If the experience of “doing school” destroys children’s spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?
Steven Wolk, Joy In School
It is a well accepted fact that growth and development happen in stages, and research into brain development has shown that the human brain is still developing into our early 20’s. With that in mind, it seems reasonable to believe that specific skills are best learned when the brain is developmentally ready to understand and conquer them. Most experts in child development and early childhood education recognize this. Unfortunately, it appears that the creators of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) either do not, or were unwilling to take that into consideration when the standards were written.
In March of 2010, in response to the January 2010 draft release of the CCSS, an impressive group of early childhood health and education professionals issued a joint statement through the Alliance for Childhood stating their concerns with the Common Core standards for young students. In this statement (which I encourage you to read) they list their four primary concerns with the standards, and conclude with the following statement:
We therefore call on the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to suspend their current drafting of standards for children in kindergarten through grade three.We further call for the creation of a consortium of early childhood researchers, developmental psychologists, pediatricians, cognitive scientists, master teachers, and school leaders to develop comprehensive guidelines for effective early care and teaching that recognize the right of every child to a healthy start in life and a developmentally appropriate education.
We know that the instigators of the standards at the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers were aware of the Joint Statement well before their summary of public feedback was written. Copies of it were hand-delivered to eleven officials at those two organizations, including Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the CCSSO, and Dane Linn, director of the Education Division of the NGA, who were primarily responsible for the creation of the standards.andWhy were early childhood professionals excluded from the Common Core Standards project? Why were the grave doubts of our most knowledgeable education and health experts missing from the official record of this undertaking? Would including them have forced the people driving this juggernaut to face serious criticism and questions about the legitimacy of the entire project?
Some children attain these abilities—which enable them to learn verbal rules, the essence of formal instruction—at different ages. With the exception of those with special needs, all children attain them eventually. That is why many Scandinavian countries do not introduce formal instruction, the three R’s until the age of seven. In these countries children encounter few learning difficulties. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn.
Rae Pica cites Dr. Willis’ work in this chapter as well as Dr. William Stixrud who said, “stress hormones actually turn off the parts of the brain that allow us to focus attention, understand ideas, commit information to memory and reason critically.” So why would we expect our youngest learners to gain more from a high-pressure environment?
As Rae writes: “Imagine the lost potential as students continue to struggle to learn when anxious and unhappy. Imagine the ever-increasing number of students stressed out, burned out, acting out, and dropping out if things don’t turn around and quickly. Imagine the lost potential if students are kept from discovering the power of joy in the classroom.”
Proponents of the CCSS will argue that the standards do not dictate the curriculum chosen by individual states and schools, nor do they call for the elimination of the sort of activities that might keep the play and joy in the classroom. But as Carol Burris makes clear in Walton’s Forbes article, it is much more time consuming to teach students things that they are not developmentally ready to learn. She says, “if you have goals that are developmentally inappropriate, so much time is spent getting students to achieve what they’re supposed to, that there’s very little time left for music, social studies, science.”
Amanda Morgan, in her article, adds to that by pointing out that these increasing expectations have a “trickle-down effect.” It is changing not only K-3rd grade classrooms, it is affecting preschool as well with preschool teachers attempting to prepare their young charges for Kindergarten. She writes:
I’ve listened as some preschool teachers have said, “With kindergarten the way it is, I just can’t do preschool the old way anymore.” So they get rid of the sand table and the dramatic play area and cut back on outdoor play time. And they spend more time sitting at tables, filling in worksheets, and, well, being quiet.
This is the opposite of what we know about what children need developmentally.
These are all very real concerns with the potential for very serious consequences for our children. What appears to me to be pretty blatant ignorance of the developmental needs of our young and vulnerable students is incredibly disturbing and brings me back to the question of why? Why were the Common Core State Standards developed without the input of early childhood educators, and why were the concerns of so many early education professionals, and parents, ignored as the standards were completed and approved? Why are those concerns still being ignored today as CCSS is being implemented around the nation?
These are questions I’ll tear into in my next post, “Common Core is a Racket.”
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