Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: What Will it Cost in the Long Haul?

It is urgent that we begin to ask what the school "reform" mandates will do in the long haul to our children, our schools, or families and beyond. Who has any sense of the longitudinal effects of the current model in 10 or 20 years?
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"The young children in today's early childhood classrooms deserve a chance to develop all of the skills necessary to succeed in school and in life. By focusing so narrowly on developmentally inappropriate academic skills, children are being deprived of the experiences they need to hone self-regulation skills, critical thinking skills, and the love of learning that will truly inspire them to work hard in school for the long haul."

Public School Teacher & Parent, Washington, DC

Every time I hear or think about the immediate impact of the mandated Common Core State Standards on the young children of today, I get deeply concerned. Last month, Defending the Early Years, and the Alliance for Childhood released the report, "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose" which provides a research-based case for why teaching reading in kindergarten, as outlined by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), is inappropriate for young children. And it describes what a developmentally appropriate, play-based kindergarten that lays the foundations for learning to read looks like.

The kinds of issues raised in this report lead to me having a constant voice in my head asking and trying to answer a myriad of questions over and over again about where these misguided school reforms will lead our children, in both the short and the long term. I am also led to ask many questions about what the impact of the current mandates will be for teachers, families and the wider society in the long haul, if policymakers fail to heed a key recommendation of the "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten" report namely, to "withdraw kindergarten standards from the Common Core so that they can be rethought along developmental lines."

First, I keep asking myself how many children will become disengaged from the learning process, doing only what is required to complete assigned tasks, not seeing school and learning as something interesting and relevant for their lives? How many will feel heightened levels of stress as they are continually being asked to do tasks for which they are not ready and do not understand? How many will feel high levels of boredom and lack of challenge because the work is too "easy" -- from the one size fits all model that is required to prepare children for the tests? What will happen to special needs services and rates of grade retention as test scores on the "one size fits all" tests become the primary criteria of evaluation and for moving on to the next grade? How many behavior problems will result as children experience the frustration, and even pain and suffering that can result from being treated as one of the hoard, rather than an individual learner? How much actual time for learning will be lost in the course of a kindergarten through 12th grade as children have to give up actual time for learning in order to prepare for the test?

I also have constant questions about how the new mandates will impact children's lives at home. How will more and more homework at younger and younger ages -- even in kindergarten -- affect children's "free time" and parent-child relationships as anxious parents want their children to get homework done so they can do well on tests? How much more time will children need to spend on screens -- where more and more homework is done, as children get older, but also even in kindergarten? What about family-school relationships? Will parents blame schools for the complaints children have about school? Will schools blame parents when children don't get their homework done or adequately prepare at home for tests? What is going to happen to all we know about the importance of parents and teachers working together to promote children's school success?

Next, I keep asking myself about the numerous ways kindergarten mandates will impact teachers and the teaching profession. Will teachers try to avoid schools with the more challenging, often low income, culturally diverse and urban populations, because of the special challenges they will face helping those children "pass the tests?" Why are some of the most experienced and highly regarded teachers saying the joy is going out of teaching -- and that they are being told to do things that can be harmful to children? Why are some even saying that they are counting the days until they can retire with their pensions, something they rarely said in the past? What will losing these teachers do to the quality of our children's education? And what will happen to teachers and their teaching if the next big new mandate being discussed is implemented, evaluating teachers annually based on how their children do annually on tests? Beyond that, what will happen to teacher preparation programs if as now proposes, they are evaluated using the children's test results as well.

Another big question I am trying to answer: can any educational system work that depends so heavily on tests, tests, tests? Related questions are: Should preparing for tests and using results of tests become the primary factor in determining an education system or what the educational content should be? Has any other country in the world ever gone to this extreme? But beyond that, who has tested the tests? Who has tested the standards that are being used to create the tests? Who has tested the content that is being taught that will be tested, or how the content is being taught? Who is making money from all the test and test prep materials? And what is the real cost?

What have I learned from posing all these questions and struggling to answer them? It is urgent that we begin to ask what the school "reform" mandates will do in the long haul to our children, our schools, or families and beyond. Who has any sense of the longitudinal effects of the current model in 10 or 20 years? Who is going to benefit and who is going to lose in the long run? These are the questions we need to ask, and answer, if we are to have any hope of creating the educational system that all of our children deserve

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