All Kids Are Not the Same: What Common Core Standards Fail to Do

Did you know that there are 90 reading standards for kindergartners under Common Core and that all kindergartners will be expected to read under these standards?

I don't know why I'm surprised. In an interview on BAM Radio Network several years ago, noted early childhood expert Jane Healy told me, "We have a tendency in this country to put everybody into a formula - to throw them all into the same box and have these expectations that they're all going to do the same thing at the same time."

For the most part, that's always been the case with education: expecting all children in the same grade to master the same work at the same level and pace. But since the inception of No Child Left Behind - and now with Race to the Top and the implementation of the Common Core Standards ("common" being the operative word) - it's only gotten worse. The "box" has gotten even smaller. And the younger the children, the less room there is for movement inside it. (Play on words intended.)

There's nothing wrong with standards, or goals, per se. It makes sense to establish a certain level of mastery for children to achieve, and to determine what students should be able to do and know over the course of a particular period of time - a school year, for example. But the standards should be realistic. It should be possible for the majority of students to achieve them, each at her or his own pace. That means the standards must also be developmentally appropriate and based on the principles of child development - designed with actual children in mind.

But they're not. Standards are written by people with little to no knowledge of child development or developmentally appropriate practice. They're written with too little input from people who do have that knowledge - like teachers and child development experts. In fact, of the 135 people on the committees that wrote and reviewed the K-3 Common Core Standards, not one was a K-3 teacher or an early childhood professional.

As a result, K-3 teachers more and more often are being asked to teach in ways they know to be developmentally inappropriate. They're asked to make demands of students whom they know are not developmentally ready for such demands. And, as Jane Healy noted, "When you start something before the brain is prepared, you've got trouble."

If we're to give the standards and curriculum writers the benefit of the doubt, we could admit that children these days appear to be smarter and savvier than they used to be. But according to Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, children are not reaching their developmental milestones any sooner than they did in 1925, when Arnold Gesell first did his research.

As an example demonstrating the large range of what is "normal" in child development, Marcy explains that the average age at which children learn to walk is 12 months - 50 percent before and 50 percent after. But the range that is normal for walking is 8-3/4 months all the way to 17 months. The same applies for reading. The average age at which children learn to read is six-and-a-half - again, 50 percent before and 50 percent after.

She told me in a BAM Radio interview, " of our misguided expectations right now in the education field is that every child should leave kindergarten reading. Well, not every child is going to leave kindergarten reading."

But that doesn't mean the policymakers and standards writers won't continue to demand that they do.

Anyone who understands child development would not write 90 reading standards for kindergartners. Nor would they expect every kindergartner to read. They would know that child development cannot and should not be accelerated. That's just common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is something I see very little of among policymakers and standards writers.

To learn more about the the recent report, "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose," from the Alliance for Childhood and Defending the Early Years Project, listen to this discussion with three exceptional early childhood professionals.

This piece is adapted from the author's forthcoming book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?, to be published by Corwin in June 2015.


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