DEY defends play-based learning on PBS NewsHour

Are young kids losing the brain-boosting benefits of playtime?

Earlier this month, Cat Wise from PBS NewsHour featured Defending the Early Years and the Mission Hill School in a segment taking a look at play-based learning. We are thrilled to share it here – in case you missed it!

And for a full transcript of the story go here, to the story on PBS NewsHour’s website.

You Are Not Alone: The Value of Speaking Up, Together

Today’s post is written by second grade teacher and guest blogger, Emily Kaplan. On Saturday, May 21st Emily presented at the 6th annual Boston-Area Educators for Social Justice Conference with DEY’s Co-Director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin. The workshop was titled: Defending the Early Years: Finding your voice as an early childhood activist. Emily is a reflective teacher who went from feeling discouraged and alone to feeling empowered – and part of a movement. How did that happen? We asked Emily to share her journey as an emerging activist, as a way to encourage and inspire other early childhood teachers. And that is precisely what happened on Saturday. Please read and share Emily’s story below:

You Are Not Alone:

The Value of Speaking Up, Together

Emily Kaplan

            Good morning! My name is Emily Kaplan, and I am so very excited to be sharing with and learning from you all here today.

 

Last year, I taught second grade at a “no excuses” charter school in Boston. In the past few months, I have written several articles about my experience there, as well as the systemic forces which support the existence and growth of these dangerous and counterproductive pedagogical environments.

 

A few days after an article I wrote was published in the Washington Post, an e-mail popped up in my inbox with the subject line “THANK YOU!!” It was from a woman who teaches at a charter school in another state.

 

“Hi Emily,” it began.

 

I don’t often do this, but I just wanted to thank you for writing your article about your experience in your no excuses charter school… While reading your article I felt like you must have been in my head reading my mind to have views so heavily aligned with mine. I also teach at a “no excuses” charter… We are seeing these exact trends in our kids from K-12th grade… I would repost your article but I won’t…yet…

 

As much as my article seemed to bring comfort to this woman, her e-mail brought me tremendous relief as well. I had been terrified to put my writing—my experience and my convictions— out into the world. I feared retribution, personally and professionally. What I feared most deeply, however, was that I was writing into a void: that it would turn out that no one would be listening at all.

 

But that is not what happened. After I began to write about my experiences, I heard from a lot of people. Some of them, as expected, were angry; I am proud to say that I recently had an entire Huffington Post article written about how short-sighted and simple-minded I am.

Most of the people I heard from, though, were educators who felt just as strongly as I did about the same topics. Many were young teachers from around the country whose thoughts and experiences were parallel to mine. Others were educators with decades of experience who wrote to say that I had voiced what they had been feeling for years, that the way this country educates its youngest students has changed for the worse. “I did not retire with joy as I hoped I would,” one teacher wrote. “We need to become a coalition and advocate for developmentally appropriate education for children.”

I agree, wholeheartedly. But I also think that we’re already partly there.

There are so many people who share this mission, and many of them have organized. I’m honored to be here today with Defending the Early Years, a group of brilliant, passionate, experienced educators and academics who fight the good fight, day in and day out. The Teacher Activist Group, The Badass Teachers Association, The Boston Education Justice Alliance: these groups are doing excellent work, and I credit them— 100%— for granting me the courage to take my first baby steps in joining the world of early childhood activism.

 

Last year, when I was teaching at the charter school, things were going— how do I say this diplomatically?— terribly. I struggled every single moment of every single day. And I began to think that not only was I a terrible teacher, but also that I was deeply crazy.

Nearly everyone around me, after all, seemed to be on the same page, downing the Kool-Aid like water at a marathon. I must have been the one who was wrong.

So, in desperation, I looked online. Was there anyone out there who felt and thought as I did? Was there any chance, that is, that I was not insane?

Within a few keystrokes, a whole world opened up. I was not the only one who felt this way— not by far. There were whole communities, organizations, books, academic careers devoted to dismantling the type of approach to education that I found myself in. No, I wasn’t crazy. And I was going to take start taking notes.

I transitioned from survival mode to journalist mode, from cowering in the corner to playing offense. For the rest of that school year, I viewed every troubling situation I found myself in, every example of the type of pedagogy I so deeply disagreed with, as material for my future writing.

This is how I got myself through my time at the charter school. And this is how I came full circle— to join, in baby steps, the community that helped me survive. We are not alone. And the more we band together, loudly, unapologetically, the stronger we will become.

 

Thank you.

 

To read more posts from Emily Kaplan check out:

How Parental Power(lessness) Distinguishes Suburban Public Schools from Urban Charters – originally published by EduShyster

and

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten – originally published by EduShyster

Learning to Count to 14 the Common Core Way and the DAP Way…

Learning to Count to 14 the Common Core Way and the Developmentally Appropriate Way – What is the Difference? Why Does it Matter?

Unfortunately, in too many kindergartens today, even many of the best trained teachers in play-based, developmentally appropriate practice say they are being pressured into teaching fact-based, “one-size-fits-all” math lessons and find that play-based activities are severely curtailed, if not banned.  This situation deprives young children of the opportunities they need now more than ever to develop a meaningful foundation for mathematical concepts in developmentally appropriate ways (Kamii, 2015; VanHoorn, 2015).  It undermines their ability and enthusiasm to use math to figure out real problems in the real world.  And having these meaningful learning experiences with math in school is increasingly important in today’s world, as media and technology take up more and more of the time many young children used to spend developing the foundations for mathematical thinking in their own uniquely created hands-on play activities at home (Levin 2013). If we want to optimize young children’s early math development and learning, we much return to high-quality, play-based activities, where well-trained teachers connect math learning to how children learn and to individual children’s interests and needs (Exchange, Jan./Feb. 2016).

Please read more in thmathforexchangee attached article by DEY’s Senior Advisor, Diane E. Levin and DEY’s co-director, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, which was originally published by Exchange Magazine in the Jan/Feb 2016 edition.

 

Why are our CCSS concerns ignored?

On Twitter this week, a teacher asked DEY why our concerns regarding the Common Core State Standards and young children are being ignored. One big part of the puzzle is money. The Gates Foundation has spent $200 million dollars creating and promoting the Common Core State Standards. And corporations such as Pearson are laughing all the way to bank. Political commentator/comedian John Oliver described Pearson has having a “shocking amount of influence over American schools” in this scathing report on standardized testing. And POLITICO reports that Pearson “has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division. But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards.” Read more.

It is incredibly difficult to break through all the money that is flowing in support of the Common Core, in order to get our message across. This recent letter to the editor of the Boston Globe by DEY’s director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin helps illustrate what we are up against (published July 21, 2015 under the title A David-Goliath clash over what’s best for young kids):

CHRIS BERDIK does an excellent job outlining Defending the Early Years’ arguments against the Common Core standards for kindergarten in the June 14 Ideas piece “The end of kindergarten?” He also reports on the support for the Common Core from another nonprofit, Student Achievement Partners.

Here are some important additional notes for your readers: Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core. In 2012 Student Achievement Partners was given $6.5 million in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, the Gates Foundation has spent more than $200 million to implement the Common Core.

Defending the Early Years was founded, in 2012, by a coalition of concerned early-childhood educators who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to fight back. Last year our operating budget, all from donations from our supporters, was about .006 percent of what Student Achievement Partners received from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Our mission is clear, grounded in research, and based on what is best for young children.

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Director, Defending the Early Years

 

It is true that here at DEY we have a tiny fraction of the budget that the CCSS promoters have, but what we DO have is early childhood expertise, experience, and decades of research on our side. The only thing we are working to promote is what is in the best interest of young children. And we are concerned that this entire focus on the Common Core has become a distraction, based on fallacy, from the underlying inequalities brought on by poverty. In fact, the CCSS has created another layer of stress in the lives of children – many of whom are already growing up with toxic stress.

With our limited budget, we have already reached millions of people with our three research-based advocacy papers published this year. We are making some noise and are pushing the conversation in the right direction. We want to do more and we need to keep going. For example, we are starting to translate some of our work into Spanish. We know this is important and we are committed to making it happen. If you are moved to support DEY with a tax deductible financial contribution, now is a great time. We have actually have a summer special (see below). We also urge all of DEY’s friends and supporters to continue to fight the good fight and to speak out with well-reasoned arguments in defense of developmentally appropriate curricula, standards and assessments for our young children.

SUMMER FUNDRAISING THANKS!
 
This summer we are offering a special thanks to all donors:
DonateNow
  • Donate $50.00 – we will send you a copy of Lively Minds!
  • Donate $100.00 – we will send you two reports – Lively Minds and Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose
  • Donate $200 or more – we will send you all three reports! Lively Minds, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose PLUS Kamii’s paper on the CCSS math standards K-3!
  Please check out our donation page. Thank you!

 

 

 

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)