The Common Core State Standards call for kindergartners to learn how to read, but a new report by early childhood experts says that forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.
Two organizations that advocate for early childhood education — Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood — issued the report titled “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.” It says there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in prekindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success.
The authors — Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin and Joan Wolfsheimer Almon — found that:
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.
No research documents long-term gains from learning to read in kindergarten.
Research shows greater gains from play-based programs than from preschools and kindergartens with a more academic focus.
Children learn through playful, hands-on experiences with materials, the natural world, and engaging, caring adults.
Active, play-based experiences in language-rich environments help children develop their ideas about symbols, oral language and the printed word — all vital components of reading.
We are setting unrealistic reading goals and frequently using inappropriate methods to accomplish them.
In play-based kindergartens and preschools, teachers intentionally design language and literacy experiences which help prepare children to become fluent readers.
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards falsely implies that having children achieve these standards will overcome the impact of poverty on development and learning, and will create equal educational opportunity for all children.
The report says that kindergarten has since the 1980s become increasingly academic — with big pushes from President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top — and that today many children are being asked to do things they are not ready to do. It says:
Under the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) the snowball has escalated into an avalanche which threatens to destroy appropriate and effective approaches to early education. The kindergarten standards, in use in over 40 states, place huge emphasis on print literacy and state bluntly that, by the end of kindergarten, children are to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” Large amounts of time and money are being devoted to this goal, and its impact is felt strongly in many preschools as well.
Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten. In addition, the pressure of implementing the standards leads many kindergarten teachers to resort to inappropriate didactic methods combined with frequent testing. Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need from decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience.
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, anxiety and confusion. A grandmother from Massachusetts told this story:
My 5-year-old grandson adored his play-based preschool, but it was a different story when he started an all-day, very academic, public kindergarten. From the first day he had mostly worksheets and table tasks, which he said were “hard.” On the fifth day of kindergarten he refused to go to school, locked himself in his bedroom, and hid under his bed!
Here from the report are some examples from the Core that the authors cite as inappropriate for many kindergartners:
The CCSS website states, “Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.” However, there is no evidence that mastering these standards in kindergarten rather than in first grade brings lasting gains. To achieve them usually calls for long hours of drill and worksheets — and reduces other vital areas of learning such as math, science, social
studies, art, music and creative play.