When my wife and I told my son's homeroom teacher (really, a coordinator with his online school) that our son, Anthony, had been flying through fractions but seemed completely stumped when he hit the unit on yards, meters, inches, and centimeters, she told us not to sweat it. Maybe he's not ready for it, she said. So, skip the measurement unit for now and come back to it later on.
Huh. Sensible enough. Different kids are ready to learn different things at different times. Apparently, they're not identical products stamped from machines.
But while my son's school is flexible enough to recognize that kids aren't standard issue, public education in the United States is moving increasingly toward a one-size-fits-all model. The new Common Core standards adopted by most states, for example, push kindergarten away from play-based learning toward academic approaches. Specifically, all kindergarten students are expected to "read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding" by the end of the year.
The problem, notes a new report from advocacy groups Defending Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood, is that "Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten." The report's authors go on to warn that pushing kids into lessons for which they're not ready can freak them out and turn them off learning.
Released today, Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose says there's no good reason to insist that all children be eager readers before first grade.
While other Common Core kindergarten literacy requirements begin with the words "With prompting and support…," this one does not. There is a strong expectation that by the end of kindergarten children should be reading basic books on their own with purpose and understanding. We could find no research cited by the developers of the CCSS to support this reading standard for kindergarten.
The authors cite evidee suggesting that kids who learn to read in kindergarten and those who learn to read in first grade read at the same level by fourth grade and beyond. Some children learn to read very well, very early, but there doesn't seem to be an inherent advantage to doing so, since most of their peers will arrive at the same point in their own time.
Meanwhile, letting kindergartners learn by playing—like kids instead of like miniature college students—does seem to have long-term advantages. They learn to get along better with other people, and even have lower rates of arrests for felony offenses in their 20s then those introduced early to academic instruction.
And then there's that whole freaking out thing.
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.
Of course, some kids are ready for early reading and instruction. I'll add that this is why you might want to allow for a variety of approaches to education. Children learn different things, at different rates, and the environment in which one child thrives might not be so great for another. One size does not fit all.
So, no harm, no foul—if you can teach your kids at the pace and in the style that suits them.
Interestingly, an unrelated column in Education Week, also published today, warns that Common Core boosters are attempting to cut off just that sort of option.
The Common Core State Standards have come to the fore precisely at a time when civically active individuals care much more than they usually do about exit, voice, and loyalty. But the common core has denied voice and tried to block exit.
The common core's designers have taken the existing bureaucracy and increased its centralization and uniformity…
The common core's promoters and their federal facilitators wanted a cartel that would override competitive federalism and shut down the curriculum alternatives that federalism would allow.
The author, Williamson M. Evers, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education under George W. Bush, cautions that Common Core supporters are even making efforts to squeeze private schools and homeschoolers into the same mold.
Which is a problem if the authors of Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose are right and not all kids are ready to learn the same material, the same way, at the same time.
Below, Reason TV on how cookie-cutter education policies always seem to create the conditions for more cookie-cutter education policies.