Guess What? Common Core Kindergarten Is Not the Savior of the Poor

Erika Sanzi recently published a critique of Sarah Blaine’s article about the Common Core standards for early education, particularly kindergarten, being “developmentally inappropriate. Sanzi starts off her article stating that she felt torn and wished that she could side with Blaine since, “Like Ms. Blaine, I look at all of this from a place of privilege.”  Yet Sanzi goes on to support the developmental appropriateness of Common Core for the early grades.

Sanzi claims, “There is much wisdom to be found in the voices of educators on this question of developmental appropriateness.” Then she cites one English arts specialist, Pat D’Alfonso, as evidence. It makes me wonder if Sanzi ever read the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative Issued by the Alliance for Childhood that was issued March 2, 2010. This joint statement was not signed by one  “English arts specialist” but rather over 300 educators and health professionals, many highly renowned in their fields, see their statement, names and credentials here.

Simply stated, Sanzi just like many legislators, education businesses like Pearson, school boards, and administrators have ignored the wisdom of those who understand early learning best. These standards were not designed with any regard to our youngest and most impressionable learners and only time will tell the true damaging effects of these irresponsible reforms.

But what makes me angry is the claims that these Common Core standards, despite being deemed inappropriate by over 300 highly knowledgeable people, who have experience studying and working with young children, have been touted as the savior of the poor in America. It is utterly ridiculous to suggest that somehow these standards are the antidote to the vast achievement gap between rich and poor, between people of color and those of European descent (or however you want to word it), and even between regular education and special education.

Poor children in America are in crisis and kindergarten is where major triage begins in order to compensate for what most agree is a 30 million word gap during their early years. Reading early and often is the antidote that can fill the gap and put students from widely different backgrounds on much more equal footing.

In addition, by requiring students from the beginning to use evidence from the text when writing and speaking, Common Core allows for students to depend far less on their prior knowledge and, in turn, quickly begins to mitigate the impact of having had less conversation or vocabulary rich experiences in early childhood.

In addition, by requiring students from the beginning to use evidence from the text when writing and speaking, Common Core allows for students to depend far less on their prior knowledge and, in turn, quickly begins to mitigate the impact of having had less conversation or vocabulary rich experiences in early childhood. (Sanzi)

Reading early and often does help. But sadly there is less and less time for reading in classrooms where rapid skill acquisition reigns.  What the kids are doing in most kindergartens is a far cry from children making up for lost time being read to and engaging in conversations. It is dominated by worksheets and assessments  If the PARCC test does extend to kindergarten next year, then you better believe kindergarten will also include typing practice.

Most schools with low-income students don’t have many books.  Especially since so much money is being spent on technology upgrades and training in order for the kids to be tested by the new PARCC test. Chicago public schools are refusing district wide, because it simply costs more money than they have to lay out. Sanzi is naive to think that this new set of standards and the inevitable (profitable) tests that will be tied to them will have the power to magically lift children out of poverty. In fact, it runs the risk of turning children off to reading, learning and school at an early age. The best motivating factor for reading success is the desire and love of reading. Children need positive associations not close reading and critical analysis when they are 5, before reading becomes work it must be loved. Why squander the opportunity?

But simply waiting until our children reach a testing year, and refusing the test will not solve the problem either. There has been a fundamental shift in how education is viewed and sadly that view is inextricably entwined with money. The real savior of the poor in this country will not come from the Common Core or lack there of. It will not come from taking the PARCC or refusing it. Starting from day one of kindergarten developing the skill of citing the text, will not make up for less conversation, but teaching parents how important it is to speak and read to young children will.

If we want all children to have a quality education, it will only come from the parents and teachers working together with their communities to demand better. Better schools and better education only comes with sustained hard work. Each community has its own strengths ans weaknesses that the people who live there know all about. The key is to start small and gradually grow more community education associations, parent groups, committees, and have those groups work together to create positive change one step at a time.

It isn’t a magic bullet but rather a long battle that will take blood sweat and tears. But then, with every small victory the community, school, and children grow stronger…together.

Common Core lays out the goals, but certainly doesn’t dictate how to get there. It’s hard to believe that beginning to read early ever hurt anyone but it’s near impossible to deny that failing to do so can quite literally ruin a child’s life. (Sanzi)

The goal needs to be less about when or how a child learns to read and more about how we can inspire and motivate children to want to read and to want to go to school everyday. No one would argue that not learning to read can ruin a child’s life. But I would argue that it is almost as bad to not show children how to love to read.

It is a crime not to inspire them to do more than perform well on the arbitrary, poorly designed tests that we allow for-profit companies to create for them. No child should feel like a failure at age 5, 6 , or 7. They shouldn’t cry when it’s time to do their homework. They deserve more and it is up to the adults to give that to them.

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My older son’s story about reading to his baby sister.

Why Read Aloud?

I grew up surrounded by books. My mom was a kindergarten teacher who turned our biggest bedroom closet into a library. I can still hear the metallic sliding sound of the sliding closet door.  Every night I would go into that closet and pick out some books for my mom to read to me. We did not do this because I had a reading log to complete or a book report to do. It was just simply what we did.

LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS

Shel Silverstein

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be

When I think of childhood, I think of Shel Silverstein. My mom read A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends over and over to me as child. Many I can still recite from heart for even after reading a different book, I would beg for one or two poems. When I could read on my own I would lay and read his words over and over letting my imagination go wild.

My father read books too, but mostly nonfiction. Books about golf swings and basketball plays were his favorite. I have written a lot about how influential my father was over my life, but when it came to reading it was always my mother who did it. Now that I am sitting here thinking about it, I cannot think of one time in my life where my father read a story to me. Though I guess he must have at some point.

I do remember my older brother Matthew carrying a book with him all of the time, even to the Thanksgiving dinner table. My father would yell at him to get his nose out of the book. But, my mom’s influence sunk in and it sunk in deeply. My younger brother Gregory went on to be an English major in college too.

Reading gets so much focus in today’s schools, yet this focus has caused education to stray away from the actual act of reading. Kids are asked to do so much that there is little time to read. Whether it is a worksheet of comprehension questions, a reading log, a journal entry, a book report, a project or a test, little time is left to read or to be read to. By middle school, where I have spent most of my 12 years of teaching, many students haven’t been read to in years. Once I figured that out, I made a point every year to read at least one entire book aloud that was simply for fun. No tests, no quizzes, no nothing. Just for fun. And let me tell you they loved it.

I am a lover of books. I am a teacher who required and motivated my students to read 20 books outside of class each year. Yet I find my second grade son’s reading log to be a thorn in my side. I read to him every night with his siblings, but making time for him and his kindergarten aged brother to read aloud to me every night is difficult at best. I talked to my husband about reading to them more and helping find time to listen to them read too. More and more my husband has been reading with them and I don’t think I have ever seen anything sweeter.

This past weekend my son read to my husband from his World History book, and they got into some very deep discussions about Roman soldiers.

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I guess reading logs are necessary in today’s society, though I wish there were a more organic way to encourage reading. It is so crucial for kids to see reading as more than just homework, especially boys.

Over the past forty years we’ve witnessed a marked increase in girls’ academic achievement. Unfortunately, there’s also been a documented decrease in boys’ academic achievement.

There are several theories about why this is happening, but perhaps the most compelling is the assertion that school, and reading especially, is being seen increasingly by young boys as a “feminine” activity.

Even though it’s likely our fathers did not read to us (Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, cites a study where only 10 percent of participants reported having fathers who read to them—see xxiv), fathers reading to children is one of the very best ways to reverse the academic ambivalence we’re seeing in young boys.

http://education.byu.edu/youcandothis/dads_reading_to_children.html

With a focus on achievement and standardized testing, schools run the risk of turning more and more children off to reading. This is especially true for boys who are often already difficult to motivate to read. Reading should be a million things such as fun, entertaining, informative, thought-provoking or helpful. But the problem comes when reading becomes nothing more than an exercise to prove one’s ability or the effectiveness of a teacher or school.

If every teacher started each day with a Shel Silverstein poem and every parent ended the night with one, we may not have a country full of geniuses, but somehow I think it would cease to matter.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

from the book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1974)


There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

A Mixed Family Christmas

Christmas Eve.

Over my 35 years of life, Christmas Eve has transformed.

As a kid, it was a time of anticipation, excitement and wonder. A born lover of books (thanks to my mom who was always reading to me), my imagination came alive, as I lay in my bed straining to hear footsteps on the roof or a faint jingle of a bell.

My father used to love to tell me about how when we were really little, he did everything while we slept on Christmas Eve, even put up the tree. As we got older, it became our job to put together our fake Christmas tree. I can still picture the huge box with color-coded wire branches. But, my Dad was never far away. Lying on the couch, barking orders and breaking up arguments between my brothers and me.

He cherished the holiday. He would draw it out as much as possible. He would lay in bed forever with the door closed while we sat on the other side begging him to get up, so we could open the presents. In fact, it was the only day of the year he ever stayed in bed past 7am. We would be going crazy by the time he got up, then he would announce some crazy rule like we could only open one present an hour. His own presents, that we had so carefully chose, he would pile around him on the couch refusing to open them until the last possible minute. Even breakfast had to happen right in the middle of opening presents, much to our frustration. I was the pancake maker and my Dad of course was the taste-tester who had to eat nearly the whole first batch. Of course this was to ensure that they were not poisoned and safe for us all to eat.

But our holidays were never religious.

I grew up with a father from a religious Baptist family and a mother from a non-religious Jewish family. My Dad was the only one of his siblings that was not religious, and I never found out why. I guess my parents decided that the best solution was to just leave the religion topic alone and let us figure it out for ourselves. I didn’t realize how unique that was until I took a religion class in college, and the professor looked at me like I was some strange exotic bird. “What do you mean you were raised without religion?!” My parents weren’t rebelling against religion; it was just a non-issue. We had a Christmas tree and lit a menorah and that was that.

When my husband, a Catholic, and I started dating, I was introduced to the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of the 7 fishes. Well, that was great, but I was a vegetarian and had been since the 7th grade. But once we were married, I decided that I wanted to eat all 7 fishes. I wanted to embrace the traditions of his family, as much as I wanted to preserve my own.  Again Christmas Eve changed. We opened presents, drank wine, and ate more fish in one night than I had eaten in my whole life!

Then we started having children. We had so many traditions and cultures that it was overwhelming to think about. With our first child I tried so hard. I read up on Jewish heritage and questioned my husband about Catholic beliefs. I bought books to read to him and craft projects to go along with them. We went to a few churches trying to find the right fit, but I got too nervous to try a synagogue, because I had only ever been to one for funerals.

But the more we thought about religion and tradition the more complicated it got, so for now we just focus on teaching our children to be kind, appreciative and to care about others. And once again, Christmas Eve became about anticipation, excitement and wonder, only this time those feelings centered around our children. Now it was my turn to buy the gifts and hide them carefully. My turn to read my favorite books to them and watch their eyes fill with wonder. My job wrap those gifts late at night while drinking wine and listening to Christmas carols.

And with a new generation came new traditions with the old. Unlike my parents, I had an elf to remember to move. I had reindeer food to make with them and sprinkle across the lawn at night. I had a blog post to compose, while everyone was snoring.

Christmas Eve has changed over the years, but some things remain the same. My love for traditions new and old has endured. A gift that my parents gave me that never needed to be wrapped.

The last Christmas I spent with my father, he didn’t want to leave my house. It was time for me to put the kids to bed, and my parents and brothers were driving back to NY that night. But my father sat on the couch and refused to budge. It got later and later. I put the kids to bed finally, and I was exhausted. I was nearly 9 months pregnant and had 2 little boys.  I was annoyed that he wouldn’t leave until the basketball game on TV was over. My brothers paced in the kitchen with their coats on. My husband glared at me with annoyance. My mom kept sneaking me apologetic glances and saying to my Dad, “Alright Michael, let’s go.”

I didn’t know that less than 2 months later that he would slip on ice in the driveway of our childhood home, the only home we ever lived in. I didn’t know he would hit his head and suffer a subdural hematoma and never recover. I didn’t know it would be the last Christmas for him. But I believe that he did.

People get so caught up in race, religion, tradition, cooking, cleaning, buying, wrapping….but it’s all just on the surface of the memories that we create.

Because tomorrow, at Christmas dinner, my Dad’s absence will be overpowered by his presence. People who give to this world can never really leave it.