.]
Early Childhood and the Common Core
The pushing down of ‘standards’ without respect to developmental milestones is potentially damaging to thousands of lives. Dystopian futures show lines of children obeying rules without question. It is not ‘lowering standards’ if, as early childhood professionals, we insist on the primacy of early childhood being a place for exploration, testing of limits-both personal and interpersonal. Those outside the profession do not easily understand the world of early childhood education. It is seen by some as glorified childcare, by others as all about (frivolous) play and is rarely taken as seriously as it deserves. There is a real danger that pressures on older children will seep down to the earlier years. The younger the children are the more pronounced the developmental stages. Two eleven year olds will have a lot more in common with each other than two three year olds. Early childhood educators understand the complexities inherent in an early childhood setting and know how best to cater to individual and group needs.
The Common Core State Standards were developed in order for qualitative computer adapted assessments to accompany them. CCSS advocates state that they (the CCSS) will help students develop critical thinking skills and problem solving. Put aside for a moment the fact that most teachers are already encouraging such skills (and don’t need a mandated curriculum to tell them so); true critical thought cannot be assessed quantitatively. If advocates truly believe the CCSS will encourage students to use inference and analyze information presented to them that would be one thing but once you offer it up to a right or a wrong answer then the point is moot. Young children are naturally inquisitive and learn through play. They intuitively demonstrate critical thinking skills as they question the world around them.
The skills truly needed for the world these children may find themselves in are adaptability, resilience, creative problem solving and collective action. Restricting assessment to decontextualized texts and individual performance in a defined period of time shows absolute disregard for students and teachers. Teachers work to build community in a classroom and to develop students’ ability to problem solve with others. High-stakes testing does not, and never will be able to, assess students based on their social and emotional development. Being able to work in social settings, both alone and in a group, is what is really needed so our students are ‘college and career ready’.
Early childhood educators who are in classrooms year round are the only ones able to clearly articulate what young children are and aren’t capable of achieving. Just as children forced to toilet train early most often regress a few years later, the same can be said when children are pressured into reading before they’re ready. Yes there are children who read at an early age but that doesn’t mean all children will reach that milestone at the same time. In parts of Africa children start school when their right arm can reach over the top of their head and touch their left ear. This happens when children are about six years old. Six years old is also the age at which many children start to read and the age at which explicit literacy instruction should start. Unquestionably this does not preclude literacy activities being a part of all early childhood classrooms and does not preclude learning the alphabet and other such tasks. What it does suggest is that short of developmental delays that might be indicators of delays with reading, if a child is not reading at six years old that’s perfectly okay and given the right resources they will start reading on their own.
Corporate reformers use poverty as the reason an excuse for implementing the CCSS and high-stakes testing. CCSS opponents are accused of not wanting “what’s best for the children living in poverty”. CCSS advocates state that teachers don’t have ‘high enough expectations’ of these children. How spending money on computer adaptive assessments, Pearson publications and reductive curriculum designs helps children in poverty is beyond me. The people behind the CCSS represent the business world and corporate think tanks. They are actively seeking to maintain the status quo so they can reap the profits. Money spent on CCSS implementation is money that could be spent on art, music, physical education or drama as well as reducing class size and hiring more teachers. The CCSS developers could never conceive of their own children missing out on such vital subjects and/or being thrown in a class of 35, let alone 25, students.
We need to be vigilant and refuse to bow to profiteers who suggest that in early childhood settings we should be cutting back on play and focus instead on academic skills. Children have so little time left to simply play and explore the world. We know that the children of corporate reformers and the architects of the CCSS enjoy the best money can buy. Blaming teachers for children living in poverty is a vile statement to make when those making this statement are selling poor children down the river. Corporate reformers seek to quash critical thought and individual voices in order to maintain hegemony and make the wealthy even more so.