At What Price Common Core? 

In the Kindergarten Classroom

preschoolers wavyingFor decades, five-year-olds have been entering kindergarten with varying levels of academic proficiency. Some might be able to read. Others may know most of the alphabet, letter sounds and numbers. Children with these skills are usually ready to learn in the kindergarten setting on day one.

However, there are plenty of children who come through the doors with no alphabet or number awareness. Many cannot write their first name or hold a pencil. Many do not know the social expectations of a group or how to sit in a chair or stand in a line.

These are the children, for the most part, who begin the year already behind expectations and who are at risk of never catching up by the end of the year. Most often these are the children with no high-quality preschool experience. Often times these children are from less class advantaged families.

Jump on Board Fast or …

Since the inception of common core*, the need to enter school with a solid array of academic and social skills has never been more important, if not imperative. The common core standards are rigorous and purportedly created “to get every student in America on the same page.” And the pace at which they are taught is fast.

I liken it to a fast moving train: Everyone had better jump onboard on day one. If you fall off, chances are you will never get back on, because the common core train stops for no one.

I’m a kindergarten teacher in New Hampshire, a state where kindergarten is not even mandatory. So what I’m about to propose, I know, may be thoroughly unrealistic here and probably in most states.

Perpetuating Inequality

In order to reach the ultimate goals of common core, we must address high-quality early childhood education (ECE) for all preschool-age children. We know, on average, that kids living in low socioeconomic status (SES) families with no enriched preschool experience start school academically behind their more class-advantaged counterparts (and have a hard time catching up to them). How then can we require common core standards in kindergarten and not be guilty of classism?

As the country’s great equalizer, public education is supposed to give all children equal opportunity to become contributing members of our society. But without high-quality public preschool for all 4-year-olds, we are doing precisely the opposite. We were doing it before common core, but the effects were less pronounced than they are now.

Until we start talking about the necessity for high-quality public preschool, common core will be the biggest failure in American education. It will have grown the school drop-out population and drastically increased expenditures for poverty-related programs and services that will result from the explosion of poorly educated adults.

Addressing the Divide

To their credit, kindergarten teachers, principals and school districts have done everything possible to lessen this divide, for it’s nothing new (just a problem rapidly growing). Children needing extra support get small group, targeted instruction daily along with specialized interventions in the classroom.

Sometimes this deficit-model is enough. Most times it fails, because children this age need a more actively participatory, experiential experience over a sustained period of time. They need preschool where this is provided.

We must address high-quality early childhood education (ECE) for all preschool-age children.”

Who Decides ECE Policy?

Furthermore, common core standards were neither developed nor reviewed by early childhood experts. What does this have to do with common core and preschool?  The omission of an early childhood voice speaks to our values. And our values get manifested in public policy (or the lack thereof). That omission points to the fact that we have an overarching belief in America that the early years don’t really matter when it comes to educating an intelligent citizenry. (It also speaks to the classist belief that business people and elected officials know how to create education policy better than early education “workers.”)

Perhaps the reason public policy and brain-development research (which illustrates the critical nature of the ECE experience) do not coincide is because our society believes that the care of young children is women’s work. Women should be home taking care of these small children. It’s their job, not society’s problem.

The only time in our history when the federal government made a significant investment in child care was during World War II. Even then it was because women/mothers had to go to work to replace the men leaving factory jobs for war. As soon as the men came home, even if women stayed in the workforce, the government’s commitment stopped.

Addressing Class Advantage in ECE

For decades, scientific research has proven over and over that the very early years (0-2) in particular, provide the foundation upon which later learning occurs. And the preschool years, (3-5) give children the basic academic and social skills needed for success in the more rigorous classroom of public school. Yet despite all of the research supporting the long-term effects of high quality programs for preschool children, our investments in the early years are inconsistent and patchwork. For states showing preschool efforts, programs are often run on the backs of childcare workers, who are primarily female, through low wages and poor or nonexistent benefits.

According to the policymakers and businessmen (primarily men) who created the common core, the standards were created to “ensure that [U.S.] students are college ready and prepared to compete in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world.” Their intentions were on target. However, they created these standards without recognizing that class advantages make it easier or much more difficult for children with different class backgrounds to come to school ready to meet the common core standards on day one. And, thus, they made no provisions – nor did they allocate sufficient funds – to ensure that children from families with limited resources receive adequate pre-kindergarten education to meet the new standards.

It’s time – long past time – for the United States to get serious about preparing all of our children “to compete in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world.” If our young people are to meet the common core standards, every state needs to provide high-quality public preschool for all 4-year-olds. In short, that’s how common core can “get every student in America on the same page.”

* The Common Core was implemented in 2010 and is the largest-ever attempt in the United States to set unified expectations for what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know and be able to do in each grade in preparation for college and the workforce. In short, the standards are meant to get every student in America on the same page.

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