According to a new study out of the University of Virginia, academic pressures of the United States (U.S.) educational initiatives, such as No Child Left Behind, and Common Core, have transformed kindergarten away from the much-needed focus on early social skills, play-based learning and other creative activities, into a rigid, taxing environment with far too much attention placed on academics and direct instruction.
The study’s researchers, Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham and Anna Rorem, compared kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010 using two large nationally representative datasets. The aspects analyzed included teachers’ expectations, time spent on academic versus non-academic content, classroom organization, and standardized testing. Their assessment revealed that the experience in kindergarten has changed dramatically:
“Kindergarten teachers in the later period held far higher academic expectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergarten year. They devote more time to advanced literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction and assessment, and substantially less time to art, music, science and child-selected activities.” (Study: Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?)
The study by Bassok et. al. uncovered that kindergarten literacy rates increased from 30% in 1998 to 80% in 2010. Of course, it is a beautiful thing when a child learns to read, but are American children being driven to their detriment? The researchers think so. They concluded that kindergarten, which used to be a gentle way to help introduce children to school, now serves more as a gatekeeper, which indoctrinates children into the pressured life of a student.
Young children, even in preschool, are expected to sit at desks for longer and longer periods and use pencil and paper, even though many of them lack the attention span or motor skills to be successful. Failure even at this young age can earn children the label ‘attention deficit disorder’, and even in some cases can be held back, having to spend an extra year in kindergarten.
This undue accountability and pressure placed on children as young as 5 and 6 years old is making them frightened of making mistakes and of being wrong. This limits their future willingness to be creative and come up with original ideas because they may not the “right.”
A growing group of educators and parents in the U.S. is becoming increasingly frustrated by the Common Core education programs and too much focus on academics and standardized testing. Some believe that the initiative is actually dumbing down children, leaving students unprepared to do college level work and putting pressure on colleges to lower their academic standards.
“Common Core pretended that it was going to be raising standards, but what it did, in fact, is put enormous pressure on colleges, many of which are now succumbing to that pressure, to lower their standards.” ~ Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars
Kindergartens in the U.S. are also subject to Common Core guidelines, creating more emphasis on “seat work” and relying on tightly scripted teaching and direct instruction. The effect may be higher literacy and math competencies at an early age, but these initiative are also making children less inquisitive, less creative, less individualized, less confident, and less engaged in the long-term.
Another study out of Vanderbilt University took a look at how academically driven pre-schoolers, who participated in the Voluntary Pre-kindergarten program called TN‐VPK, compared to a control group of children that had gone through a more traditional pre-school. The study revealed that by end of kindergarten, there were no longer any significant differences between the children from both groups. Over the following two years, the differences between the two groups became more noticeable:
“First grade teachers rated the TN-VPK children as less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school.”
“In second grade, however, the groups began to diverge with the TN-VPK children scoring lower than the control children on most of the measures. The differences were significant on both achievement composite measures and on the math subtests.”
A more intense focus on academics at an early age, repetitive teaching methods, and subjugation of children to the same insipid tasks year after year is killing their enthusiasm for learning. Too wrapped up in the hyper-competitive world, parents and educators are allowing for an environment that is putting undue stress and pressure on youngsters. According to Yale professor Edward Zigler, a leader in child-development and early education policy, what young children really need is more opportunities to use and hear complex language and a curriculum that includes social and emotional skills and active learning.
Read more articles from Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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