I Thought the Commonwealth Was Smarter About Education Than This

I often sing Massachusetts’ praises when it comes to education, but whoever in the Department of Education decided that four to six year old kids would be tested repeatedly fell out of the goddamn stupid tree and hit every fucking branch on the way down (boldface mine):

Over the years I’ve seen this climate of data fascination seep into our schools and slowly change the ability for educators to teach creatively and respond to children’s social and emotional needs. But this was happening in the upper grades mostly. Then it came to kindergarten and PreK, beginning a number of years ago with a literacy initiative that would have had us spending the better part of each day teaching literacy skills through various prescribed techniques. ”What about math, science, creative expression and play?” we asked. The kindergarten teachers fought back and kept this push for an overload of literacy instruction at bay for a number of years.

Next came additional mandated assessments. Four and five year olds are screened regularly each year for glaring gaps in their development that would warrant a closer look and securing additional supports (such as O.T, P.T, and Speech Therapy) quickly. Teachers were already assessing each child three times a year to understand their individual literacy development and growth. A few years ago, we were instructed to add periodic math assessments after each unit of study in math. Then last year we were told to include an additional math assessment on all Kindergarten students (which takes teachers out of the classroom with individual child testing, and intrudes on classroom teaching time.)

We were told we needed to have “Learning Objectives” for the children – posted in the classroom – for each math lesson. One list of objectives might read, “I can add two rolls of the dice together and find the sum. I can move my bear forward the correct number of spaces. I can split my number up to share hops between two bears.” Teachers are to write these objectives out, post them for children to see, and read them to the class as expectations for what they should be able to do. Many of the Kindergarten and PreK children are unable to read those goals, and are not able to understand them as goals anyway. This task is supposed to enhance learning. I experience it as enhancing pressure on children. The message is, “You are supposed to know how to do this, even if you can’t.”

We are now expected to build in more math instruction time each day, with “math blocks” to mirror our “literacy blocks.” This is kindergarten and PreK. These are 4, 5 and 6 year olds. Children this age do not learn well though blocks of single subject academics. We help them learn best when play is integrated with academics and theme-driven projects extend over time, weaving academics throughout.

Simultaneously, the literacy goals and objectives were changing as well. We found ourselves in professional development work being challenged to teach kindergartners to form persuasive arguments, and to find evidence in story texts to justify or back up a response they had to a story. What about teaching children to write and read through the joy of experiencing a story together, or writing about their lives and what is most important to them? When adults muck about too much in the process of learning to read and write, adding additional challenge and pressure too soon, many children begin to feel incompetent and frustrated. They don’t understand. They feel stupid. Joy disappears.

My generation was screwed up by high divorce rates (fortunately, I personally wasn’t). I believe that our educational system–at least parts of it–will do the same to another generation.

Because it’s never too early to teach kids to hate learning.

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