This Education Week opinion piece is intrinsically interesting because experienced researchers are saying what experienced New Hampshire kindergarten teachers are, that there is no inherent conflict between academics and the play kids need. You do still see journalism like this Psychology Today piece. However, in an email to me, preeminent early childhood researcher Greg Duncan of UC Irvine said the same thing New Hampshire teacher do: “Smart educators understand the nature of play, that young children are happiest when they are active, and how instruction can be built into play-based activities.”
The EdWeek piece, by respected researchers Daphna Bassok, Amy Claessens, and Mimi Engel, also demonstrates that this is a long-running debate – a serious debate – that has been misappropriated by political opponents of the Common Core to support a bogus “common core is cruel to kids” theme. Here’s their opening, with links that are well worth following:
Kindergarten in the United States is not what it used to be. For one thing, it’s longer. In 1998, only about 56 percent of children attended full-day kindergarten. Today, that figure is 80 percent, according to our research.
Kindergarten classrooms are also far more academically oriented. Our research shows that most kindergarten teachers now think academic instruction should begin in preschool and indicate that it’s important for incoming kindergartners to already know their letters and numbers. Today’s kindergarten teachers are spending much more time on literacy and expect their students to learn to read before 1st grade. The implications of these changes are not clear.
Recent accounts of these new norms have been decidedly negative, describing a “crisis in the kindergarten,” with anecdotes about experienced kindergarten teachers opting to resign rather than adapt to what they see as highly inappropriate expectations.
Education Week’s news coverage of our research on the nature and role of academic instruction in early-childhood classrooms has garnered a similar response. We have heard from parents whose kindergartners are experiencing anxiety around testing, and from kindergarten teachers stretched to capacity trying to meet numerous academic goals and alarmed by the shift away from play.
We are sympathetic to and share many of the same concerns. In particular, we are troubled by the decline we have documented in the amount of time kindergartners spend on physical education, art, music, science, and social studies. We think these trends suggest that young children are being shortchanged with regard to what most of us believe are key aspects of learning.
At the same time, we are concerned by the vehemence with which many educators, researchers, and parents condemn exposure to academic content in kindergarten. Academic instruction in early-childhood classrooms is often framed as inherently at odds with “child-centered,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “play-based” practices. This presumed dichotomy—that preschool and kindergarten must either be geared toward play and socioemotional development or focused on rigorous academic instruction—is false.
Daphna Bassok is an assistant professor of education and public policy at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, and a faculty affiliate at EdPolicyWorks, a collaboration between the Curry School and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, also at the University of Virginia. Amy Claessens is an assistant professor at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago. Mimi Engel is an assistant professor of public policy and education at the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn.