Last week, Senior Fellow and Vice President for External Affairs at the conservative Fordham Institute, Robert Pondiscio published a critique of our recent report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. His essay “Is Common Core too hard for kindergarten?” was published in the Common Core Watch blog at the Fordham Institute. After reading his essay, a few things are quite clear.
First, it is not surprising that the critique comes from this corner – the Fordham Institute has been a key player promoting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In fact, the Gates-funded Fordham Institute, which has been rating education standards for years, has been pushing the CCSS even in places where they have rated the existing state standards higher than they have rated the CCSS.
Second, it is surprising how our paper and our position have been completely misunderstood by Pondiscio. Not only does he dismiss early childhood expertise out of hand, he misrepresents our arguments. This is even after participating in an hour-long panel discussion on KQED’s Forum with one of the report authors, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. Pondiscio further debases the intellectual competence of early childhood educators when he describes our researched-based advocacy report as “complaints”.
Pondiscio writes that our report “complains” that “expecting kindergarteners to read is ‘developmentally inappropriate’”. In fact, we agree that many kindergarteners do learn to read. It is precisely something that we expect. Our deep concern is over the CCSS expectation that ALL children learn to read in kindergarten. As we state in the report, “Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten, yet the Common Core State Standards require them to do just that. This is leading to inappropriate classroom practices.”
Pondiscio describes our position as simply stating the “Common Core is too hard for kindergarten”. He uses this reductive phrase “too hard” repeatedly throughout his essay. In fact, our argument is much more nuanced than that. We do state, “When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy and confusion.”
To bolster his critique, Pondiscio offers a link to a chapter in a book published by Scholastic (no author given) that references a study by researchers Hanson and Farrell (1995). We were able to find this study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Chicago, though it is not clear if this research was published in a peer-reviewed journal. We shared the research with a trusted education researcher who responded that it is difficult to evaluate this “poor and old piece of evidence,” as some important technical information is missing – such as the standard deviations – making it hard to estimate the size of the claimed effects.
Pondiscio writes that “If teachers are turning their kindergarten classrooms into joyless grinding mills and claiming they are forced to do so under Common Core (as the report’s authors allege), something clearly has gone wrong.” Here, Pondiscio contributes to the on-going national narrative of teacher-bashing. The onus here is on the teachers, he claims, not on the misguided CCSS or the pressure from school administrators, district superintendents and state departments of education to produce high-scoring test results.
It is insulting for Pondiscio to imply our intended message is “children should not be reading by the end of kindergarten, or that they will read when they are good and ready.” We clearly state that there is a normal range for learning to read. We know that many children learn to read at five, four or even three-years-old. Many will learn to read in kindergarten. That is not a problem. We also understand quite fully that learning to read is highly individualized and that it is part of the craft of good teaching to know your students well and to understand why, how and when specific supports are needed. The CCSS one-size-fits-all, lock-step expectations do not allow for teacher judgment. We know that the CCSS has led to a shift in reading assessments that have been around for a long time. For example, reading experts Fountas and Pinnell used to suggest that ending kindergarten in the A-C of books range was okay. Now, with the CCSS-informed shift, if a student has not progressed past level B by the beginning of first grade, he is designated as requiring “Intensive Intervention.”
There is much more to refute in Pondiscio’s essay, though we have given him enough of our attention. To read more on the issue, we suggest Susan Ochshorn’s response to Pondiscio here.
Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Director Defending the Early Years (DEY)