Earlier this year, Robert Pondiscio, a policy pundit at the Fordham Institute, took to his “Common Core” blog and blasted Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose, a report written by three early childhood educators.
Why shouldn’t kids be reading in kindergarten, the man wanted to know. And how dare the authors suggest that the blessed academic standards were not developmentally appropriate?
I immediately zeroed in on Pondiscio’s resume, from which experience and credentials in early development and education were conspicuously absent. He’d worked in public relations and communications at Time magazine, Hill and Knowlton, and Businessweek. He spent a few years teaching fifth-graders in the South Bronx, before moving on to the Core Knowledge Foundation, and Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools based in Harlem.
Yet Pondiscio wasn’t deterred from pontificating. “The authors make much of the fact that no one involved with writing the standards was a K-3 teacher or early-childhood professional,” he said. Not important, he concluded. This, from a man who teaches civics and the virtues of democratic discourse.
He also insisted that nothing in the Common Core standards precluded the creation of “safe, warm, nurturing classrooms that are play-based, engaging, and cognitively enriching,” moving from his blog to the well-read pages of U.S News and World Report to further make the case in a piece called “No time to lose: Common Core critics are wrong about whether kindergarten reading goals are harmful.” Let’s keep those little rats racing to the top!
And who’s to blame if the classrooms have been turned into a “joyless grind”? Why, the teachers of course.
Around the time of the release of the paper—a collaboration of Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood—DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a co-author, joined Pondiscio and reading intervention specialist Colleen Rau in a forum on KQED in San Francisco.
Carlsson-Paige highlighted the high stakes attached to the Common Core standards. Teachers feel a lot of pressure, she said (an assertion with which Rau agreed), and as for those “play-based, engaging classrooms,” well, they’re vanishing. Kindergarten’s now the new first grade.
Children feel anxious and fearful when they’re pushed to do things for which they’re not ready–emotions that are not especially productive for lighting the love of learning. She called attention to the evidence base, which flies in the face of Pondiscio’s utopian vision:
Research shows on a national scale there’s less play and experiential based curriculum happening over all, and much more didactic instruction, even though we have research that shows long term there are greater gains from play-based programs than academically focused ones.
Ed Miller, co-author with Joan Almon of Crisis in the Kindergarten, which documented the above phenomenon as it was taking hold, recently weighed in on KQED’s website on the silencing of early childhood educators:
I was one of the authors of the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards, expressing grave concerns about the K-3 standards and signed by more than 400 leaders in the field. (Read it here) We hand-delivered the statement to each of the people in charge of the Common Core project during the public comment period. The statement was never acknowledged and was not mentioned in the official report published by the Common Core initiative on the public reaction to the proposed standards. The addition of the words “with prompting and support,” in our view, made little or no difference to the overall devastating effect of the kindergarten standards on teaching and classroom life.
Susan Pimentel did receive a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 1974 but went on immediately to law school and never worked as a teacher or school leader. Marilyn Adams does have a background in cognitive and developmental psychology but, as far as I know, never taught young children. She has had a successful career promoting an extreme phonics-based approach to reading along with her own programs for implementing this approach, including the notorious Open Court reading and writing curriculum that was imposed on thousands of schools by the Reading First component of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reading First was later exposed as a fraud that cost billions of dollars and actually produced negative results on children’s reading outcomes.
I suppose you could say that Pimentel and Adams have early education backgrounds. The fact is that neither they nor any of the other 133 members of the committees that wrote and reviewed the standards had ever been a K-3 classroom teacher.
Now you tell me where the expertise lies. It ain’t with the policy pundit from the Fordham Institute.