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.

Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

RuthOn July 7th, our newest member to DEY’s National Advisory Board, Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, made the following speech at the First Focus Summit that was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Today we are honored to share her powerful words, with permission from Rodriguez-Fay.

 

Diversity and America’s Generation Gap

Ruth Rodriguez-Fay  ~ Diversity Adviser of Save Our Schools

“If you don’t understand the journey of those you serve, you cannot be an advocate for justice.” – Mary Bacon

 

Mary’s quote above is essential to this presentation that I have been honored to share today.  It is critical because of the present day infusion of Corporate America into the design and construct of our public schools.  It is also more so, because those who have set their goal into restructuring our public schools have chosen to isolate certified educators, child development experts and families whose stakes are high in ensuring our children success. Instead, we have everyone from billionaires, hedge funds moguls, real estate investors positioning themselves as the saviors of what they have come to label as “failing” schools.  They have used their $$power to influence legislators into passing an education reform that goes against what we educators have been trained to do.  The disrespect to the teaching profession, especially those of us educators of color, has been unprecedented. No other profession has received such attacks as teachers have, such blatant attacks by non-educators on our ability to do what we have spent our lifetime career mastering.

The Billionaires and hedge funds moguls have waged a war against public education, especially harmful to communities of color, never seen since a century ago, when a similar attempt by Corporate was made. The nation’s largest lobbyists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), looking for profit ventures for their investors, determined that public education was a multi-trillion investment opportunity just waiting to be tapped; and they wasted little time to begin to concoct a business-model, profit-making endeavor masquerading as education reform with business, factory-style measure, one that these bandits will never consider subjecting their own children.  My friend, today’s leading respected civil rights advocate, Rose Saunders, almost brought me to tears when she declared that, “this is the worst war ever fought on American soil, for neither the civil war, nor the war for civil rights can compare, for the casualties of this war are our precious children.”

I was hopeful when Governor Deval Patrick of MA announced his Readiness Project, seeking advice on his education policies.  I was honored to serve on his Massachusetts Comprehensive and Assessment System (MCAS) and Assessment initiative, hoping to have the opportunity to present an alternative to the damaging high-stake test forced upon all the children, one that had killed the dreams of so many children who were denied a high school diploma based on this single test.  Learning that our alternative recommendations were denied, and the state would continue with the MCAS, I confronted the Governor at his event at Framingham State University, in an audience of over 300 people, I said face to face, “Governor, I thank you for giving the opportunity to serve in your Readiness Project on MCAS and Assessment.  I am saddened that you did not accept our recommendation for alternative form of assessment, and have made the decision to continue the harmful test.  But, I challenge anyone in this room, including you Governor, to immerse yourself in Spanish for one year, then take the test in Spanish, for that Governor, is what you are asking English language learners to do.” One year of English immersion was all that former Governor Mitt Romney believed English language learners needed to compete with their English speaking counterparts; as a result, MA has continued to demand that all students must take the test, and if they fail, they do not receive a diploma.  That night Governor Patrick promised that he will look into this and pointed me to one of his staff. Unfortunately, MA English language learners still are subjected to the test!

Let us look at how one goes about privatizing public education?  First, you manufacture a crisis and instill public fear.  We saw in the Hollywood propaganda, Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, where teachers were blamed for everything that is wrong in the country, and posed schools and the students as “failures”, who needed to be rescued, this time by a business-style intervention.  Create a rallying cry for the need to save citizens from an imminent danger, and only they can provide the relief, in this case, since teachers are the problem, they will provide immediate relieve through their profit-making endeavor, known as Teach for America.  These are recent young college graduates, (no need to have an education degree, only agree not to join the teacher’s union), who will receive 5 weeks of training where they are advised never to associate with union, certified teachers.  These teaching interns are replacing certified, union teachers with years of experience, then are placed in the school districts with majority Black and Latino student populations. They fit right in with the Charter Schools Enterprise, who enjoy the hiring of non-union, and many non-certified teachers.  You then create a system which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is done through the enforcement of a high stake test that is used to deny student’s promotion and graduation, evaluate teachers based on student’s test scores, then when a school reaches the level of failing based on the test, then they come in with the claim that since schools are failing they are the only ones that can save them.

I have a challenge understanding how these profiteers positioned themselves as the savior of a system that they created.  Remember when the Bush administration went to bomb Iraq?  The campaign prior to the bombing was filled with lies about weapons of mass destruction, how we were going to save the people of Iraq from their evil leaders.  Then, after destroying the country, our government came back to the people saying that our tax dollars will be used to give Chaney’s Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair what they broke.  It is the same playbook they are using in education, create the conditions for failure until the system is broken, then claim that they alone can fix it.  In order to fix what they broke, they use an appealing language, like “innovation”, “reform,” and their favorite, “choice.”  What we have come to understand about “choice,” is that the choice is only for the profiteers not the families of children with special needs nor the English language learners.

Another form used is to deflect the truths with dog-whistle propaganda, glossy presentations that disguise the real ideology of greed under the umbrella of “freedom” and “saving children.” Once the propaganda is solidified, that is when ALEC came in.  ALEC, with funding from Bill Gates, were the mastermind behind the Common Core, who were able to forge alliances with big business and state legislators.  Another brilliance of the profiteers was to buy off both major political parties, as we now know that both Republicans and Democrats have drunk the Corporate education reform cool-aid. This was done through the creation of legislation that politically and financially benefited the stake holders in this case the Billionaires and Wall Street investors and the politicians. They also use the tactic of laundering the policies through a number of non-profit agencies and corporate philanthropy, where the origins are not easily traced.

These are the same “stake holders,” comprised of corporations who are managing charter schools and online schools and other “options” in the place of the “failing schools.” Deals are made with textbook and testing companies that schools must use, generating billions of profits for these companies, while public schools languish from lack of resources, such resources that otherwise schools could spend hiring teachers to reduce class size, or provide essential needed materials.

Charter schools claims to be the solution for the failing schools, have been shown to do no better than the schools they rob the resources from, and many have established policies that “counsel-out” students that they fear will not pass the test, and the public school from where those students come, must take them back.  They traditionally do not take high leveled special need students, nor English language learners.

Now, I want to end with this food for thought: The Common Core was designed with little to none expert educator or child development advice.  When, the President announced its early education initiative, many of us were hopeful that our Black and Latino young children will benefit from early intervention.  But, as we read the wording and began to understand what was involved, it became clear that “test and punish” was now being imposed on children who were 4 and 5 years old. To her dismay, my friend Nancy Carlsson Page, Professor of early education at Lesley University expressed her disdain, as she told me, “for now we have 4 and 5-year-olds, who should be spending their time in play activities, learning about their environment and socializing as well as developing a love for learning, forced to spend the better time of the school year prepping for a single test, a test that has been shown to be harmful and abusive to children.”

Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige Reflects on the 2016 Network for Public Education Conference

The 2016 Network for Public Education Conference, held April 15-17 in Raleigh, NC, is truly an experience—something hard to describe.  For a few days in April, education and social justice activists from around the country come together in a burst of energy and synergy to share lives and ideas and to build an education movement for equity and justice for all children.

I was glad that Denisha Jones, DEY National Advisory Board member, and I attended because our session was the only one focused exclusively on young children.  Our panel was called T-E-S-T and Not PLAY is a Four-Letter Word:  Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform.  Susan Ochshorn, early childhood author and journalNPE 2016 3ist, moderated, and we were joined by Michelle Gunderson, first grade teacher and early childhood leader in the Chicago Teachers Union. We covered many issues in a short time including the decrease in play and active learning in classrooms for young children, the disproportionate effects of corporate education reform on black and brown children and those in low-income communities, and the need to strengthen our advocacy for young children.  Lots of folks attended the session and I was really glad we were there to connect early childhood issues to the larger landscape of education reform that were the focus of the conference.

Many people came up to me over the course of the three days in Raleigh to tell me how they follow DEY, appreciate us, and benefit from using our materials.  It was really heNPE 2016 2artening to realize that we are voicing important ideas and issues that might otherwise not be accessible to teachers and parents.  People are using the papers we’ve put out in a variety of ways as well as our fact sheets, and many say they read our website regularly.

At the conference, we learned about many new documentary films being made about the current state of education in our country.  All of these films and how to order them are listed on the NPE website.   In a separate session we saw a “fine cut” preview of the almost finished documentary Backpack Full of Cash.  This film is being made by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow who made the PBS series called SCHOOL which received so much acclaim.   Their new film unwraps the movement to privatize our nation’s schools, telling a straightforward and understandable narrative through the eyes of the communities affected.   The film should be out in the coming year and I think its time is right.

On Saturday, we listened to a riveting keynote speech from Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of NAACP, about the history of racism in our schools and the continuing reality of systemic racism that permeates our society today.  Rev. Barber is a gifted orator who can move his listeners to new levels of awareness by his artistic crafting of words and powerful delivery.Themes of charter schools, over-testing, privatization, racial justice, poverty, global education, democracy, and public education ran through the speeches and sessions of the conference, helping all of us to heighten our understanding and also our resolve to continue our work.  I felt re-energized about our work at Defending the Early Years, proud of what we do, sure that we should keep on.

Maybe next year YOU will want to attend the Network for Public Education conference—you won’t be disappointed!

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Livestream DEY Session at the NPE Conference: Saturday, April 16 at 2:30 EDT

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DEY Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige and DEY National Board member Denisha Jones will join Susan Ochshorn and Michelle Gunderson in a panel discussion entitled, “T-E-S-T, not P-L-A-Y is a Four-Letter Word: Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform” during the third annual Network for Public Education conference, held in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The session will be held on Saturday, April 16 from 2:30 to 3:45 pm (EDT). Livestream their session by clicking here. Several other keynotes and sessions will be livestreamed as well.

Parents and educators stand together against growing test stress in children

Parents Across America

PAA has also sent letters to the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics asking that they investigate our concerns that high-stakes standardized testing has become a health hazard for our nation’s public school children.

According to Dr. Isabel Nuñez, Associate Professor in the Center for Policy and Social Justice, Concordia University Chicago:

“High-stakes testing is doing children grievous mental and emotional harm. Parents Across America has gathered overwhelming evidence of the destructive psychological impact of test anxiety. For your children’s sake, read and be outraged!”

Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor in the department of Psychology, Boston College, added:

“The evidence is overwhelming that our national mania for testing–and for so much time in school and at schoolwork–is damaging the physical and psychological health of our children. I appreciate the work of Parents Across America and sincerely hope that the educational 4 kids at deskspowers that be start to listen. What we have today is, essentially, state-mandated child abuse.”

Testing in the early years, which is strongly opposed by early childhood professionals, is taking a toll. According to Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige:

“As we see testing increasingly edge out play and active learning in classrooms for young kids, we also see more and more children who don’t like school, who feel way too much pressure, who don’t want to go to this place that feels so uncomfortable and out of synch with who they are and what they need.”

A research paper recently published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests a correlation between the increased academic pressure on young children and the significant increase in ADHD diagnoses (Brosco).

Coping skills, “stealth” assessments not the answer

Much of the literature on test anxiety focuses on how to help children cope with the stress. In contrast, PAA believes the cause of the stress itself must be addressed. No child should be exposed to prolonged, intense stress, which can inhibit brain function and take a toll on mental health.

PAA is not simply asking for an end to high-stakes, one-shot testing. Parents are demanding that no child be harmed in the assessment process. We know that test publishers and education entrepreneurs are already developing new ways to label, sort and profile students through high-tech devices now taking over classrooms. This may not create as much stress but carries other dangers such as:

  • Constant collection of student data via online websites, apps, and programs without parental notification.
  • Embedded or “stealth” assessments – students will not even be aware if their work is being used for high-stakes purposes.
  • A significant increase in the amount of screen time children are exposed to – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a two hour per day screen time limit for children.

PAA has many other concerns about the misuse and overuse of standardized tests which we have detailed in previous position papers and fact sheets (see, for example, “Testing and ESEA,” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/TestingandESEA1-15-15.pdf and “Why More Standardized Tests Won’t Improve Education” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/09/why-more-standardized-tests-wont-improve-education/.boy with glasses

Our full position paper with recommendations and endorsements can be found here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/educator-endorsements-paa-test-stress-position-paper/

Our one-page fact sheet on test stress is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Test-Stress-facts-2-1-16rev.pdf

and our background paper is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Test-Stress-Doc-full1-28-16.pdf

A downloadable pdf version of our position paper is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/TestStressPositionrev2-1-16.pdf

To learn more about testing or PAA, please visit www.parentsacrossamerica.org or email us at:info@parentsacrossamerica.org.

Contacts:

  • Julie Woestehoff, Interim Executive Director, Parents Across America, 773-175-3989
  • Laura Bowman, leader of PAA-Roanoke Valley (VA), 540-819-6385
  • Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, leader of PAA- Suburban Philadelphia (PA), 215-498-2549

 

Testing for Joy and Grit? DEY And The Early Childhood Community Weigh In

On February 29th The New York Times published the following article: Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills. In an excerpt the article explains:
…starting this year, several California school districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate — ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.
 
A recent update to federal education law requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance. So other states are watching these districts as a potential model. But the race to test for so-called social-emotional skills has raised alarms even among the biggest proponents of teaching them, who warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.
DEY’s Senior Advisor (and several other ECE experts) weigh in below:

 

Nancy Carlsson-Paige: 

Testing children’s social and emotional skills is a bad idea.  These skills are crucial to school success and life long happiness—we’ve seen this through many research studies. But skills such as self and social awareness, managing emotions, developing empathy, forming positive relationships, and learning conflict resolution skills grow over time in children and from the inside out.  They develop in children as the result of interactions with others in classrooms that foster these skills through the curriculum, relationships, and activities specifically designed to encourage social and emotional skill building.

Research shows that reward systems can influence social and emotional behavior, but the learning does not last once the rewards are removed.  We want children to be kind and feel empathy for others even when the teacher isn’t looking or the promise of earning points isn’t there.  Research has also shown that self reporting does not match up with actual behavior.  Most importantly, we learn from moral development theory that the more we try to control children from the outside, the less they learn to regulate themselves from within.
Building skills for social and emotional awareness and skill should permeate every classroom and be encouraged in every child.  It’s  essential for their success in school and in life.  But testing these skills will only undermine that vital goal.
Eric Schaps/Founder, Developmental Studies Center: 
The challenge of assessing SEL skills in any affordable, feasible, large-scale way is that such assessments are — inevitably — vulnerable to social desirability and social pressure influences. Those vulnerabilities become all the greater as the assessments become high stakes and as pressures mount on schools to “look good.”
Linda Lantieri/ Educator and Author of Building Emotional Intelligence:
It is helpful to have a sense of how much progress is made when social and emotional learning is taught in schools. However there are other creative ways besides testing to do that. For example, schools could use Portfolio Assessment to assess competence. Students could reflect and journal over time on how they approach certain conflict situations  or how they strengthen certain relationships and discuss how they are using their learned SEL skills to do that. Progress in this area is best when assessment is used  for the purpose of self improvement and differentiation of instruction.
William Crain; Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York: 
For over three decades, many of us have been concerned about the impact of the standards movement on children’s emotions.  Increasing academic and testing demands, imposed at younger and younger ages, have been producing considerable stress.  What’s more, the single-minded focus on academics has crowded out important areas of children’s lives—artistic activities, the exploration of nature, and the development of social and imaginative capacities through play.   I have often felt that children frequently seem so lethargic and unhappy not only because they are stressed out, but also because they haven’t had a chance to develop their full potentials. Their development atrophies, and they feel stagnant.
Recently, some standards advocates have become more alert to children’s social and emotional problems and needs.  They want to teach and test for social-emotional skills.  But I doubt that their approach will work.
They, like the standards movement in general, assume that it’s up to us, as adults, to decide what children should learn.  Standards advocates fail to see that children have an inner drive to develop different capacities at different ages, and when given a chance to do so, children spontaneously engage in activities with great enthusiasm and perseverance.
Educators need to take a more child-centered approach, taking their cues from children, seeing what children themselves are ready and eager to learn.  If educators did this, they would find that children naturally develop a wide-ranging passion for learning–for books, nature, and people. Educators would see that children naturally stick with tasks they care deeply about.  The need to teach and test for social-emotional skills wouldn’t arise.
Lastly, for more thoughts on “grit” we point you to Alfie Kohn’s piece Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad.

 

 

Emily Kaplan’s reflections on “No Excuses” charter schools – Please Read and Share

On Thursday, an important essay was posted in Jennifer Berkshire’s brilliant blog
EduShyster. This post, All I Really Need to Know I Should’ve Learned in Kindergarten, was written by Boston-area elementary teacher, Emily Kaplan. The post has already been featured on ECE PolicyWorks, and here at DEY we hope that the piece will continue to gain traction and attention. We believe in ampliphying teachers’ voices, which have been drowned out and often discounted in our national conversation about education policy and reform. In her essay, Kaplan documents her experiences and observations teaching at a “No excuses” charter school, as compared to other teaching experiences she has had. She poses many questions, including the following:

…what if a necessary component of improving the long-term prospects of small children from disadvantaged backgrounds is not accelerating through childhood, but purposefully lingering in it?

Kaplan’s piece also opens the door for important conversations about race, poverty and education. The following is the comment left by DEY’s Senior Advisor, Nancy Carlsson-Paige:

This is a terrific article that I will share widely. Thanks, Emily, for seeing through the smokescreen of rote learning and chants for success which have just about nothing to do with real learning in the early years. Thanks too for great descriptions of developmentally sound education–the place where kids gain the deep capacities for real success: thinking deeply, solving problems, imagining and creating, inventing, getting along with others, gaining confidence socially and as learners. And thanks to Dienne for naming exactly a problem we white early childhood educators have. We need stronger alliances, more diverse voices and more trust across groups if we are going to give all young kids the best education possible. And Emily, thanks for naming poverty as an obstacle to that goal. We can’t solve it all in the schools.

Click here to read Emily Kaplan’s full essay on the EduShyster blog, and don’t forget to also check out the comments!