Monday, April 28, 2014

Kindergarteners - Get with the System

I come to this issue because of two recent stories about kindergarteners.

One was from Oregon where - guess what?  Bad news about testing kindergarteners for "school readiness."  Two state official up the food chain in public education in Oregon called the kindergartener readiness results "sobering."

It is important to have a baseline for each child.  But this pressure of testing and standards - which are not developmentally appropriate for these children - is wrong.  It is unlikely to move the needle and, in fact, is more likely to hurt them.  Every single book or article I have ever read about early childhood  development talks about the learning through play model (which is rapidly disappearing).

So then we come to the story from Elwood, New York about the cancellation of a kindergarten play in the name of  "college and career" readiness goals.

Kindergarten (and even preschool) has increasingly become academic — at the expense of things such as recess and the arts — in this era of standardized test-based school reform. In most states, educators are evaluated in large part on test scores of students (sometimes students they don’t have) and on showing that their students are “college and career ready,” the mantra of the Obama administration’s education initiatives. 

From the letter to parents:

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools, and, more specifically, to clarify, misperceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is [sic] that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.
The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.
Kids aren't widgets.  Somehow, someway, this has gotten lost in the ed reform status quo rhetoric of  "we need to be competitive against other counties" and " we need kids to be ready for jobs."

When I give talk about public education, I always ask the question, "Why do we educate our nation's children?"  Is it only for economic benefit because, if so, that would be training, not educating (and there's a difference).  

Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's special project is promoting more civics in schools.  We have our own Washington State civics cheerleader is Web Hutchins, who has worked tirelessly on his Civics for All project.  

It matters because we want educated CITIZENS, not just workers.  That innovation that has driven our nation for the last 60+ years?  It didn't come from just training people.  The changes in civil rights for African-Americans as well as gay Americans?  That comes from being educated, not trained in school.  

We want thinking citizens who know how to evaluate what they read on the internet.  We want thinking citizens who know how to discern truth from fiction from candidates as well as elected officials.  We want thinking citizens who know the value of a clean environment.  

We want thinking citizens who believe, as did our founding fathers, in truth, liberty AND the pursuit of happiness.  A lot of happiness comes from being able to have empathy for others, work with others collaboratively and understanding the value of traits like leadership and artistic values.

Where is the pursuit of happiness in any curriculum (or is that just the job of parents)? 


Anonymous said...

Looks like I will be paying for a Waldorf education for my grandchildren if this comes to pass.


Anonymous said...

"The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers."

It amazes me that they do not think that some of these skills can be learned and reinforced through the arts, such as the Kindergarten show. I was a theatre major, and am now a business exec at a big tech company, and I use the lessons I learned in theatre everyday- especially those lessons and skills regarding teamwork, collaboration, and communication (written, oral and visual).


Lisa said...

I'm sorry if people will miss the kindergarten show, but personally I think that is another item that does not belong in the K curriculum. When we say "play based" we don't mean put on a theater production. Acting on a smaller scale within the classroom certainly can be valuable, but shows like the one being eliminated here are primarily for the parents. I wish they were cancelling it in favor of the kids putting on puppet shows for each other, or measuring things in the play kitchen, or building with unit blocks.

Cranky said...


I still remember my school play. To this day, I remember feeling proud to perform in front of my mother.

On another occasion, I accompanied my mother to my sibling's class play and I remember my mother crying. She said to me: "Someday you will understand." Now that I am a parent, I do.

I watch my parents age and I have no clue if I was at standard in K, but these memories are amongst my favorite and have lasted a life time.

n said...

Performing is so worthwhile at any age. It motivates thinking on your feet, reading and reciting, understanding text, character motivation, personal pride in the achievement of just doing it, synchronization, it enhances physical, emotional and social connections, keeping a beat, learning to wait for your cue and coming in on time, and probably a whole long list of other academic, social and emotional skills. Honestly that anyone would think performing anything in front of an audience to be less than worthwhile doesn't understand all the values of such an activity.

I've had quite a few children whose parents are in the arts: musicians, actors and the fine arts. Their children are among the brightest and honestly most intellectually superior students. For some reason - and I'm not sure I know what it is - these children have common sense along with being highly skilled in all academic areas. I've often thought they are the beneficiaries of watching parents collaborate, study scripts, practice or rehearse relentlessly, demand the best of themselves, analyze and understand the characters they play or the art they create and the analysis given to musical compositions. History, perspective, mood, social relationships are all part of the performing experience. The arts demand the converging of almost every element one can name in mathematics and literacy. That is why we venerate so many of the achievements from the Renaisannce Era.

I don't know. I guess there's no place in some people's minds for wisdom and understanding and historical perspective any more.

And no, Lisa, I'm not making too much of it.

BTW, are you the one who said commented on this blog that testing was always accurate? I recall reading several articles calling into question the SAT as a predictor of college success. No, I don't think tests are infallible. Not tests that get one into APP or Spectrum nor those that get you into college. I think success is rarely predicted by any test. Tests are marketed and thus provide profit for the marketers.

That's the only certainty I have regarding tests.

I think understanding before judging is a good way to go.

n said...

In fact, I think instead of fewer shows at K, there ought to be more shows at K. Nothings inspires learning like performing.

There's a charter school in Harlem (I think) that is very successful but the secret of its success is its partnership with an arts organization. I can't remember if it is just musical or combined arts but it works to keep the kids engaged. Does anyone else know of that academy?

Andrea Ptak said...

I have made my living as a graphic artist and a writer since the mid-1970s. The arts provide jobs, and, with the rise in interactive multi-media as the main form of communication for the future this is only join g to become more evident.

We opted for private middle and high school for our daughter specifically because of the arts curriculum offered. She had visual art, music and theater all seven years. She ended up majoring in chemistry—a different kind of creativity. We would have been just as happy if she had majored in the arts. We know, at least, she had the option and will always have the creative roots from which to grow.