DEY’s Director Responds

Reading Instruction in KindergartenLast 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)

4 thoughts on “DEY’s Director Responds

  1. Thank you! My daughter attended a fantastic nursery school/kindergarten (for free!) in England and no one expressed any concern when she left not reading. We moved back to the U.S. that September and she started first grade in a public school. She was not reading so they immediately sent her to the reading teacher on a daily basis. The reading teacher, once she got to know my child, told me not to worry, she was just developmentally not ready and did not have a learning disability. Luckily this seasoned teacher “got” it. I am an early literacy specialist myself so I was not worried either. Now I wish I had refused the extra help (although I was never asked for permission!) because it gave my daughter an inferiority complex. She started reading two weeks after seeing the reading teacher. She also turned 7 that month! She continued to go for several months. She kept asking me if something was wrong with her. These people who have never taught and those who have never taught preschool-grade 1 need to listen to us. The typical range for reading is ages 3-7, preschool-first grade. The public needs to wake up and realize that this movement is not about improving public education, it is about making a buck!!!


  2. It’s great that the report has spurred debate and heated conversation! That means it’s getting attention and traction, just what is needed.


  3. “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.””

    Rising kinders heading to first grade have to reach level D. The goal mid-year kindergarten is C.

    We are tasked with doing intensive intervention with any child not achieving that level. And if a child is reading below level D upon entering first grade, they must also receive intensive interventions. I’m sure this varies from district to district or school to school, but it should be noted that kids who only a few years ago would have been considered to be high achieving readers (levels B and C) are now “at risk.” We even are required to send home “in danger of failure” letters to parents each time we benchmark (beginning and middle of year). Any student not achieving these lofty levels is labeled a failure. Try explaining that to parents.

    I think a critical point is F&P’s justification for the upgrading of the desired (read: mandated) levels. The almighty Fountas and Pinnell #sarcasmalert upgraded those levels because:

    “Achievement in literacy is trending upward! Children are entering kindergarten with more literacy awareness; they are responding to literacy-rich kinder- garten curricula; they are learning fast and acquiring more experience in reading and writing. Earlier and higher levels of reading are the result, and that is good news. Expectations are higher and teaching is shifting. Recommended entry-, mid-, and exit-level goals, as well as intervention goals, must change.”

    Of course kids who don’t come to school with literacy advantages are behind the 8 ball.

    We used to rejoice when a student could read a B level book in kindergarten. We’d send her/him to other classrooms to read their little book to other teachers. Praise and excitement were the norm.

    Now if a student is only reading a level B book, our administrators and specialists clutch their pearls and demand to know what we’re doing wrong.

    Thank you for all you do to keep these important issues in the public eye.


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