Common Core Standards
Why we object to the K–3 Core Standards
The core standards address the fact that students are graduating from high school ill prepared for college or careers. Even in the best universities a shockingly large number of students need remedial help with basic language arts and math skills. We support the idea of a national effort to address this problem, but to let that concern shape kindergarten and early elementary education is short-sighted.
Young children are entering their school years, not exiting them. They need support and encouragement to become strong, motivated learners for their whole lives—in school and beyond. That strength begins with active hands-on learning. Current state standards have already led to long hours of didactic instruction, scripted teaching, a narrowing of the curriculum, and overuse of standardized tests with young children. The new standards will almost certainly intensify those inappropriate practices. (See Crisis in the Kindergarten for data on current practices in public kindergarten education.)
The new standards call for kindergarten children to master over 90 skills related to literacy and mathmatics. Is this necessary for children to succeed in school? Experts know of no research showing that children who read at age five do better in the long run than children who learn at six or seven. The proposed standards will almost certainly add to the stress already afflicting many children in kindergarten and the early grades—stress associated by clinicians with growing problems of aggressive behavior in young children and with burnout by third or fourth grade.
An added burden for children and teachers is the extensive testing required to assess mastery of these skills. Alliance research indicates that kindergartens already devote 20 to 30 minutes per day for testing or test preparation. A Milwaukee teacher reported having to give over 150 tests to her kindergarten children last year.
Effective learning in the early years requires a very different starting point than the one presumed in the core standards. The federal Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services are working together to develop a fresh look at how children learn best from birth through age eight. New research points to the indivisibility of physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. The core standards are based on a narrow and flawed focus on subject matter in isolation, overemphasizing cognitive skills at the expense of all others.
The writers of these new standards did get one thing right in relation to young children. They use the word ‘play’—something that most other standards writers have scrupulously avoided. In the section called “What is not covered by the Standards,” the document says, “[T]he use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document.”
The core standards do not provide for ongoing research or review of the outcomes of their adoption. The entire K–12 standards initiative is flawed by this omission, which is especially egregious in relation to the youngest students. It is urgent that the federal goverment require research of the long-term effects of the standards and related testing on children in K-3.
What you can do: The standards were finalized in June. Each state will need to decide if it will adopt them. Tell your own governor, chief state school officer, and state early childhood specialists about the need to promote play and play-based learning in Kindergarten and the need to protect young children from testing. Click on the links in this section to find the addresses of your state officials. Let your voice be heard.
For more information: Read our press release, our statement on the standards, signed by hundreds of leading educators and health professionals, and signers' comments. Also see public comments by Alliance Senior Researcher Ed Miller presented at an April 23 meeting on early learning at the U.S. Department of Education. You can read commentaries by early childhood educators, Eric Gidseg and Carla Horwitz, on the likely effects of the core kindergarten standards.